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Waves of Austro-Hungarian Immigration


Austro-Hungarian Immigration to the United States

When were the major waves of immigrants from Austria and Hungary to the United States?

  • Significant immigration from Austria did not begin until about 1880
  • Hungarian immigrants came to the United States sporadically in the 1700s and 1800s, but these were primarily upper class people coming for personal reasons.
  • In the 1850s, many Hungarian men immigrated and became known as the 'Forty-niners'.  Several joined the Union army during the Civil War.  Some later returned to Hungary but most remained.
  • Great numbers of both Austrian and Hungarian immigrants came to the United States around the turn of the century.  Between 1901 and 1910, over 2.1 million Austrians came to the United States.
  • When World War I began, immigration came to a halt, and restrictive laws limited immigration greatly after the war.  However, many Austrians and Hungarians fled to the United States in the 1930s to escape the Nazi regime.
  • In 1956, the 'Fifty-sixers', Hungarian freedom fighters, came to the United States after a failed revolution.

Push Factors

  • The 'Forty-niners' came to the United states to 'escape retribution by Austrian authorities after the defeat of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848'.
  • The wave of immigration from 1880 to about 1915 was called the 'Great Economic Immigration' for Hungarians.  Austrians came because of overpopulation, for economic reasons, and because farmers found they were being displaced by industrialization.
  • The wave of immigration in the time around World War II was a result of Hitler's rise to power and the economic and political situation in Europe.  Many Austrians and Hungarians came as refugees fleeing persecution because of their religion. 
  • The 'Fifty-sixers' came to the United States to avoid being punished or persecuted after a failed revolution in Hungary. 

 Pull Factors

  • The United States was a safe place to seek refuge and political freedom for revolutionaries like the 'Forty-niners' and the 'Fifty-sixers'.
  • The developing economy in the United States presented job opportunities for immigrants who hoped to later return to their home countries.  The steel industry, the stockyards, and machine factories all provided many jobs.
  • Displaced Austrian farmers to immigrateed believing that there would be farmable land in the United States.
  • During World War II, the United States opposed the Nazis and was fairly tolerant of all religions, making it a safe place for Jews to go to.

Where did they settle, and why?


  • Austrian and Hungarian immigrants settled primarily in urban centers in the Northeastern United States.  Austrian farmers had hoped to farm in the United States but found that ,as in Austria, farming was being industrialized and these immigrants were disappointed.
  • New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut had large numbers of both Austrian and Hungarian immigrants.  Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and West Virginia had significant Hungarian populations as well.  Industries caused the imigrants to settle where they did - coal mines in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, factories and steel and textile mills in Illinois, Ohio, and New York and surrounding areas. 
  • Recently, however, the states with the largest Austrian populations have been New York, California, and Florida



  • Most Austrian and Hungarian immigrants lived in urban centers, in areas that were populated predominantly by immigrants.
  • Austrian immigrants typically lived together in crowded houses or hostels, and when families came together, they lived very privately.  The mother was usually in charge at home while the father managed finances.
  • The family structure was very important to Hungarian immigrants, and they created close knit communities with their churches and other cultural societies. 
  • Traditionally, Hungarians typically look down on government aid and very few Hungarians ever recieved handouts until recently.


  • Hungarians who came to the United States before the immigration boom were typically well educated and successful.  Some became merchants, and others became professors at universities.  Many were involved in business as well. 
  • A number of the 'Forty-niners' enlisted in the Union Army in the Civil War and fought.
  • Austrians in the United States before 1900 were laborers, waiters, saloon keepers, and steel workers.
  • Workers who came during the big immigration wave were primarily unskilled or semiskilled.  They worked in coal mines and steel factories, providing the labor that was neccesary to develop the nation. 
  • The immigrants who came in the time surrounding World War II were professionals.  They were doctors, lawyers, composers, architects, well educated and highly skilled.
  • The 'Fifty-sixers' were more intellectual as well, as have been immigrants who have come since that time from both Austria and Hungary.


Stereotypes, Discrimination, and Other Struggles


  • The stereotype of the Hungarian worker was one of 'Joe Magarac' who was a mythical worker who could bend steel bars with his bare hands.
  • The idea of Hungarians being very talented has been popularized because the highly skilled professionals who came after the 1930s have typically become successful very quickly.
  • The stereotype of Austrians is that of an alcohol and pleasure loving person who values 'coziness'.  Stereotypes about Germans during the World Wars have also affected Austrians who were lumped together with the Germans in the minds of many Americans. 
  • The struggle to preserve Hungarian culture in the United States is an generational conflict as it becomes more difficult to continue traditions as time goes on.




  • Austrian immigrants have been quick to assimilate, partially because of the mix of ethnicities in their homeland.  Austrians easily picked up the language and familiarized themselves with American customs.
  • Some Austrian customs have been incorporated into the Catholic Church and have been retained.  Eventually, religion became a less important aspect in the lives of Austrian Americans.
  • Assimilation was slightly more difficult for Hungarians, as American society did not initally accept the rural immigrants who arrived during the first big wave. 
  • A significant Hungarian community developed, with churches, fraternal societies, and other ethnic groups.  However, the children of Hungarian immigrants assimilated quickly and rejected the worlds of their parents.  Still, they were viewed as outsiders by American society. 
  • When the second generation of Hungarian Americans was being born and growing up, there was the 60s movement to embrace ethnic roots.  However, by that time Hungarian communities were already disintegrating and many of the Hungarian Americans felt little relation to their ethnic community. 
  • Later waves of immigrants have been under less pressure to assimilate, but as there have not been many ethnic communities, traditions have not been passed on as strongly and assimilation has occured.

Contributions to the United States

  • Many artists, lawyers, doctors, composers, and authors came from Austria and Hungary.  Many of these people fled their home countries during World War II and were intellectuals who would have been killed otherwise. 

Interesting Facts about Austro-Hungarian Immigrants

  • Many immigrants came to the United States hoping to make money and then return to their home countries.  A surprising number did so succesfully- 35% of Austrian immigrants who came between 1901 and 1910 returned to Austria, and about 25% of Hungarian immigrants returned to Hungary.

Comparisons to Today's Immigration Debate


  • Austrian and Hungarian immigrants came by the millions and were primarily low wage earning, unskilled workers.  However, they have assimilated almost completely into American society and helped fuel industrial growth and expansion.


Resources Used for this Report
Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, 2nd edition.  Edited by Jeffrey Lehman.  New York: Gale Group, 2000.