Russian Immigration to America

US Immigration


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

The first Russians were believed to have arrived in America during the Ice Age over 15,000 years ago when Siberia was connected to Alaska by a strip of land known as the Bering Land Bridge. The ice melted and the Bering Sea separated Russia from the North American continent. The next Russians arrived in America during the late 1700's were Russian fur traders.  

History of Russian Immigration to America: The Russian People
The land size of Russia is massive consisting of over 15,000,000 sq km. The indigenous population of Russia consisted of the Slavic tribes. The Poles, the Czechs and the Slovaks were the 'Western Slavs', The tribes of the 'Eastern Slavs' consisted of Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusian and the 'Southern Slavs' tribes consisted of Bulgarians, Croats, Macedonians Serbs and Slovenians.

Russian Immigration to America: The Reasons for Russian Immigration to America
Why did people want to leave Russia and why did they want to move to America? The reasons for the Russian Immigration to America was to enjoy their new taste of freedom and start a new life in the land of opportunity. But the most important early reasons for Russian immigration was to escape the famine, disease and dire poverty. Russia was plagued by various outbreaks of cholera during the 1800 and 1900's. During 1848 the Cholera outbreak in Russia led to three million deaths. Political Turmoil: Russia was governed by the highly autocratic monarchy and class system which would eventually lead to revolution, violence and social chaos. Religious persecution of the Russian Jews. Also refer to Examples of PUSH and PULL Factors of Russian Immigration.

Russian Immigration to America: The Fur Traders
The Fur Traders were the first of the later immigrants to America. They travelled to Alaska under the instructions of Tzar Peter the Great who began his rule of Russia in 1682. In 1725 Peter the Great sent Vitus Bering to explore the North Pacific and Russia claimed the lands of Alaska. The fur trade was highly lucrative but the terrain was inhospitable, difficult to settle and fur traders were attacked by hostile native Aleut people.

Russian Immigration to America: The Alaskan Purchase
Over the years Russia failed to discover any other significant natural, raw materials. On March 30, 1867, under the instructions of Tsar Alexander II, America signed a treaty with Russia, purchasing the Russian American territories consisting of 586,412 square miles for $7.2 million.

Russian Immigration to America: The Russians in Alaska
At the time of the Alaskan purchase there were only about 800 Russians in the region. Some, who had married native women, remained in Alaska, others, including members of the Russian Orthodox Church immigrated to the favorable climate of California.

Russian Immigration to America: Life in Russia - Freedom for the Serfs
Life in Russia for the vast majority of people was hard. Peasants were treated as serfs and worked on the land. Peasants were not allowed to travel freely inside Russia and it was impossible to emigrate to a new country. This changed in 1861 when Tzar Alexander II proclaimed the Emancipation Manifesto on 19 February 1861 granting freedom to the serfs and some were able to buy their own land whilst others were given free plots. The small plots of land were often too small to sustain a family and food often ran out. At this time Russians looked towards the possibility of emigrating to America.

Russian Immigration to America in the 1800's and 1900's: Cholera Epidemics and Riots
Russia suffered from terrible cholera epidemics during the 1800's and the early 1900's. Cholera is a terrible disease generally transmitted from the faecal contamination of food and water caused by poor sanitation. Cholera is a highly infectious disease that causes severe diarrhea and dehydration leading to death if untreated. Cholera was prevalent in Russia in the 1800s and early 1900's before modern water and sewage treatment systems eliminated its spread by contaminated water. In 1830-1831 riots erupted during the cholera outbreak due to the anti-cholera measures, undertaken by the Russian government. These measures included quarantine and cordons of armed guards. The problem of poor sanitation was not addressed and the devastating cholera outbreak of 1848 claimed 3 million lives in just one year. Other serious outbreaks in the 1860's, 1870s, 1880's and 1890's. The epidemics continued into the century and sparked another Russian Cholera Riot in 1909 and were aggressively suppressed by the Russian government.

Russian Immigration to America: Jewish Russians and the violence of the 'Pogroms'
Tzar Alexander II established a variety of different reforms, including tolerance towards Russian Jews. The liberal policies of Tzar Alexander II came to an abrupt end when he was assassinated in 1881. False rumors were spread that the murder was perpetrated by a conspiracy led by Jews. Anti-Semitic riots broke out Russia and Jews were attacked and their property destroyed. Many Jews died in 'pogroms' which were violent riots aimed at the persecution and massacre aimed at Jews. The Russian Immigration of Jews increased with these events and coincided with the industrialization of America.

Russian Immigration to America in the 1800's: The Industrialization of America
Russian Immigration to the United States flourished due to the Industrialization of America which sparked a period of booming economic and industrial growth. The Second Industrial Revolution in the late 1800's 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 Russian immigration as a source of cheap, unskilled labor.

Russian Immigration to America in the 1800's: The Russian Famine of 1891-1892
Russia suffered from severe famine in 1891-92 which was caused by terrible weather conditions and ruined the grain crops. Russians were literally starving to death and this led to an increase in the Russian Immigration to America.

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

Russian Immigration to America in the 1800's and 1900's: Russian Immigration Flow and Statistics
Between 1820 and 1870 only 7,550 Russians immigrated to the United States of America. However, due to the famine and cholera in Russia the year of 1881 saw the Russian immigration rate rocket to over 10,000 immigrants in a year. Between 18911900 a total of 593,700 Russians emigrated to America. The early 1900's saw numbers rocket even further. In 19011910 there were 1.6 million in 19111914 there 868,000 but between 19151917 the numbers dropped to 43,000 due to the outbreak of WW1 and the Russian Revolution.

