CWRU Links
Encyclopedia of Cleveland History



IMMIGRATION AND MIGRATION. The growth of major industrial centers such as Cleveland was made possible in large part by the migration of peoples of a variety of origins to provide the labor or entrepreneurial skills demanded by the changing economy. The nature of this migration (that is, what groups arrived during particular time periods) was determined not only by the opportunities available in the city but also by national and international factors permitting, necessitating, or expediting the migration of various national groups. The nature of migration to Cleveland is like that of similar midwestern industrial centers, especially Chicago (although Chicago's scale of immigration was much greater that Cleveland's) and, to a degree, Detroit. Cleveland's situation, however, was quite different from that of major ports such as New York, which gathered larger and more diverse populations.

During this area's formative period, 1796-1830, the lack of large-scale economic opportunity provided little attraction for migration to the region. Those who did come were largely Americans of English or BRITISH ancestry who had previously resided in New England or New York, although some came directly from England or Scotland. A substantial Manx migration to the NEWBURGH area was unique in these early years. Toward the end of the period, some IRISH, utilized in part to construct the OHIO & ERIE CANAL, and a few GERMANS, usually farmers with a previous American residence, came to the region. Following completion of the canal in 1832, and of a rail network in the 1850s, the area's economic potential grew, particularly in mercantile endeavors, and it became more attractive to migrating groups. Most immigrants from 1830-70 came from the German states, Great Britain, and, particularly, Ireland, with the city attracting substantial representation from each of these groups. In doing so, it reflected national trends that saw the German and Irish populations of many major cities grow. It did, however, lag behind certain cities, such as Cincinnati, where earlier and more rapid economic development resulted in an earlier and more substantial growth of these ethnic groups.

The most substantial and diverse migration to Cleveland occurred from 1870-1914, the period of the "new immigration," in which many Southern and Eastern Europeans came to the U.S. This large exodus was fostered by shortages of land in the home countries, more liberal emigration policies, increased military conscription, and, particularly for the Jews (see JEWS & JUDAISM), persecutions. Pogroms against Jews living in the Pale of Settlement of the Russian Empire occasioned an emigration that vastly increased the Jewish settlements of cities such as Cleveland after the 1880s. The entire process was facilitated by the development of relatively cheap, regular ocean transport. As this coincided with the tremendous post-Civil War expansion of Cleveland's industrial base, the city received large numbers of ITALIANS, Austro-Hungarians, and RUSSIANS. The influx was so great that by 1874, the city stationed members of the police force, designated as emigrant officers, at its various railroad stations to count and assist new arrivals in the city. However, while these groups represented a new source of population, immigration from the older sources, as detailed on the accompanying chart, continued unabated. Indeed, until 1893 more Germans arrived annually in Cleveland than did any other national group. By 1900 the city's German population of 40,648 was larger than that of any other foreign-born community. Because Cleveland's industries expanded at a slightly later date than those in Chicago or Detroit, it received its infusion of "new immigrants" somewhat later than those cities. For instance, the Polish communities in those two cities had already established basic institutions such as churches and benefit organizations in the 1870s, while Cleveland's Polish community (see POLES) was still in a nascent state. While the city's representation of immigrants from these new sources parallels that in other cities, several groups did come to Cleveland in extraordinarily large concentrations, most prominently the SLOVENES and SLOVAKS.

World War I effectively ended large-scale European immigration, as the conflict involved many potential immigrants and strangled the sea lanes. Restrictive legislation, such as the Literacy Act of 1917 and Natl. Origins Act of 1921 (formalized in 1924), prohibited large-scale immigration after the conflict and provided quotas that discriminated against Southern and Eastern Europeans. Given the chaos in Europe following the war, it is justifiable to assume that the "new immigration" would have continued unabated had not restrictions been put in place. Despite problems in Europe, and particularly persecution in the Nazi German state, relatively little migration to the U.S. and Cleveland took place from 1914-45. However, the city's need for people continued during much of this time, particularly during the war and before the Depression. New sources of migrants met this need, the most prominent of which was the American South, where thousands of blacks (see AFRICAN AMERICANS) came north to work in wartime industries. Cleveland, which had a black presence from its earliest history, had a relatively small black population of approx. 10,000 immediately before the war. By 1920 the figure had grown to 34,451, and 20 years later stood at over 85,000. Other new sources of migrants opened during this period; it was, for instance, in the 1920s that Cleveland received its first cohesive group of Spanish-speaking immigrants from Mexico. Although the Natl. Origins Act remained in effect after World War II, special acts permitting the immigration of displaced persons from Europe helped to partially replenish some of the older European immigrant populations of the city. Again, Cleveland was typical of other industrial cities in receiving large numbers of displaced persons during the late 1940s and early 1950s. However, its share was somewhat smaller than that received by Chicago, New York, and other large cities. During this period Cleveland's UKRAINIAN population saw substantial growth, and following the 1956 revolution, the HUNGARIAN community was partially revitalized.

