Teaching Cleveland

Lesson 21

Handout 1 - Fact Sheet

Immigration to Cleveland

Before 1840, the majority of the population of Cleveland was English-speaking. The descendants of the original Connecticut settlers were, of course, the sons and daughters of New England Puritans. Irish immigrants and some Germans had come to the Western Reserve to work as laborers on the construction of the Ohio Canal and many of them remained in the area when that construction was completed. During the 1840s, however, conditions in Europe resulted in the arrival of large numbers of additional Irish and German immigrants. The potato famine in Ireland caused thousands to leave the tiny island seeking a better life, free from the grim realities of being reduced to eating grass because no other food was available. Welsh iron workers brought their knowledge of the Bessemer process to Cleveland and established a thriving community. By 1848 political conditions in the German states had reached a boiling point and the resulting violence and open revolution caused the migration of thousands of German-speaking immigrants, many of whom settled in Cleveland. Between 1850 and 1880, the majority of the immigrants who came to Cleveland were either German-speaking or Irish or Welsh. Czechs and Poles came from mid-central Europe to work in the mills alongside the Welsh, but their numbers were relatively small. By 1885, however the immigration figures for Cleveland began to steadily increase, until they reached their peak in the 1890s.

Several factors resulted in an increase in European immigration to Cleveland between 1896 and 1906. Shortages of land caused younger sons to seek their fortune in land rich America. The establishment of more liberal emigration policies in Europe allowed people to leave their native lands and come to Cleveland. Several European countries, Austria and Prussia in particular, increased the number of young men subject to military conscription. Many families sent their young men to America rather than have them drafted into European armies. Religious and cultural persecution was common in Europe, especially among Eastern European Jews, who came to Cleveland in large numbers to avoid the pogroms of Russia, Poland, and Austria. Cheap, regular ocean transportation made it easy for immigrants to come to America. It cost about $26.00 to come to America in steerage in 1900. While even this small sum was beyond many families, most could raise enough money to send one or two members, whose job it became to earn enough money to purchase steamship tickets for the rest of the family. This dramatic increase in population coincided with an increase in the industrial base of Cleveland after the Civil War. The increased number of foundry and mill jobs provided employment opportunities for immigrant men, who usually had little skill, but were willing to work hard in order to earn money to bring their families to America.


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