A History of Italian Immigration to New York

From The Peopling of New York City

Jump to: navigation, search
To America!
To America!
Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus

When we think about Italian immigration to America we have to go back to before America was even called America. The first Italian American to travel to America was Christopher Columbus. Although he never reached the mainland we credit Columbus as the founder of the new world and thus the first Italian in the new world. [1]

Famous Italian that travelled to the new world during the age of exploration includes Giovanni de Verazzano, John Cabot, and Amerigo Vespucci. In 1524 Giovanni de Verazzano, sponsored by the King of France, explored the east coast of America. John Cabot was the first European to see the shores of New England. Amerigo Vespucci discovered that the new world is one big continent and therefore America is named after. [2]

Italian immigration was slow during the first 150 years of American History. Many of these immigrants came from northern Italy to set up business in the new world. After the unification of Italy in 1861 Italian immigration to America skyrocketed. Many of these immigrants were young men trying to escape the poor economic conditions that existed in Italy after its unification.

Counting the number of Italian who immigrated to the United States is very difficult because many Italian immigrated to the United States more then one time. Italian men had the idea that they would come to America and save up enough money that they could go back to Italy and live a good life. When these Italian men went back to Italy they spent all their savings and had to return back to America to work. These men had very little education and couldn’t spell their name correctly so immigration records counted the same person as more then one immigrant because the same person spelled his name differently each time he came to America.

Italian immigration started the 20th century picking up where it left off at the end of the 19th century. From the early 1900s to pre World War I approximately two million Italians immigrated to America.

Year Estimated number of Immigrants
1907 285,000
1914 284,000
1921 222,000

During World War I Italian immigration to America halted due to the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924. This act allowed only six thousands immigrants into America yearly. The Great Depression, World War II, and the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini kept Italian immigration down to a trickle until the end of World War II.[3]

World War II left Italy in ruins and forced many Italians to immigrate elsewhere.

Although Christopher Columbus never called America home, he opened up the doors for many Italians to do so.


  1. Italian legacy. Italian Immigration To America. April 11,2009. [1]
  2. Immigration…Italian. April 11,2009. [2]
  3. Italian American. April 12,2009. [3]