Italian Immigration to America

US Immigration


History of Italian Immigration to America: Background History
This article contains interesting facts, statistics and the history of Italian Immigration to America.

The first Italians to arrive in America were the famous explorers of the New World such as Columbus, Vespucci, Cabot and Verrazzano. Italy did not capitalize on their amazing discoveries and Italians did not make any serious attempts to settle in America in the 1600 and 1700's. The early to mid 1800's was a period of political unrest in Italy with Revolution in the Italian states and the Italian Wars of Independence from foreign rule. Italian unification was achieved in 1861 driven by the nationalist movement, the Risorgimento. The newly unified government resulted in upheaval, an economic downturn and high levels of taxation. There were natural disasters such as earthquakes, flooding causing by erosion and and soil loss. The south of Italy including Sicily and Sardinia were hit the hardest living in dire poverty and destitution. Then in 1866, Italy declared war on the Austrian Empire. It was under these circumstances that Italian Immigration to America slowly began. By 1870, there were about 25,000 Italian immigrants in America. Italian Immigration to America increased to over 4 million by 1924. Italian-Americans now constitute nation's fifth-largest ethnic group.

Italian Immigration to America: The Reasons for Italian Immigration to America
Why did people want to leave Italy and why did they want to move to America? The reasons for the Italian Immigration to America were to escape from the wars and the natural disasters that had led to disease, unemployment and poverty. Italy was governed by political corruption, a legacy of violence and social chaos. Also refer to Examples of PUSH and PULL Factors of Italian Immigration.

Italian Immigration to America in the 1800's: The Voyage
Italian Immigration to America started with the 3000 mile journey from Italy to America. 96% of immigrants arriving in New York traveled directly to the United States by ship. The first Italian immigrants undertook the voyage on sailing vessel which took anything  up to 3 months. The introduction of the steamship cut the traveling time to 10 days. The vast majority of immigrants were poverty stricken but with the help of family booked passage to America in steerage or third class, the cheapest type of accommodation in crowded and unsanitary conditions.

Italian Immigration to America in the 1800's: Italian Immigration Flow and Statistics
Italian Immigration to America rocketed in the late 1800's. Approximately 20% emigrated from the wine growing areas of Northern Italy and set up home in California and other states in the west. The Italians from the south tended to move to the big cities in north east America. It is estimated that as many as one third of Italian immigrants made their home in New York City. By 1890 the population of New York City approached 2 million and 42% of the inhabitants were foreign born. In the 1880's the number of Italian immigrants to the U.S. totaled 600,000. By the mid 1920's more than 4 million Italians had emigrated to the United States, and represented more than 10% of the nationís foreign-born population.

Italian Immigration to America in the 1800's: US Immigration Laws
Italian Immigration to America was restricted by the 1882 Immigration Act which restricted immigrants from Europe, making several categories of immigrants ineligible for entry and imposed a 'head tax' of 50 cents on all immigrants landing at US ports. The 1891 Immigration Act regulated immigration further introducing the inspection and deportation of immigrants. On January 1, 1892 Ellis Island immigration center was opened.

Italian Immigration to America: Ellis Island
Italian Immigration to America was only possible if migrants passed scrutiny at the Ellis Island Immigration Center (1892 - 1954).  The Ellis Island Immigration Center was situated in Upper New York Bay and served as the inspection station for Italian immigrants. Italian Immigration to America began as emigrants from Italy were first greeted with the sight of the Statue of Liberty and were then taken on to Ellis Island for legal and medical and legal inspection. The inspections at Ellis Island were a terrifying prospect - failure to pass the examinations would lead to separation from family and deportation back to Italy. Men were separated from women and children, labeled and all immigrants had to pass mental and physical medical examinations. Initial medical assessments were made at the Stairway to the Great Hall. Chalk marks were made on coats of migrants with obvious medical conditions such as "Sc" for scalp problems and "X" for mental disability. The immigrants were then herded to the Physical or mental examination rooms and then on to the Registry Room (or Great Hall) for the Ellis Island legal inspection. Immigrants had to provide answers to a list of 32 questions to determine if they should be admitted to America. Although less than 2% of Italians were turned away, fear of such a separation led some immigrants to rename Ellis Island LíIsola dell Lagrime meaning the Island of Tears.  

Italian Immigration to America in the 1800's: The Industrialization of America
Italian Immigration to America flourished due to the Industrialization of America which sparked a period of intense economic and industrial growth. The Second Industrial Revolution had brought new technology and inventions that replaced steam power with electric power. Factories were introduced in the cities with mass production methods that could be operated by semi-skilled or completely unskilled workers. The new American businesses encouraged immigration as a source of cheap, unskilled labor.

