Emigration & Internal Migration – Key Facts:
In 1870, seventy-two per cent of all British and Irish emigrants continued to see the United States as their preferred destination. After the Civil War, the American railroad companies began their huge task of driving a steel highway to the west. Where this permanent way pointed, the settlers followed. The railways also acquired huge areas of the United States, and had land to spare. They not only needed people as potential customers: they were prepared to dabble in real estate. The North Pacific alone sent eight hundred agents to Britain, and the Santa Fé set up the Anglo-American Agricultural Company with its headquarters in London. Another subsidiary, the American Land Company of London, had a hundred thousand acres in southwest Minnesota to dispose of. Likewise, the Land Colonization and Banking Company of London was the place to visit for those who wanted part of twenty thousand acres, with town sites and grain elevators, also in Minnesota. One firm opened a travel agency in London. It advertised “cheap and comfortable” passages to America, and was ready to advise anyone who wished to acquire a farm. In 1869, an outfit calling itself the American Emigrant Aid Society of London, went to the extent of organising a lottery, the first prize being a free passage to San Francisco. According to Josiah Strong, who published a book entitled Our Country in 1885, an intelligent man would go to the USA …
… with less inquiry as to his prospects in general and as to the particular place in which it may be best for him to settle than he would make if the contemplated removal were, say, from Kent to Yorkshire.
By the final decades of the twentieth century, the population of the British Isles had become far more mobile than it had generally been in the first half of the century. However, long-distance migration was no longer simply to be associated with overseas emigration, but took place within Britain itself, over distances as great if not greater than from Kent to Yorkshire or vice versa. Neither were movements of population in one direction only, from rural to urban areas, nor were the trends evenly distributed over all four nations of the British Isles. The decennial Census figures, combined with the Medical Officers’ returns reveal that whereas in the period 1851-81 Wales was losing considerably more of its population than England, this trend was more than reversed in 1881-1911. The reversal is most marked in the period 1901-1911. During these years, whilst England lost nineteen per ten thousand of its population, and Scotland fifty-seven, Wales was actually gaining population at a rate of forty-five per thousand. By 1911, not only had Wales kept the whole of her natural increase of her 1871 population of 1,412,000, but had added twenty thousand by net migration, whereas in the same period, England lost 1,355,000 by migration, and Scotland 619,000. But these national statistics conceal marked and diverse regional patterns. What makes this contrast even more striking is that much of the English migration, or emigration, took place from the old industrial towns of Northern England in the earlier decades, with London only overtaking them in the latter decade. It took place at the same time as South Wales was entering its most rapid phase of industrialisation, due to the demand for coal in the global economy. As the map of internal migration (below) shows, at the end of the century, those seeking to escape the poor wages in rural areas could find far better remuneration within those parts of urban Britain which depended on overseas trade, especially on exports. The newer industrial areas of …
The Atlantic Economy – Migration to & from South Wales:
In England, the relatively slow growth of the home consumer-based industries before the First World War caused a large part of both the urban and rural populations to emigrate overseas, or to the South Wales Coalfield. The phenomenal expansion of the steam coal export trade enabled industrial south Wales to act as a magnet to rural Wales so that the impact of emigration on the population of Wales as a whole was far less significant than for most European countries during the period 1881-1921. A study of the birth-place information in the censuses of 1851-1931 clearly demonstrates the ability of the coalfield to attract labour from all parts of Wales, while nearly all of the English immigrants came from the neighbouring counties in an era characterised by relatively short-distance, internal migration from rural to urban areas. In Wales, there were significant streams from distant Welsh counties such as Meirionydd, Caernarfon and Anglesey (Ynys Món). These were particularly important in the decade 1901-1911, as the supply from neighbouring counties was beginning to dry up. By contrast, in England at this time only suburban Middlesex was able to attract workers from more than a hundred miles. The majority of migrants similarly tended to travel relatively short distances within the UK as a whole, since the costs involved were considerable, especially for the impoverished. Within Wales, where apocryphal and linguistic evidence suggests that Welsh-speaking families and friends originally from north Wales played a major role in helping fellow migrants to move and settle in particular southern valley communities.
The returns of the US Bureau of the Census reveal that in 1850, just under thirty thousand of the inhabitants of the United States had been born in Wales, whereas forty years later the number had more than trebled to reach its peak at over a hundred thousand. But due to statistical anomalies, it is probable that the actual number of Welsh emigrants was higher than the US sources suggest. Nevertheless, the numbers of Welsh emigrants were dwarfed by those from Ireland, England, Scotland, and other European nations, especially Italy. In the era of mass European migration, in which thirty-five million crossed the Atlantic, the Welsh were, numerically at least, a drop in that ocean. Of course, Wales’ population was very small compared with most of these countries, barely two million in 1900, but its emigration rate as a percentage of that population was also low. Between 1881 and 1931 Wales lost to the United States, on average, less than seven per ten thousand, compared with fourteen for England, twenty-five for Scotland and eighty-nine for Ireland.
During the 1850s and ’60s, emigration from Wales to the United States entered a new phase, markedly different from the one which preceded it. Two major transformations took place. To begin with, there was was a noticeable growth in the size of the outflow. According to the official American immigration records, the number of Welsh emigrants increased after 1850, accelerated further after 1880 and thereafter remained steady, with slight variations, at around fifteen thousand per decade until 1930. Secondly, from the 1860s onwards, there was a decisive shift in the character of the emigration. Whereas the vast majority of the emigrants during the first half of the century had been leaving the rural areas of Wales, the larger movement of the second half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries was predominantly one of industrial workers, mainly from the South Wales coalfield.