Of greater consequence from 1945-65 was the growth of non-European migrant groups who, like the Europeans, were attracted by the area's still-growing postwar economy. In the immediate postwar period Cleveland's Puerto Rican population began expanding. Initially brought to work in the steel mills of Lorain during the war, Puerto Ricans began moving eastward to Cleveland in the late 1940s and by the early 1960s formed a substantial community. Mexican immigration also continued; and following the Cuban revolution of 1959, the city received a substantial number of Cubans. Predominant in the period, however, was the continued movement of blacks into Cleveland. By 1960, the city's black population was over 251,000. The postwar period also saw the large-scale migration of people from the depressed areas of Appalachia to the Cleveland area. Though many Appalachians had earlier migrated to Akron to work in the rubber industry, it was not until after the war that a further move north to Cleveland was made in any great number. The repeal of the Natl. Origins (Quota) Act in 1965 and its replacement with regulations restricting overall numbers of immigrants, but giving no preference to any country or countries, formed the basis of the most recent migration to Cleveland. During this period, the city's economy began to falter; it was not, therefore, as attractive a destination as before, but it still managed to gather one of the most diverse, if not substantial, groups of immigrants in its history. In particular, the relaxation of restrictions on Asian immigration brought numbers of CHINESE, KOREANS, INDIANS, and Pakistanis to the city, many of them attracted initially by the area's colleges, and later by the growth of its medical and research industries. War and economic decline in Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and the Middle East brought the city its first groups of VIETNAMESE, Guatemalans, and Palestinians during the 1970s and 1980s. Though not as large as previous immigrant or migrant groups, these newer communities represented a complete shift in the pattern of migration to Cleveland.

The pattern of broad-based immigration to Cleveland and Cuyahoga County continued into the 1990s. Although a number of new immigrants from the "Pacific Rim," Mexico, and South America, continued to come to the area, their presence was not proportionately as large as it was in the southwest or on the East or West coasts. The census of 1990 (in which figures were based on a random sampling) showed over one-half of the foreign-born in the area to have European origins. Traditional older European groups, such as Poles and Italians, were still relatively large in the city. New groups, including immigrants from the former Soviet Union, buttressed these European figures. Much of the new European movement could be attributed to the breakup of the Soviet Union and economic problems in the states of the former Eastern Bloc as well as to ethnic unrest in eastern Europe. The first Bosnian refugees were arriving in Greater Cleveland by the early 1990s.

The changing international situation and economic position of Cleveland have shaped the nature of migration to the city in the past and will continue to do so as long as the area remains economically viable. It is important to note, however, that while the sources of migration have shifted innumerable times throughout the city's history, few of these have ever totally ceased supplying people to the city. English immigration to the area, for instance, continues into the 1990s, as does the movement of native-born white Americans. Nor does the city permanently retain those people it attracts. While no major study of movement into and out of the city has been completed for Cleveland, it can be assumed that the city shares in the phenomenon of rapidly shifting population. Indeed, a limited study of the 25-block area around HIRAM HOUSE social settlement showed that during the early part of this century, over 90% of the residents in that area moved during a 10-year period. Cleveland, thus, is not an end point for movement but often a temporary haven in the pattern of national and international population movement.

John J. Grabowski

Western Reserve Historical Society

Ethnic Settlements, ca. 1923

Ethnic Neighborhoods, 1900-1950

Foreign Born Population, Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, 1870-1990

Immigration to Cleveland by Country of Origin, 1874-1907