Italian Immigration to America in the 1800's: Urbanization in America
Italian Immigration to America in the 1800's was influenced by another phenomenon - the Urbanization of America. The cities had developed at a rapid rate, there had been no time for rational urban planning. The new immigrant workers had to be housed quickly and this led to the rise of the cheap tenement houses that were typically 4 - 6 stories high and divided into small apartments. It was common for a whole family of up to ten Italian migrants to live in just one small room.
Poor Italian immigrants formed ethnic enclaves in  the cities of America and these Italian neighborhoods became known by the common name of "Little Italy".

Italian Immigration to America in the 1800's: "Little Italies"
Italian Immigration to America in the 1800's led to the establishment of the
"Little Italy" quarters of the cities. Italian immigrants used migration networks based on family and village ties to help ease the immigration process. As a result the vast majority of Italian migrants settled in the "Little Italy" districts. In a "Little Italy" enclave they could speak the same language, recognize people from the homeland, share the same culture, identity, customs, traditions, heritage and history. They belonged to the same ethnic race, shared the same physical characteristics and the same religious beliefs - the majority of Italians being Roman Catholics. The tradition of celebrating Feast Days with great processions through the city streets is still followed in modern times. The early Italian migrants wore the same style of clothes, ate Italian food and purchased goods from Italian-owned shops and markets. The "Little Italy" neighborhoods offered a home-from-home environment to migrants but slowed the rate of integration with Americans which fueled prejudice and discrimination.

Italian Immigration to America in the 1800's: The Economic Depression of the late 1800's
The financial Panic of 1893 led to a 4 year economic depression in the United States with 20% unemployment or a drop in wages. Demonstration, protests and strikes erupted and there was a massive backlash against immigration and a wave of Nativism hit the country and the government was forced to take action by passing various laws to restrict immigration.

Italian Immigration to America in the 1900's: The Messina Earthquake
The 1900's witnessed devastating disasters in Italy. In 1907 the Mount Vesuvius volcano in Napoli erupted killing nearly 1000 people. But even worse was come. The Messina earthquake, hit the 'toe' of Italy on December 28, 1908. The Messina earthquake, triggered a tsunami, killing up to 200,000 people in Sicily and southern Italy and destroying the cities of Messina and Reggio Calabria. Just moments after the earthquake, a 39-foot (12-meter) tsunami struck nearby coasts, causing even more death and destruction. Many of the shocked and grieving people were forced to emigrate to America and Italian Immigration to America substantially increased.

Italian Immigration to America in the 1900's: US Immigration Laws - 1907 Immigration Act
Italian Immigration to America was restricted by the 1907 Immigration Act consisted of a series of reforms to restrict the number of immigrants This law also led to the establishment of the Dillingham Commission whose highly discriminating report led to further stringent and specific immigration restrictions. Between 1901 and  1910 a total of 8,795,386 immigrants arrived in the United States. By 1910, Eastern and Southern Europeans made up 70% of the immigrants entering the United States and led to debates on "Old Immigrants" vs "New Immigrants".

Italian Immigration to America: The Dillingham Commission Report - "Old Immigrants" vs "New Immigrants"
The 1911 Dillingham Commission Report highlighted the differences between "Old Immigrants" and "New Immigrants" and their effect on the social, cultural, economic, and moral welfare of the nation. The Dillingham Commission report had a damning effect on Italian Immigration to America.  The report favored the "old immigrants" who had come from North Western areas of Europe and opposed to the "new immigrant" who came from South Eastern areas of Europe. The Dillingham Commission report on immigration stated that the "New Immigrants" to the US were inferior, unskilled and uneducated workers who failed to integrate with Americans.  The report concluded that immigration from countries in southern and eastern Europe posed a serious threat to American society and should therefore be greatly reduced. It is little wonder that Italian Immigration to America was blighted by discrimination and prejudice.

Italian Immigration to America in the 1900's: Prejudice and Discrimination
Prejudice and Discrimination followed the Italian Immigration to America. A wave of Nativism had spread across America with the policy of protecting the interests of native-born, established US residents against those of immigrants. The belief in Nativism was a prejudicial attitude towards immigrants based on their national origin, their ethnic background, their race or religion. The doctrine of Nativism in the United States resulted in a widespread attitude that rejected alien persons, or culture, and led to xenophobia, the irrational fear of foreigners leading to racism and ethnic conflict. New, stringent laws were passed by the US government to restrict immigration and this, together with the Dillingham report, clearly supported Nativism. The prejudice and discrimination towards Italian Immigration to America was based on the fear of unemployment, the Catholic religion, language and customs The
integration of Italian migrants with resident Americans was slow, due to the establishment of the "Little Italy" neighborhoods.