The reasons for the apparent reluctance to emigrate can be summarised by the term coined by Brinley Thomas, ‘the Atlantic Economy’, part of a much wider investigation from the late 1930s onwards of the relationship between migration and economic growth. Emigration and the export of capital from Britain boomed together at particular times and each wave of emigration was, in essence, a rural exodus, at least until the early twentieth century. When British investment in North America flourished, the domestic economy stagnated and surplus labour on the land tended to migrate to America. When investment at home was the dominant feature of the economy, the opposite occurred: internal movement to the industrial and urban areas became more marked and the number of emigrants fell. As already noted, throughout the period Britain as a whole lost population through migration, the bulk of it to the United States. These losses fluctuated, however, coinciding with long swings in international investment and in net emigration to America in the 1880s and in 1901-11. Wales diverged from this general pattern. The rate of loss through migration peaked in the 1860s and declined in the following decades. In the 1880s, when the absorptive power of the United States was at its peak and emigration from England, Ireland and Scotland was high, the rate from Wales remained low: During the first decade of the twentieth century, the contrast between the Wales’ migratory experience was even more marked. Whereas all the other countries showed large losses through emigration, the rate from Wales showed no change and it was unique in experiencing a significant population gain through immigration.
Thomas explained Wales’ unique migratory pattern by reference to the extent and nature of its phenomenal economic growth and its effect on the country’s surplus rural population. The whole of the Welsh industrial region, effectively the South Wales coalfield and its ports, was export-based and its fortunes fluctuated with those of the British export sector. Consequently, when the rest of the British Isles were experiencing high emigration, the Welsh export economy was booming as in the 1880s and 1901-11 and the growth was strong enough to retain the whole of the country’s natural increase and to attract significant immigration. The bulk of the Welsh rural outflow of the 1880s was retained within Wales, leading to further natural increase in the latter decade. Thomas therefore concludes that, without industrialisation, Wales might well have suffered the same fate as Ireland, if on a smaller scale, exporting its younger and more vigorous population to the United States and the British dominions. There was, therefore, no great Welsh ‘diaspora’ among the colonies, or ‘exodus’ to the United States; those who did emigrate were mainly skilled industrial workers, a complementary export of labour on a minor scale. They went ‘off to Philadelphia’, in the phrase coined by the title of a Jack Jones novel, induced by wages which were much higher than in Britain, even in the south Wales of 1911-21. But although their emigration may not have been massive in size, their patterns of settlement and the quality of their contribution to American life was seen as significant, both by contemporaries and in the context of American history. A further factor determining destination was that the United States provided opportunities for town-dwellers, unlike most of the colonies, including Canada. According to the superintendent of the American census in 1874,
… in respect of their industrial occupations, the foreigners among us may be divided as to those who are where they are because they are doing; and those who are doing what they are doing because they are where they are. In the former case, occupation has determined location; in the latter, location has determined occupations.
For the first two decades of the twentieth century, the dramatic growth of employment in the South Wales Coalfield was enough for the region to retain nearly the whole of the natural increase of Wales and to attract a considerable influx from other parts of Britain, most notably from the Severn-side counties of England. It was absorbing population at a rate second in the world only to the USA. In many ways, the south Wales valleys were developing as quickly as many towns in the northern and mid-western states of the USA or the the klondyke area of Canada. Although the rate of increase slowed between 1911 and 1921, South Wales still added thirteen per cent to its population, compared with eight per cent added by Durham and Northumberland and just four per cent added by the London Boroughs.
By maintaining a high rate of natural increase throughout the immediate post-war period, south Wales was able to survive the ‘culling’ of its young population in the decade which followed (see the figures and tables below). The movement out of south Wales began quietly during the 1926 coal stoppage, so that it has been estimated that, between 1920 and 1940, Wales lost 442,000 people by migration, a figure equivalent to seventeen per cent of its 1920 population, which disguised a far greater loss for particular coalfield communities (see the graphs below). From its beginning, this was mostly ‘chain migration’, organised on a familial and even institutional basis, and mostly on an entirely vountary basis. Some of the older migrants to the Midlands of England had previously been miners both in south Wales and Pennsylvania, and others had also begun their working lives in rural Wales.
Wales & America – Carbondale & Scranton as ‘mirrors’:
For may who left south Wales for the United States in the nineteenth century, the destination was perfectly clear. If you were a coal-miner, and fed up with wages and conditions at home, the chances were that you would take a boat to Philadelphia, and from there make for Carbondale in Pennsylvania. In 1827, the first immigrants arrived in Carbondale, which was, as its name implied, a centre for coal in general, and antracite in particular. They were expected to bring ‘English expertise’ to work on creating “Something like a methodological system”. Instead, they imported Welsh ‘know-how’ and quickly made a reputation for themselves as skilled colliers. When their wives joined them they too quickly established a local reputation as for making neat and comfortable homes. W. D. Jones (1983, ’87) has written of how the early development of a Welsh presence in Scranton, Pennsylvania, well illustrates some important characteristics of Welsh emigration to the USA as a whole.
