Emigration History

Slovenian emigration history took place starting from the second half of the 19th century until the 1970s. During this time, we had three main waves of migration.

1st wave: 1880 – 1924

After the revolution of 1848, feudalism was abolished and the land belonged to the farmer; however, the living conditions were hardly any better. Farmers still had to pay high taxes and were fighting for survival. The voice of a “promised land” on the other side of the ocean was louder and louder, and the stories of better lives in the USA was a lure for many people of this time. The first Slovenian to settle in America were missionaries who spread the catholic faith among the native Americans from the 1830s. The first Slovenian farmers followed after the American civil war, settling in the fertile lands of Minnesota. Many went to the sunny California to follow the gold rush; some got rich, many did not. In the late 1880’s and 1890’s a large portion of Slovenian immigrants to the U.S. began to settle in large cities such as Cleveland, Ohio, and Chicago-Joilet, Illinois, where they found work in factories. The first emigrants wrote letters back home with testimonies about the good life in America, which consequently attracted even more Slovenians.

Many Slovenians led a better life in the new homeland. They created families, wealth and secured their offspring a good education, something that would have been close to impossible in Austria at the time. They established cultural clubs, published newspapers, organized culture events and advocated for immigrants’ rights. They even set up national homes to accommodate the new comers. Others didn’t have this luck, and were working in harsh conditions; they went back to their homes and told about a hard life in America, warning not to go there.

In 1924, the “golden gates” of America closed down, as immigration started to be limited. At the end of the 19th century, many Slovenians emigrated to Germany; the industrial revolution created many new jobs, especially coal mining. The peak of emigration was in 1914, when most settlers worked in rich German mines.

In this 1st wave, around 300.000 Slovenians emigrated, mostly to the USA.

States where people mostly emigrated to:

  • New York (New York, Little Falls),
  • Connecticut (Bridgeport),
  • Pennsylvania (Forest City, Bethlehem, Cornwall),
  • Ohio (Bridgeport, Cleveland, Euclid, Barberton),
  • Michigan (Grand Haven, Detroit, Flint),
  • Illinois (Lincoln, St. Louis, Joliet),
  • Wisconsion (Willard, Kenoska, Milwaukee),
  • Minnesota (St. Anthony, St. Paul),
  • Colorado (Denver, Colorado Springs, Canon City).
Old postcard from Antwerpen
Slovenian hunters in America

2nd wave: Between world wars

After the limitation of immigration to the USA, settlers focused to other countries: France, Netherland, Belgium, and Luxemburg. Most of these countries opened their doors to foreign workers because of the many casualties suffered during the world war. Around 100.000 Slovenians emigrated in this period.

After the first world war, France annexed the provinces Alsace and Lorraine, rich with iron ore and coal. Many skilled Slovenian miners emigrated to this region. They were looking for Slovenian forestry men, and many Slovenian maids and cooks found their job there.

Dutch mines were also popular among Slovenians, and many moved to this region as well, along with catholic priests providing for their religious needs.

Another country where Slovenians emigrated to in this period was Belgium. Again, they were mostly working in mines, and in smaller proportions also in factories and quarries. Women worked in hotels, as maids and workers in farms. They could earn good money but, if they fell sick, they were in troubles. Children had to work as well, many as young as 14 years old. The big problem was that the Belgians didn’t distinguish between Slavs; many bad stereotypes about Slavic people existed, especially about Polish people. Assimilation politics had a strong stance.

Mercury mines of Idrija

3rd wave after second world war

During this time, most people moved for political reasons. Many members of the Slovene Home Guard, who collaborated with Nazis and Fascists, were prosecuted by the new communist – socialist leadership. Afraid for their lives, they massively moved to Austria, Germany, Italy, USA, Canada, Australia and, the majority, to Argentina.

Around 6000 Slovenians went to Argentina, most of them to its capital, Buenos Aires. They were very well organized, mostly isolated from people of different nationalities. Still today, they maintain strong patriotism and loyalty to Slovenia. In 1967, the Slovenian House was created, where the association “Zedinjena Slovenija” (united Slovenia) operated. They organized many activities, events, newspapers, choirs and theaters.

Australia was for Slovenians the most distant continent. After the second world war, the need for strong workers in Australia was high, and Slovenian went there with old refugee ships. Because of many false information, many were disappointed when they arrived in Australia. Many of these workers and political refugees were farmers who could not find jobs in Yugoslavia, as it was becoming more and more an industrial country.