Hungarian Ohioans

From Ohio History Central

Numerous Ohioans are descended from Hungarian ancestors. Today, Hungarian 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, and Czechoslovakia, rather than from Western European countries, like Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany.

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 1900, fewer than seventeen thousand Hungarian immigrants resided in Ohio. By 1920, their numbers had soared to 73,181 people. Most of these Hungarians settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories or as day laborers. In 1920, more than forty-three thousand Hungarians resided in Cleveland alone. Immigrants who were more successful established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Hungarian products. In Cleveland, the Hungarian 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. By the late 1800s, Cleveland claimed six Hungarian communities spread across the city. The Hungarian immigrants were followers of both Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church. In Cleveland, by 1900, the Hungarians had established their own Catholic Church and Protestant Church. They also had formed the Hungarian Self-Culture Society. This group was a social organization. Hungarians came together and read newspapers in their home language, practiced traditional beliefs, and socialized together.

Hungarian immigrants congregated together partly out of camaraderie but also out of fear. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many native-born Americans feared outsiders. Some of these people objected to the immigrants' religious and cultural beliefs, while others believed that the foreigners would corrupt the morals of United States citizens. These people also contended that the quality of life within the United States would decline, as there were not enough jobs to employ the millions of people migrating to America. Many native-born Americans hoped either to limit immigration or to force foreigners to convert to American customs and beliefs. The leaders of this movement were the Progressives of the late 1800s and the early 1900s. To accomplish their goals, the Progressives implemented numerous reforms, including settlement houses, which taught foreigners American practices. The Progressives also called for laws that would either limit or ban the cultural practices of recently arrived immigrants. In Cleveland, in 1919, Hungarian immigrants came together in a parade in support of the United States' war effort during World War I. Despite this show of patriotism, many native-born Americans continued to discriminate against the Hungarians and their fellow immigrants. It would take several generations before the immigrants became truly accepted by the vast majority of Ohioans.

While most Hungarian immigrants arrived in the United States prior to World War I, two additional large waves of Hungarian migrants eventually reached this country. The first one occurred in the years immediately following World War II. World War II destroyed numerous homes and businesses in Hungary, and many residents of this country sought a better life in the United States. Thousands of these immigrants made their way to Ohio. Six thousand Hungarians settled in Cleveland between 1947 and 1953. Cleveland's Hungarian residents actively assisted these new arrivals in beginning new lives. The new immigrants tended to settle in the already established Hungarian communities in the state.

An additional influx of Hungarians, approximately forty thousand of these people, came to the United States in 1956, following a failed revolution to overthrow the communist government in Hungary. These immigrants also settled in the previously established Hungarian communities. Approximately eight thousand of the forty thousand immigrants settled in Cleveland.

Over the succeeding decades, Ohio's traditional Hungarian communities began to lose their cohesiveness. As other Ohioans became more tolerant of the Hungarians, many Hungarian communities began to disintegrate. Many Hungarians moved into other communities, while non-Hungarians began to infiltrate the traditionally Hungarian neighborhoods. This does not mean that Ohio's Hungarian population has lost its ties to its traditional cultural beliefs. Hungarian Ohioans continue to participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote Hungarian beliefs and customs.

See Also


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