Russian Immigration to America in the 1800's: The Economic Depression of the late 1800's
The Panic of 1893 led to a four year economic depression in the United States of America with 20% unemployment or a drop in wages. Demonstration, strikes and protests flared and there was a massive backlash against immigration and a wave of Nativism hit America and the US government was forced to take action by passing various laws to restrict immigration such as the 1907 Immigration Act, a law that led to the establishment of the Dillingham Commission whose highly discriminating report led to further stringent 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".

Russian 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" to America and their effect of immigration on the cultural, social, economic, and moral welfare of the nation. The Dillingham report had a damning effect on Russian Immigration to America.  The Dillingham report favored the "old immigrants" who had come from North Western areas of Europe and strongly opposed to the "new immigrants" who came from South Eastern areas of Europe, including Russia. The report on immigration stated that the "New Immigrants" were inferior, unskilled and uneducated workers who failed to integrate with Americans.  The report concluded that immigration from countries in eastern Europe posed a serious threat to American society and should therefore be significantly reduced. Russian Immigration to America was blighted by discrimination and prejudice.

Russian Immigration to America in the 1900's: World War 1 and the Russian Revolution
Russian Immigration to America slowed during WW1. Russia was embroiled in the World War and the situation was made worse by the Russian Revolution during which the autocratic policies of the Tzar and the Russian nobility were challenged. The revolutionaries were called the Bolsheviks who fought for the peasant farmers. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, overturned the government, imprisoned (and subsequently murdered the Tzar and his family) and seized lands and businesses. Many skilled Russians, intellectuals and business owners, who escaped the Bolsheviks and the Communists fled to safety of America and are referred to as the White Emigre.  

Russian Immigration to America in the 1900's: Communism and the Soviet Era
US attitudes towards Russian Immigration to America was dramatically effected by the rise of Communism. Prejudice, discrimination and suspicion towards Russian Immigration to America increased. During the Soviet era and the Cold War, emigration was from Russia practically prohibited, and limited to only a very few Russian defectors and dissidents who immigrated to the USA for political reasons.

Russian Immigration to America in the 1900's: Dissolution of the Soviet Era
The Russian immigration restrictions were reduced with the 1987 perestroyka (restructuring) and glasnost ("openness") policy reform leading to a new political and economic system. The end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in less prejudice towards Russian descendents and immigrants in America. 

Russian Immigration to America
So ends the history of Russian Immigration to America, a summary of the history is provided in the following timeline. According to the 1990 US. Census, 2.95 million Americans claim Russian ancestry.

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

Russian Immigration to America Facts Sheet and Timeline for kids

Fact 1: Ice Age: The first Russian immigrants crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia to Alaska.

Fact 2: 1700's: Russian fur traders migrated to Alaska.

Fact 3: 1830: Russia was plagued by disease with continuous outbreaks of cholera during the 1800's. The Cholera Riots erupted 1830 - 1831 as a result of  the the anti-cholera measures that were undertaken by the Tsarist government. The cholera outbreak of 1848 claimed three million lives

Fact 4: 1861: Tzar Alexander II frees the Russian Serfs and they are granted permission to travel.

Fact 5: 1867: Russia sold the Russian American territories, consisting of 586,412 square miles, for $7.2 million.

Fact 6: 1881: Tzar Alexander II was assassinated and Russian Jews were accused of the murder. Many Jews were murdered in the massacres and riots referred to as Pogroms.

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

Fact 8: 1891: The 1891 Immigration Act provided for the regulation, inspection and deportation of immigrants. The Russian famine of 1891-92 affected an area of around 900,000 square miles.

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

Fact 10: 1893: The Panic of 1893 led to a four year economic depression in the US and a rise in prejudice and discrimination towards Russian immigrants

Fact 11: 1909: The Immigration Act of 1907 further restricted the number of immigrants and established the Dillingham Commission. There were further Cholera Riots in Russia.

Fact 12: 1910: The Over 110,000 people died during the Cholera epidemic that hit Eastern Ukraine.

Fact 13: 1911: The Dillingham Commission report was issued and was responsible for generating prejudice against the 'New Immigrants'

Fact 14: 1914: Russia joins World War 1 on the side of the Allies

Fact 15: 1915: A typhus epidemic spread across Russia

Fact 16: 1917: The Bolsheviks led the Russian Revolution against the Tzar and the Russian Government

Fact 17: 1918: The 1918 Tzar Nicholas II and his family were murdered. Russia became the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic which eventually formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR)

Fact 18: 1918: 1918-22 - Civil war between the Red Army and the White Russians (anti-communists)

Fact 19: 1921: 5 million Russians died in the Russian Famine of 1921. 10 million died in the Soviet Famine of 1932-1933

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

Fact 21: 1939: World War 2 breaks out (1939 - 1945).

Fact 22: 1940: The 1940 Alien Registration Act required the registration and fingerprinting of adult aliens in the United States

Fact 23: 1945: The spread of Communism sparked the Cold War Era from 1945 - 1989.

Fact 24: 1991: The end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in less prejudice towards Russian descendents in the US

Push and Pull Factors of Russian Immigration to America for kids
For specific examples and a list of political, economic, environmental and social reasons and push and pull factors of Russian Immigration to America refer to:

Push and Pull Factors of Russian Immigration


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