New arrivals gaze at the Statue of Liberty from the Ellis Island Immigration Depot
From Trickle to Tsunami
The Tidal Wave of Polish Emigrants, 1870-1914
Although Poles are generally a patient and persevering folk, years of religious and cultural persecution, several unsuccessful attempts at restoring Polish sovereignty, and a hopeless economic setting finally forced many Poles to consider emigration.

Between 1870 and 1914, 3.6 million Poles left their Polish motherland with hopes of pursuing more promising prospects and building better lives for themselves and their children.

The first group of mass emigrants were from the Prussian Partition which had endured Kaiser Wilhelm's Kulturkampf of 1871-1878, which was basically a religious persecution of Catholics and an attempt to forcibly germanize ethnic Poles there. The earliest of the emigrants founded the earliest Polish settlements in North America - Silesians in Panny Maria, Texas, and Kaszubs in Parisville, Michigan, and Wilno, Ontario.

It was only after 1900 that Polish emigrants from the Russian and Austrian Partitions outnumbered Prussian Poles leaving their homeland. In the Russian Partition, the contributing factors were an economy that was in tatters and the suppression of the Polish language and Polish culture. In the Austrian Partition, it was a population boom together with a lack arable land and economic opportunities.

The overall magnitude of the tidal wave of emigration can be seen in U.S. Census figures. In 1870, 40,000 Poles lived in the USA. By 1900, over 668,000 people reported having both parents born in Poland and about 1,400,000 persons reported having one parent born in Poland.

Today, there are an estimated 10 million Polish-Americans. Additional waves of immigrants - those who came following World War II and later those who fled the communist Polish regime - contribute to the fact that the 2000 U.S. Census recorded 667,414 persons reporting that Polish is the language spoken in their American homes.


New arrivals waiting to be inspected and interviewed at Ellis Island

Background music: Fiddler on the Roof - Far From the Home I Love
Dennis Benarz, Chicagoland USA 2010