From 1900 to 1920, thousands of Poles immigrated to the United States to escape imperial oppression and economic misfortune. During this period, Poland was not a country, but was instead divided into three partitions owned by Russia, Austria and Germany. When Poles arrived in America, they settled in pockets across the industrial Midwest and the cities of the Northeast. Others moved to rural areas, where they took up lives in agriculture and mining.
By 1920, Chicago had become the central city for Polish settlement in America. Because of this, the city was sometimes known as "Little Warsaw." By 1920, the city's Polish-speaking population numbered 320,000. Chicago became a little piece of America's "Polonia," the broader culture and community of Polish-Americans. This included majestic churches such as the St. Stanislaus Church, the Polish Downtown section of the city, and fraternal organizations that included the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America.
New York State
New York state also became a home to many Polish immigrants, especially in urban industrial centers such as Buffalo. Many came to Buffalo to work in the city's thriving iron foundries, as well as its textile industry. By 1910, Buffalo was home to approximately 70,000 Polish-Americans, about one-sixth of the city's population. As in other cities, Polish-Americans congregated around Catholic churches such as Buffalo's St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, built by early settlers in the 1870s.
Between 1900 and 1920, more than a third of all Polish-Americans lived in the Upper Great Lakes region of the United States, including Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. This included the founding of small towns named after sites in Poland, such as Krakow, Wisconsin, or Wilno, Minnesota. Besides Chicago, other cities such as Cleveland hosted major Polish sections, including Cleveland's Fleet Avenue. In cities from Milwaukee to Detroit to Pittsburgh, Poles worked in factories, steel mills and foundries. In more rural areas, including the Alleghenies, Polish was widely spoken in coal mines.
New England and the Mid-Atlantic
To a lesser extent, New England and the Mid-Atlantic hosted small Polish communities where immigrants often worked in farming. In Poland, land ownership was a great source of pride and farming; Poles transported this value to the United States. Others worked in cotton textile manufacturing in places such as western Massachusetts. Polish settlers in the area created long-lasting Polish-American cultural organizations such as the Kosciuszko Foundation, which has its roots as a Polish-American scholarship organization founded by Polish-American leaders in western Massachusetts in the early 20th century.
- Library of Congress: Immigration: Polish/Russian
- Chicago Reader: A Tale of Two Villages
- Christian Science Monitor: Chicago's "Little Warsaw"; the Pulse of Poland in America's Heartland
- The Piast Institute: Polish Emigration Before 1914
- Polish Roots: Buffalo's Polish Pioneers
- Forgotten Buffalo: Poles in Buffalo -- Turn of the Century
- The Kosciuszko Foundation: New England -- Polish New England
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