History of Italian Immigration

Italian immigrants to the United States from 1890 onward became a part of what is known as “New Immigration,” which is the third and largest wave of immigration from Europe and consisted of Slavs, Jews, and Italians. This “New Immigration” was a major change from the “Old Immigration” which consisted of Germans, Irish, British, and Scandinavians and occurred throughout the 19th century.
Between 1900 and 1915, 3 million Italians immigrated to America, which was the largest nationality of “new immigrants.” These immigrants, mostly artisans and peasants, represented all regions of Italy, but mainly came from the mezzogiorno, Southern Italy. Between 1876 and 1930, out of the 5 million immigrants who came to the United States, 4/5 were from the South, representing such regions as Calabria, Campania, Abruzzi, Molise, and Sicily. The majority (2/3 of the immigrant population) were farm laborers or laborers, or contadini. The laborers were mostly agricultural and did not have much experience in industry such as mining and textiles. The laborers who did work in industry had come from textile factories in Piedmont and Tuscany and mines in Umbria and Sicily.

Though the majority of Italian immigrants were laborers, a small population of craftsmen also immigrated to the United States. They comprised less than 20% of all Italian immigrants and enjoyed a higher status than that of the contadini. The majority of craftsmen was from the South and could read and write; they included carpenters, brick layers, masons, tailors, and barbers.

1913 was the year where a record high of Italian citizens immigrated to the United States. Most of these emigrants came from Northern Italy, but more came per capita from the South. Due to the large numbers of Italian immigrants, Italians became a vital component of the organized labor supply in America. They comprised a large segment of the following three labor forces: mining, textiles, and clothing manufacturing. In fact, Italians were the largest immigrant population to work in the mines. In 1910, 20,000 Italians were employed in mills in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

An interesting feature of Italian immigrants to the United States between 1901 and 1920 was the high percentage that returned to Italy after they had earned money in the United States. About 50% of Italians repatriated, which meant that often times the immigrants did not care about learning English or assimilating into American society because they new that they would not remain in America permanently. The work system into which Italians entered demonstrates this fact clearly. For, the newly arrived immigrants found a padrone, a boss and middleman between the immigrants and American employers. The padrone was an immigrant from Italy who had been living in America for a while. He was useful for immigrants because he provided lodging, handled savings, and found work for the immigrants. All in all, he helped American employers by organizing a supply of labor.