To begin with, the crucial factor of Welsh industrial skill was symbolised by the achievements of John Davies. A native of Tredegar, he succeeded as an iron-manufacturer where Yankee enterprise had failed, and his expertise helped to ‘fire up’ Scranton, leading to the rapid development of the town. By 1844, the iron industry in Scranton had acquired an energetic recruiting officer in its mine foreman Evan Williams. His efforts resulted in a significant Welsh emigration to the area. An unofficial local census in the mid-1850s found eighty-one Welsh families, a total of 413 people, in Scranton, the majority of the adults males being employed in the iron works. Though the expertise of Welsh skilled workers was not the single most important factor in the development of the American iron and coal industries, by 1839, David Thomas, the pioneer of the anthracite industry in the USA, had already built his iron works at Catauseque Pa, and there was an important iron industry at Danville, run mainly by Welsh immigrants, using local iron-ore and anthracite. Throughout the rest of the century, Welsh skilled labour was very much sought after, and its availability helped to determine the character of both the Welsh immigration and the communities in which the immigrants settled.
In order to supply sufficient Welsh labour, networks were established that recruited both in the USA and Wales, often involving competitive bidding among rival companies. The recruitment of a Welsh foreman meant not only the acquisition of a skilled overseer, but also an effective focus for emigration of further skilled workers from Wales. The placement of Evan Williams as mine foreman of the Scranton iron works contributed greatly to the Welsh activity in the locality and provided a pattern for universal application in the mechanics of migration. Williams was the first in a long line of padroné through to Morgan Thomas, County Commissioner of Lackawanna Co. at the turn of the century, who was instrumental in the consolidation of the Welsh community in Scranton. As the use of the Italian word (from the Latin ‘patronus’ or ‘patron’ in English) suggests, he secured employment for newly-arrived Welsh immigrants. He was the man to write to before leaving for Scranton, or to see immediately on arrival in the town. He would provide the fresh immigrant with a job, and word would quickly get back to Wales about the high wages to be had in American industry, by means of letters home to friends and relatives. Through these informal ‘chain migration’ networks, the Welsh contingent in America grew and the Scranton was a typical epicentre of this. The City soon came to possess the heaviest concentration of Welsh people in the USA. The Welsh immigration streams were largely industrial in nature, and the number of farmers was low. After the Civil War and the coming of the railroads, some Welsh farmers did settle in already existing communities in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri, while others pushed even further westward into Nebraska, South Dakota, and, later, Oregon and Washington. Some of these earlier rural settlements were parly religious in character, but later emigrants, whether agricultural or industrial, were mainly motivated by economic practicalities.
Later commentators related the rapid growth of religious ’causes’ in Scranton as evidence of the piety of its Welsh settlers. Certainly, the Welsh Chapels in Scranton were important social institutions and much of the flourishing Welsh cultural life in the city centred on them. They also reflected the sporadic crises the Welsh community faced. The first Welsh cause, a Congregationalist one, was erected in 1849 by iron foundrymen in the Shanty Hill district of Scranton near the then rapidly expanding iron works. In the same area, a Baptist Church was built in 1851 and a Welsh Calvinistic Methodist one in 1853. By the 1860s, all three denominations had acquired new sites in West Scranton, following the movement of the Welsh element from around the iron works to the part of the city known as Hyde Park. This was situated on a small hill across the Lackawanna from the main bulk of Scranton, and became the Welsh section of the town. The district never became exclusively Welsh, its steep slope housing most of the representatives of most countries from which emigrants flocked to America. But, in many respects, it took on a the characteristics of a mini-Wales.
Attracted by the booming anthracite coal industry, Welsh miners flooded to Hyde Park from the 1850s to the 1870s, with the peak years being in the late sixties and early seventies. This coincided with the year of the greatest movement of Welsh people across the Atlantic in 1869. In the same year, a gas explosion at Avondale Colliery, ten miles from Scranton, killed 169 miners in the latest and most shocking of a long series of disasters. Two-thirds of those killed were estimated to be Welsh, most of them newly-arrived. The local Baptist Church in Edwardsville, Pennsylvania, lost all but three of its male members. Since the pattern of migration was for husbands to migrate first, to earn the money for their families to follow, it seems likely that that the disaster created more widows in Wales than in America. Indeed, some must actually have been on board ship crossing the Atlantic as the horrific news of Avondale became known, arriving in New York or Philadelphia as widows.
Hardly surprisingly, perhaps, adverse economic and social conditions in Wales instigated the emigration of many industrial workers, despite generally improving standards of living. Accomodation was often of a poor standard, mostly rented from colliery companies, and frequently overcrowded, with poor sanitation. Work was long, hard and dangerous, and there was continuous strife between owners and workers. It was also susceptible to slump, resulting in wage-cuts, unemployment, and a general sense of insecurity, with few opportunities for alternative employment to that in the primary industries of coal, iron, tin plate and slate. From the late 1850s to the 1870s, the Welsh iron industry was in a constant state of crisis during the transition to steel production. Despite the mass immigration into the region which began in the 1870s, the ‘Great Depression’ led to the emigration of many ironworkers, and in 1875-9, when wages fell drastically in the colliery districts, many colliers from the Rhondda, Aberdare and Rhymney Valleys moved to Pennsylvania.
The last clearly identifiable migration of workers, that of the tin-plate workers during the 1890s, was also occasioned by depression caused by the McKinley tariff which all but destroyed an industry which had supplied seventy-five per cent of American demand (exports fell by forty per cent in five years). Tin-platers from Llanelli and other towns moved to the States to seek work in the new mills established by the ‘protected’ American companies. Strikes and lock-outs also provided an impetus for emigration, as during the 1873 and 1875 lock-outs in Merthyr Tydfil. The Illustrated London News featured a picture of miners waiting at the railway station to begin their journey to America. Again, the net immigration figures disguise the specific industrial outflows which took place, particularly among skilled workers, who were so much in demand on the other side of the Atlantic that American companies sent agents to recruit them. When strikes led to ‘blacklisting’ by the colliery management, those victimised had little alternative but to emigrate and the passage of these ‘activists’ was often paid for out of the union’s funds.
