Estonian Ohioans

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Numerous Ohioans are descended from Estonian ancestors. Today, Estonian Ohioans continue to enhance Ohio's cultural and social landscape.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of immigrants migrated to the United States of America, hoping to live the American Dream. Before the American Civil War, most immigrants arrived in the United States from Great Britain, Germany, and Ireland. By the 1880s, the home countries of immigrants began to change. Many of the new immigrants to arrive in the United States came from Eastern European countries, like Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, and Czechoslovakia.

In 1860, 328,249 immigrants lived in Ohio. These people accounted for fourteen percent of the state's population. By 1900, the number of immigrants in Ohio rose to 458,734, but the percentage of the population that was foreign-born declined to eleven percent. Most of these immigrants in 1900 came from Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland, yet a growing number of Eastern Europeans were also migrating to the state.

In 1920, fewer than one thousand Estonian immigrants resided in Ohio. Most of these Estonians settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories or worked as day laborers. Immigrants who were more successful established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Estonian products. By 1945, only thirty-five Estonian immigrants purportedly lived in Cleveland, but the actual number was probably significantly higher, as many Estonians appear to have been listed as Russians, as Russia controlled Estonia until 1918. The Estonian immigrants tended to settle in their own communities, preferring to live among people who shared similar cultural beliefs and spoke the same language as they did.

While many Estonian immigrants arrived in the United States prior to World War I, an additional large wave of Estonian migrants eventually reached this country. This second migration occurred in the years immediately following World War II. World War II destroyed numerous homes and businesses in Estonia, and many residents of this country sought a better life in the United States. Also, many Estonians fled following the Soviet Union's military occupation of their nation. Between 1945 and 1961, more than eleven thousand Estonians migrated to the United States. Approximately two hundred of these migrants settled in Cleveland.

Over the succeeding decades, Ohio’s traditional Estonian communities began to lose their cohesiveness and many Estonian communities began to disintegrate. Many Estonians moved into other communities, while non-Estonians began to infiltrate the traditionally Estonian neighborhoods.  Ohio’s Estonian population maintains its ties to its traditional cultural beliefs.  Estonian Ohioans continue to participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote Estonian beliefs and customs.  The Cleveland Estonian Association and the Estonian Cultural Garden provide numerous events highlighting the history and heritage of Estonian culture.

See Also


  1. Van Tassel, David D., and John J. Grabowski, eds. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.