Polish immigration to America

Colonizers’ ships have been coming to America ever since Columbus mistook this land for India. After Poles hopped on one of these cruises they’ve been making this continent  their home for over 400 years. The first hint about Polish immigrants appears in the annals of Jamestown, Virginia in 1609.

Polish-Americans have always been the largest Slavic origin group in the U.S. Nowadays, there are 10 million Americans of Polish descent in the U.S.

4 waves of Polish immigration to the USA

1st Polish immigration wave (ca.1800-1860) was made largely of political dissidents who fled the country after the partitioning of Poland and insurrections. These were mainly intellectuals and lesser nobility. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service records indicate that fewer than 2,000 Poles immigrated to the U.S. between 1800 and 1860. Though, remember that for the majority of the era there was no such political entity as Poland. Immigrants arriving in America had difficulty in describing their country of origin.

2nd wave (ca. 1860- 1914) Za chlebem” (for bread) of immigration made of a rural class seeking better economic life. In 1854 a group of 800 Polish Catholics from Silesia built a farming colony in Texas called Panna Maria. Between mid-19th century and World War I, about 2.5 million Poles immigrated to the U.S. Many Polish immigrants shared a common objective[1] of someday owning land in the U.S. or back in Poland. 

3rd wave of Polish immigration happens between 1918- 1989. Owing to the political oppression in Europe (World War II and communist regime) it  comprised of dissidents and political refugees. The post-war generation of Polish immigrants had a higher proportion of intellectuals, scientists, journalists. Those immigrants were better off financially than those migrating for economic reasons.

4th Polish immigration wave (since 1989) wakacjowicze” (“travelers”) made of those who come to the States for vacations, but found work stayed either illegally or legally.

Why Poles go to the U.S

Poles have always been attracted to the U.S. wages and America’s needs for skilled manual labor that they could offer. They’d worked in steel mills, coal mines, meatpacking plants, oil refineries and the garment industry. Apparently, in 1619, Poles held the first labor strike in America.

At the beginning of the millennium, thanks to Poland joining the European Union, a huge wave of Poles migrated to the British Islands and Ireland. Immigration to the U.S. isn’t that popular also owing to the obligatory visa application process.

The Polish today are well assimilated into American society. Even though Poles are still well represented in construction and industrial trades, they expand increasingly white-collar professional and managerial roles.

Polonia – Polish community in the U.S.

The first industrial cities and towns Poles settled were: New York, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago, and St. Louis. They worked as miners, steelworkers, meat packers and employees of car manufacturers. These Poles played a crucial role in the development and growth of the U.S. labor movement (see: Joseph Yablonski as an example). The arriving Poles settled in Polish immigrants communities called Polonia.  The largest such community historically was in Chicago, Illinois. 

Poles that helped build America

In the history of what would become the American republic you’ll find:

Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746-1817) military leader who fought on the American side in the American Revolutionary War. Jefferson wrote that “He is as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known.”[2] 

Casimir Pułaski (1747-1779) a Polish noble soldier, recruited by Benjamin Franklin, also fought  in the Revolutionary War. Pułaski is regarded as “the father of American cavalry.”He was killed in the battle of Savannah and is still honored by Polish Americans on annual marches on October 11, Pulaski Day.

Pułaski and Kościuszko both have statues in Washington, D.C

Anthony Sadowski an early Polish-born explorer, Indian trader, and interpreter. He set up a trading post along the Mississippi River that  became the city of Sandusky, Ohio.Sadowski was a great-great-great-great-great-grandfather of President Gerald Ford.

Leon Jaworski, Watergate Special Prosecutor, was a son of a Polish immigrant Joseph Jaworski. when Jaworski became a leader of a protracted contest with President Nixon securing evidence for the trial of previous senior administration officials on charges relating to the Watergate cover-up.