In 1871, the strength of the Welsh miners in industrial relations in Scranton could be judged by the fact that some two hundred of them went on strike. Since the south of Ireland was lacking in factories, few Irish immigrants possessed the industrial skills of the Welsh or the Northern English, who were able to help themselves to the better-paid work. The Irish, relegated to the work of labourers, were envious of the Welsh in particular, and thirty of them decided to break the strike as ‘blacklegs’. Going to work one day with a militia escort, they were attacked by both the Welsh miners and their wives. Shots were firedby the soldiers, and two Welshmen were killed. Later, during a repeat episode of violent confrontation, three Irishmen were killed. A meeting of Irish mineworkers later condemned “the premeditated assassination of Irishmen” and resolved that there would be no more “unity and fraternity with Welshmen in the future”. Emigrants from the British Isles tended to form ‘clannish’ clusters in this way, taking their customs and traditions with them as a means of settling and creating a ‘home from home’. As Richard Garrett has put it, ‘the Pennsylvanian coal fields resounded to the the melodious thunder of Welsh choirs’ while Welsh women formed their ‘National Women’s Welsh-American Clubs’.
Although the peak of the Welsh miners’ migration to the Scranton anthracite coalfield was in the 1860’s and 1870’s, general levels of settlement in the city remained remarkably stable. The Welsh influx into the city continued into the 1920s, slowing considerably with the imposition of quotas on immigration from all parts of Europe and then coming to a full stop with the Wall Street Crash in 1929. This resulted in the relative collapse of the anthracite industry in Pennsylvania, plunging Scranton into a decline from which it never recovered in the following decades. Many of those who had used Scranton as their first port-of-call in the USA before going on elsewhere and numerous newspaper reports throughout the late nineteenth century indicated further migration West of many of city’s Welsh newcomers. In 1891 for example, fifty-seven Welsh miners left the locality for Indian Territory where new mines were being opened. However, W D Jones’ examination of city directories reveals that the overwhelming majority of those identifiably Welsh stayed in the city in this period.
There were Welsh ‘representatives’ in all wards of the city and notably in the clusters of satellite settlements surrounding it. But it was Hyde Park, which had merged with Scranton in 1866, which emerged as a distinctly Welsh area. In its heyday at the end of the nineteenth century, it could boast two blocks of Welsh stores and businesses. There was a West Side Bank, organised and run by Welshmen; three Welsh funeral homes, five Welsh churches, three of them Welsh-speaking and two English-speaking. There were also several Welsh doctors and lawyers, and Welsh postmen. Other facilities included one or two billiard rooms and, although puritan believers among the Welsh would hate to admit it, there were also predominantly Welsh bars and even a Welsh brothel, though Jones could not determine whether or not the ‘girls’ were Welsh. There were two Welsh newspapers, the Welsh language ‘Baner America’ from 1877 to 1890 and the English language ‘Druid’ from 1907 to 1915 when it moved to Pittsburgh. There were also many Welsh societies, including a St David’s Society, a Cambrian Society, and a Cymrodorion Society whose annual Eisteddfod was a major event on the Scranton calendar.
Beneath the veneer of respectability provided by these Welsh institutions flourished an alternative culture of foot races, riotous baseball and football matches and prize fights. Not all the Welsh migrants ascribed to the image imposed on them by a literary élite of the temperate, decent, orderly and pious Welshman. Reports in local newspapers reveal a fascinating world of drink, debauchery and lawlessness. This was long after Scranton’s early frontier years; scandals involving desertion, adultery, brawls, assaults and drunkenness were rife. In its early years, the Welsh community was Welsh-speaking, and in 1874 the West Side Bank printed a thousand advertising pamphlets in the Welsh language. But the forces of Americanism were too strong for the survival of the language. The first English-medium church seceded in 1882 and others followed soon after. At the turn of the century, many of the new immigrants from Wales were non-Welsh speaking. Judge H. M. Edwards, one of the most prominent Welshmen in Scranton, pleaded in vain in ‘the Druid’ for what he imagined as a “real, old-fashioned Eisteddfod”. He proposed that a fine of five cents be imposed for every English word used. As Jones comments, had the suggestion been adopted, many of the newcomers among the Welsh would have been either mute or broke on the day of the festival.
If in the early years, the Welsh community had been predominantly Welsh-speaking, it was also overwhelmingly a mining one. In the 1860s and ’70’s, the majority of Welsh workers were employed in the coal industry, not just as colliers but also in associated trades such as carpentry, and as general labourers. W. D. Jones’ study of the payrolls of Delaware, Lackawanna and the Western Railroad companies, the largest mine-owners, produced an endless list of miners bearing identifiably Welsh names. By 1900, the position was changing rapidly, with a significant decline in the numbers of Welsh miners. The 1900 Manuscript Census indicates that the children of the original settlers were now in commerce or the professions, becoming clerks, bank tellers and shop assistants. No doubt this was, in part, due to parental determination that their children should not go down the mines now that alternative employment were becoming increasingly available; by the turn of the century Scranton had grown out of its raw frontier youth and its economy had diversified greatly. As the City matured, so did the Welsh community, and it underwent occupational diversification with it. The local directories of the first decade of the twentieth century show a wide variety of occupations among the Welsh. As the ‘Coal complex’ became a greater factor in the second and third generations, just as in south Wales itself, the bonds that kept the Welsh community together in tough and adverse conditions, were loosening considerably.