Italian Immigration to America in the 1900's: World War 1 and the Great Depression
Italian Immigration to America slowed during WW1. The 1921 Emergency Quota Act established restrictions on the number of immigrants from a given country. The 1924 Immigration Act of 1924 shut the 'Golden Door' to America. The discrimination and prejudice towards Italian Immigration to America continued and 87% of entry permits went to immigrants from Britain, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia. The situation was made worse when the Great Depression (1929 - 1939) hit the United States. During the period of the Great Depression 13 million people became unemployed. For the first time in US history more people emigrated from the United States than immigrated to the United States. The US Immigration Trends dropped from four million from 1921 - 1930 to just 500, 000 from 1931 - 1940.

Italian Immigration to America in the 1900's: World War 2
US attitudes towards Italian Immigration to America was dramatically effected by the outbreak of WW2. Prejudice and discrimination towards Italian Immigration to America increased during WW2 when Benito Mussolini sided with Hitler and Fascist Germany against the Allies. In 1943 Italy surrended to the Allies and declared war on Germany. The reputation of Italians were severely damaged by these WW2 actions.

Italian Immigration to America in the 1900's: 1965 Hart-Cellar Act
The quota immigration laws of the 1920's had resulted in long waiting lists for the small number of visas available to those born in Italy. Italy had 249,583 people waiting for admission into the United States. The annual quota allowed for immigrants from Italy had stood at 5,666 immigrants. The passing of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, abolished the national origins quota system and replaced it with a preference system focusing on skills of immigrants' skills and family relationships with citizens or U.S. residents.

Italian Immigration to America
So ends the history of Italian Immigration to America, a summary of the history is provided in the following timeline. Italian-Americans now make up the nation's fifth largest ethnic group.

Italian Immigration to America Facts Sheet and Timeline for kids
Important facts about the history of Italian Immigration to America and US laws that effected the migrants from Italy are contained in the following Facts Sheet and history timeline.

Italian Immigration to America Facts Sheet and Timeline for kids

Fact 1: 1857: The Great Neapolitan Earthquake occurred in the Basilicata region of Italy killing over 30,000 people

Fact 2: 1861: Italian unification was achieved by the Risorgimento nationalist movements

Fact 3: 1866: Italy declared war on the Austrian Empire

Fact 4: 1882: Italy enters the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria

Fact 5: 1882: The Chinese Exclusion Act increases the demand for Italian agricultural labor.

Fact 6: 1882: The Immigration Act restricting immigrants from Europe

Fact 7: 1886: The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York Harbor, the landmark for all immigrants from Italy

Fact 8: 1891: The 1891 Immigration Act provided for the regulation, inspection and deportation of immigrants.

Fact 9: 1892: Ellis Island opened. Immigrants from Italy were subjected to medical and legal inspections

Fact 10: 1893: The Panic of 1893 led to a four year economic depression and a rise in prejudice and discrimination

Fact 11: 1906: Mount Vesuvius volcano erupted near Naples, killing nearly 1000 people

Fact 12: 1907: The Immigration Act restricted the number of immigrants and established the Dillingham Commission

Fact 13: 1908: The Messina earthquake and tsunami, killed up to 200,000 people in Sicily and southern Italy

Fact 14: 1911: The Dillingham Commission report was issued

Fact 15: 1915: An earthquake in Avezzano kills 30,000 people

Fact 16: 1915: Italy joins WW1 on the side of the Allies

Fact 17: 1921: The 1921 Emergency Quota Act used of quota system to restrict the number of immigrants

Fact 18: 1924: The Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act) restricting the number of immigrants even further

Fact 19: 1925: Benito Mussolini, leader of the Fascist party, seizes power in Italy and becomes the dictator of Italy

Fact 20: 1929: The Great Depression (1929 - 1939) engulfed the United States and immigration plummeted

Fact 21: 1936: Mussolini and Hitler sign an agreement known as the Roman-Berlin Axis

Fact 22: 1939: WW2 breaks out. Italy conquers Albania and Mussolini sides with Hitler and Fascist Germany against the allies

Fact 23: 1940: The 1940 Alien Registration Act required the registration and fingerprinting of adult aliens in the United States

Fact 24: 1943: Italy surrenders to the Allies in WW II on 8 September 1943

Fact 25: 1943: Italy declares war on Germany on 13 October, 1943

Fact 26: 1965: The Hart-Cellar Act lifted restrictions on immigration.


ⓒ 2017 Siteseen Limited

First Published

Cookies Policy


Updated 2018-01-01

Publisher Siteseen Limited

Privacy Statement