Although Welsh workers tended to congregate in the specific centres of their industries, their ‘colonisation’ of industrial America, and indeed the location of the Welsh presence in general at the time of its greatest strength, was ultimately even more confined. The 1900 Census recorded that, although the the Welsh had penetrated all states to some degree, over a third of them lived in one particular state, Pennsylvania, which contained twice as many as the combined total of the next most densely Welsh-populated states, New York and Ohio. Moreover, one in five of the Welsh stock in the USA were located in just three counties within Pennsylvania. Fifteen per cent were concentrated in the counties of Luzerne and Lackawanna in the North-East Pennsylvania coalfield, with their ‘capitals’ in Wilksbarre and Scranton. These forty thousand had decided to live and work in an area twice the size of the Rhondda Valley.
One of the most crucial factors in the shift in the mining labour force was the growing influx of Eastern European immigrants into the area and its concentration in the mining industry. Prepared like the Irish before them, to accept lower wages and riskier conditions, the Slavs, Hungarians and Italians gradually pushed the Welsh out of the mines altogether, or into roles as superintendents, foremen and mining inspectors. In any case, mining was becoming less of a skilled occupation in general, giving mine owners the opportunity to dispose of the Welsh, long distrusted for their clannishness, independence of mind and tendency to form unions. Efforts were made, organised by Welshmen, to block the importation of European immigrants into the mines, but it proved an unstoppable tide. The appearance of these more ‘alien’ newcomers form Central-Eastern Europe blurred the differences between the Welsh and those of Anglo-Saxon ‘stock’, and the Welsh were just as chauvinistic towards the new immigrants as other earlier settlers and ‘natives’.
As they closed ranks against the ‘invaders’, the Welsh became lingusitically and culturally more Anglo-American. But the more Americanised Welsh élite of Hyde Park could not aspire to enter the upper eschelons of Scranton high society, however hard they they tried; these were firmly reserved to the Scranton family and their acolytes. However, the Hyde Park élite continued to project an image of Wales as they saw it, one perpetuated in Eisteddfod essays, St David’s Day banquet speeches and articles in the Welsh-American press. But by 1911, the images of Wales they clung to were already out of date, a Wales far different from the reality of the industrial Wales which emerged during Edwardian times. By adhering to this idealisation of Victorian Wales, they ignored not only the temparament of the new Wales, but also the reality of American Wales as a whole. They functioned, according to W. D. Jones in a limbo existence, caught in a shadowy world that was neither American nor Welsh. The prospect of competition with other nationalities after the turn of the century may have lessened the appeal of America to Welsh skilled workers who by then were more secure in Wales itself than they had been in the late nineteenth century. America had, after all, finally arrived in south Wales, and Merthyr, in the words of a later migrant to England, who was born in the town before the First World War, was then the ‘El Dorado’. However, twenty years later the once-proud County Borough was bankrupt and in danger of losing its status as such (see the age-structure graph above). This time, although some twelve thousand Welsh people emigrated to the United States in the 1920s, they were negligible compared with those who crossed the border to live in the Midlands and South-East of England and to work in the American mass production factories.
The British Empire provided a focus for Celtic and Anglo-Saxon unity in North America as a whole. There was an intense and abiding loyalty to the so-called mother country. In 1887, when Queen Victoria celebrated her Jubilee, the churches were packed in thanksgiving. In 1909, the Imperial Order of Daughters of the British Empire was founded in New York. By 1916, it had sixty chapters throughout the the States. Northern Irish emigrants took the “Scarf” with them and formed ‘The Loyal Orange Institution’, which rapidly proliferated into 364 lodges and thirty thousand members, all of which turned out on 12 July to celebrate King William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne. The Highlanders were quick to form the ‘Universal Order of Scottish Clans’ when Texas joined in. In Chicago, epatriate Shetland Islanders staged the ‘Up-Helly-A’ festival each year, in which a symbolic Viking longboat was burned. There were a number of Highland Regiments from outside Britain which fought in the World War, including several from North America. With the coming of the twentieth century, however, the British Empire was not simply a focus for loyalty, but was also overtaking the United States as the choice of destination. The governments of the dominions, including Canada, were helping directly in the recruitment and settlement of emigrants from the British Isles.
By and large, the emigrants from all parts of the British Isles were received with kindness and courtesy when they reached their destinations, though much depended on the state of the labour market. Labourers who were prepared to labour could nearly always expect a welcome. Skilled men who could fulfil a need were no less gratefully received, though in fewer numbers as modern mass-production industries developed. When, on the other hand, they presented a threat to put local craftsmen out of work by accepting lower wages, they became unpopular. In the United States, in the belief that North America rightfully belonged to people of ‘White Anglo-Saxon Protestant’ stock, there were spasmodic outbursts of opposition to newcomers from elsewhere. One politician who was particularly vocal among the opponents of immigration in America was Samuel Morse (the inventor of Morse Code), who denounced the flood of foreigners as a certain prescription for disaster. They were, he claimed, “rushing in to your ruin.” In 1891, there were riots in New York against this ‘peaceable invasion’, though the rioters themselves seem to have been uncertain about why they were protesting. When tempers had cooled, it was found that 141 soldiers were wounded by the mob and thirty-four civilians had been killed or wounded.
The “Huddled Masses” – Germans, Italians & Hungarians:
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, most American families had come from the British Isles, Germany and Scandinavia, mainly as farmers or business people. But as factories were built and cities grew, people arrived from other European countries, looking to find work as skilled and unskilled labourers. Between 1840 and 1900, about five million people arrived from one country, Ireland. Another five million immigrants came from Italy, and millions more were from Russia, Poland, Hungary and other Eastern European countries, trying to find freedom as well as jobs. The United States became the immigrant society kept an ‘open door’ until 1924 and about twenty-seven million people arrived between 1880 and 1930. They were usually poor, if not destitute, had different religions, were often accompanied by young, unschooled children, and spoke very little English. From 1846, US regulations insisted that all ships entering New York harbour anchored off Staten Island for medical inspections. From 1892, this was moved to Ellis Island, within sight of the Statue of Liberty, erected as a gift from France on the approach to New York harbour in 1886, which, facing out into the Atlantic, welcomed the poor, tired immigrants with its famous inscription (see below). The Irish, Italians and Eastern Europeans usually stayed in the big cities of the East like New York, Boston or Chicago, and worked in the factories. Some ventured further to the Mid-West and settled as farmers, or became miners in Pennsylvania.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, New York was the undisputed first city of polyglot America. During the course of the nineteenth century, mainly due to its complex, changing geography and its excellent berthing facilities, the port of New York became the chief entry point for one of the greatest migrations in history. Decade by decade they came: the English farm workers escaping the cruelty of the New Poor Law in the 1830s, the Irish and Scots thrown off the land by absentee landlords or starving from the potato famines in the 1840s, the Germans, Italians and Hungarians leaving Europe after the failures of the 1848 revolutions, the northern English leaving their mill towns during the Cotton Famine of the 1860s and the Central European Jews fleeing the persecutions of the 1880s. Added to them were millions of skilled workers, like the Welsh miners, who were simply looking for improved conditions of work and a better standard of living, especially from the 1870s onwards, though many of these put into port at Philadelphia, as already described. Immigrant first came into popular usage as an American word, coined in 1789 to replace the word emigrant which was derived from the French emigré and had therefore been used in a double sense to describe those who had migrated under varying degrees of duress, whom we would now refer to as ‘refugees’. By the end of the nineteenth century, the economic ‘pull’ factors had become far more important in the Trans-Atlantic migration processes. This was certainly the case for most of those who arrived in New York and Philadelphia from the British Isles from the latter decades of the century. Humanitarian idealism was gradually replaced by the need for workforces to man the burgeoning American economy, making the USA the immigrant society par excellence. This was expressed in the famous lines of Emma Lazarus inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
By the 1880s, New York City had become an ethnic mosaic, especially in its foods: ‘liverwurst’ from Germany, ‘goulash’ from Hungary, ‘borscht’ from Russia, ‘lasagne’ from Italy, and ‘lox’ and ‘bagels’ from Central Europe. The impact of these huge ‘invasions’ was less than might have been expected because most immigrants were anxious to enlist in American society as rapidly as possible, following what became known later as the ‘melting pot’ principle. From the Gaelic-speaking Irish to the Yiddish-speaking Jews, they adopted English with enthusiasm, at least in public. At home, the older generation tended to cling to their mother tongue, and right through to the 1920s, many immigrant American families were fully bilingual into the next generation. Some only learnt their English when they went to school, so multi-lingual were the streets they were first ‘raised’ on. The film actor Tony Curtis was born Bernard Schwartz in 1925 in Manhattan, to Jewish Hungarian immigrants. His father was a tailor, working from home, and Bernard spoke only ‘Magyar’ until he went to school at the age of six. However, once at school, and especially in the playground, children were under fierce pressure to use the American standard, just as with the children from the Southern plantations. The schools were places where immigrant children were rapidly assimilated through the system and ‘Americanized’ by their playmates, and life was made intolerable for the child who used a foreign word rather than the appropriate American English term. Bernard and his brother grew up in poverty during the Depression, at one point being taken to an orphanage by their parents, who could not afford to feed them.
Although never living in Hungary, Curtis retained his Hungarian until the end of his life, no doubt able to use it with the numerous other Hollywood Hungarian exiles of this period, including the actor Béla Lugósi, who starred as ‘Count Dracula’ in the 1931 movie, the founder of Paramount Pictures Adolph Zukor, the founder of Twentieth Century Fox, William Fox, and the film directors and producers Michael Kurtiz, George Cukor, and Alexander Korda. On the wall of Adolph Zukor’s office at Paramount was an inscription: TO BE A HUNGARIAN IS NOT ENOUGH, though Adolph allegedly always added, “but it may help”. Another sign at the MGM Studios read, Just because you are Hungarian, doesn’t mean you are a genius. Although there were many Hungarian visitors, ‘hussars’ and writers in America from 1776 onwards, Hungarian immigration to the United States increased throughout the 1850s, following the Hungarian Revolutionary War of 1848-9. By the 1860s, an estimated four thousand of them lived in the States, though not all of them settling permanetly, gravitating to Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. László Újházy came with Lajos Kossuth, the leader of the Revolution, in 1851, and founded a Hungarian settlement, New Buda, in Iowa. Throughout the last decades of the nineteenth century, American attention was drawn towards Hungary, especially due to the increased Hungarian immigration to the United States.
One of the new arrivals in this period who is perhaps typical of many of his fellow-countrymen who made the Atlantic crossing, was a Hungarian American entertainer who certainly fell into the category of ‘genius’. Probably the greatest escape artist of all time, Harry Houdini (1874–1926) was a Hungarian-born illusionist and stunt performer. As Erik Weisz, he was born in Budapest to a Jewish family. His parents were Rabbi Mayer Sámuel Weisz and Cecília Steiner. The Weisz family arrived in the United States in July 1878, on the SS Fresia. The family changed their name to the German spelling Weiss, and Erik became Ehrich. The family lived in Appleton, Wisconsin, where his father served as Rabbi of the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation. By this time, Ehrich was one of seven children. In June 1882, Rabbi Weisz became an American citizen, but losing his job at Zion later that year, he and his family moved to Milwaukee, where they fell into dire poverty. In 1887, Rabbi Weisz moved with Ehrich to New York City, where they lived in a boarding house on East 79th Street. He was joined by the rest of the family once he had found permanent housing. As a child, Ehrich Weisz took several jobs, making his public début as a 9-year-old trapeze artist, calling himself “Ehrich, the Prince of the Air”. He first attracted notice in vaudeville in New York and then as “Harry ‘Handcuff’ Houdini” on a tour of Europe, where he challenged police forces to keep him locked up. Brewers in Scranton, Pennsylvania and other cities challenged Houdini to escape from a barrel after they filled it with beer. Soon he extended his repertoire to include chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, and having to escape from and hold his breath inside a sealed milk can with water in it. He died of peritonitis, secondary to a ruptured appendix, in October 1926 at Detroit’s Grace Hospital, aged 52. Houdini’s funeral was held on 4 November, in New York City, with more than two thousand mourners in attendance.
Although the exact figures are not available, it has been estimated that by 1910 more than 300,000 Hungarians lived in the USA. Many were former peasants, who settled in rural areas, but by 1914, a small number of Hungarian artisans, intellectuals and bankers lived in Cleveland, Chicago, and New York City. Many of these retained their language and cultural ties to their home country through churches, fraternal organisations and Hungarian-language newspapers. In 1902, the first-ever statue of Kossuth was erected in Cleveland. Another form of ‘memorial’, the Pulitzer Prizes, were first awarded in 1917, but they were founded by Joseph Pulitzer, who had set new precedents for his more critical style of news coverage after emigrating from Hungary to the US in 1864, in common with other Hungarians, to serve in the Civil War. He became a well-known publisher and, in 1892, he offered money to Columbia University in New York to set up the World’s first school of journalism, though the graduate school was only brought about two decades later, after his death. The prizes, now the most prestigious awards for journalism in the world, are awarded annually according to his wishes.
The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 effectively halted emigration from Britain and Europe. Between 1919 and 1921, although there was a post-war emigration boom in Britain, most of this was directed to the dominions, since it was comprised of ex-service people who were given government assistance. Then, despite the contributions of immigrants from southern, eastern and central Europe, famous or not, to the growth of the US economy and society, in May 1921, the US government decided to limit that flow under the ‘Emergency Quota Act’. Only three percent of each country’s existing numbers in the US as of 1910 were allowed to enter the country in future. Hungary’s quota under the Act was 5,747. This was a severe restriction on a country torn apart by war, revolutions and the border changes made by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. There were relatively small but significant pockets of Hungarian urban workers and rural settlers across the Northern and mid-Western states. In 1910, there had been 1,214 Hungarian-born people in Scranton alone, out of a foreign-born population of over 35,000. The Immigration Act of 1924 further limited immigration from each country to two per cent of that country’s nationals in the United States in 1890. After 1 July, 1927 (later referred to 1929), the total number of immigrants from all countries to the United States was limited to 150,000 annually, with immigration quotas for each country based on their representation in the American population in 1920. Hungary’s quota under the new guidelines was just 869 people.
Due to the large number of Hungarians who had ‘immigrated’ to the USA before World War I, however, the Hungarian government sought and received permission to establish several consulates in the US in areas where there were significant Hungarian populations, to provide services to them without requiring them to go to Washington. The first of these opened in Pittsburgh in October 1922 (closed in 1926), followed in December by a Consulate General in New York and consulates in Chicago and Cleveland (which became Consulates General in 1935 and 1940, respectively). Many Hungarian immigrants also retained institutional links with each other and with Hungary through churches, clubs and other organisations, as shown in the picture above of the Mayor of Pittsburgh with members of the Hungarian Mothers’ and Garden Association in 1929. Cultural ties between the two countries strengthened even further during the inter-war years. Composer Béla Bartók, who was rooted in Central European folk music, toured the United States in 1927-28, and returned to live there in 1940, before both countries reluctantly declared war on each other. Eugene (Jenő) Ormándy, George Széll, and György Solti were three Hungarian conductors who escaped the years of dictatorship of the mid-century in Hungary to base themselves in the United States.
The Great Depression in the USA, which began with the ‘Wall Street Crash’ of October 1929, further restricted economic immigration, but from the mid-thirties onwards, there was a new influx or refugees from central Europe, especially of Jews who were increasingly victims of official anti-Semitism, especially in Germany and Hungary. The photographer Robert Capa was born Andre Friedman in Budapest, and was awarded the US Medal of Freedom for his powerful images of warfare against fascism, from the Spanish Civil War onwards. Edward Teller, the ‘father of the hydrogen bomb’, was a Hungarian physicist who fled the Nazis in 1935 and worked on the USA’s atomic bombs, becoming a leading member of the ‘Manhattan Project’ together with Léo Szilárd, who developed the first self-sustained nuclear fission reactor. While Szilárd supported American efforts to develop the atomic bomb, he later advocated the peaceful use of nuclear energy and opposed nuclear weapons. John von Neumann, an extraordinary mathematician and pioneer of digital computing and Eugene Wigner, a Nobel prize winning physicist, were two other Hungarian exiles who also participated in making the first atomic bomb.
Among the most distinctive and serious-minded of the new were the American Germans. It has been estimated that in the two centuries after 1776, a total of some seven million Germans migrated to the United States. Those who arrived after the 1848 revolutions were mainly middle class and most of those arriving after the American Civil War were working class. They went to live in ‘German’ cities like Cincinatti, Ohio, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and St Louis, Missouri. Like earlier British immigrants, they remembered the Old World in the New, so that in the USA today there are twelve Berlins, seven Germantowns; four Bismarcks; and five Fredericks. The Germans established themselves quickly: by 1860 there were twenty-eight daily German newspapers in fifteen cities. As the result of the establishment of this large, professionally successful, literate, alternative culture, American English acquired German words like ‘bummer’ (‘Bummler’; loafer), ‘check’ (‘Zeiche’, bill for drinks), ‘cookbook’ (‘Kochbuch’), ‘delicatessen’ (‘Delikatesse’; delicacies), ‘fresh’ (‘frech’; impertinent), ‘hoodlum’ (Bavarian word for ‘rowdy’), ‘kindergarten’, ‘nix’ (‘nichts’; nothing), ‘phooey’ (‘pfui’), ‘rifle’ (‘riffel’; groove), ‘scram!’ (Yiddish: ‘scrammen’), ‘spiel’ (‘spielen’; play), ‘yesman’ (‘Jasager’, yes-sayer). A further relection of the distinctive German contribution to American society is the direct translation of German into English: and how! (und wie), no way (keineswegs), can be (kann sein), will do (wird getan) let it be (lass es sein).
Before the First World War, the Germans were a popular element in American society, renowned in the univesities for their science, their philosophy and their pedantry. But after the Lusitania was sunk in 1915 with the loss of twelve hundred lives, they became the Huns, the Bosche (from the French ca-boche for ‘blockhead’), and later, Jerries. This latter word was borrowed from British troops in the trenches – the English slang for a chamber-pot, “Jerry”, was applied to the Germans because their coal-scuttle helmets looked like chamber-pots. The rash of anti-German feeling was reflected in a changing of surnames and ‘borrowed’ terms. Sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage”, and frankfurters became “hot dogs”. Americans with the names Astor, Budweiser, Chrysler, Custer, Eisenhower, Frick, Heinz, Pershing, Rockefeller, Singer, Steinway, Studebaker or Westinghouse, were descendents of German immigrant families.
The Italians, who first arrived somewhat later than the Germans, were given a lower social class and status as ‘southern Europeans’, who were nicknamed ‘dago’, a generic term of abuse for Iberians and Italians, or ‘wop’, for southern or ‘poor’ Italians, derived from the Neapolitan or southern Italian dialect word guappo, for a ‘dude’, a ‘dandy’ or ‘a worthless fellow’. It is said to have been first used by northern Italians to refer to Neapolitans. Italian immigrants would often call each other ‘wahppo’ (as it sounded to anglophone ears) in a jocular manner, especially when the elders among them referred to the younger and/or more recently-arrived immigrants, the point being that the Italians, at least on arrival, were mainly poor, often illiterate peasants from the south. Native-born American ‘bosses’ and fellow-workers took up the term as a derogatory one applied to all Italians. There is an apocryphal story that the immigration authorities on Ellis Island would tag the new immigrants with a label WOP (an acronym for without passport/ papers), implying that the Italian immigrants entered the USA as undocumented or illegal immigrants. The fact that the first known use of the slur was recorded in 1908 suggests that this is probably a false etymology, as immigration documents and passports were not required by US immigration officers until 1924.
Between 1865 and 1920, as the age of the steamship brought cheap travel to more and more Europeans, more than five million Italians migrated to the United States, mainly to the great cities of the North-East. Soon, starting in New York, every city had its Little Italy. Unlike the Germans, the less-educated Italians made a more complete adoption of American English. As a result, the influence of Italian words is mainly limited to food words, now in common usage in international English. There were also some words associated with ‘the Mafia’, though many of these were added later, from the late 1930s onwards by Hollywood’s fascination with making “gangster” movies. Although many of these words and phrases are now associated with Italian accents, few of them originate in Italy or Little Italy. Their importance has more to do with the power of the media rather than that of the mafia itself, whose ‘fake’ vocabulary has had an influence on the language out of all proportion to its significance to the Italian American community. In so far as they existed in contemporary American usage, they were either, like ‘burying the hatchet’, well-established in the native lexicon, or, like ‘hoodlum’, imports from other languages. Apart from ‘padrone’, already mentined above, ‘capo’, short for ‘caporegime’ (a ‘captain’ in organised crime) is the only authentic Italian word associated with the mafia.
The third main group of European exiles were the three million East and Central European Jews who landed between 1880 and 1910. At peak times, as many as fifteen thousand a day would arrive on Ellis Island, “the isle of tears”. Here the authorities checked the papers and the physical condition of the new arrivals, and then their material circumstances. Finally, each name was checked against the ship’s papers. This was when many new Americans acquired a new identity at the hand of ill-educated immigration officials. Names like Ouspenska would become Spansky; Nisnyevich would be shortened to Nissen and Ostazzinski would be transformed into O’Shaughnessy. If they hadn’t already changed their Slavic or German names to avoid persecution in Europe, many Jews would take the opportunity to change it on arrival, at least until the quota system of the 1920s introduced more formal requirements. Many of the East and Central European Jews ended up on the Lower East Side of New York City, working in the garment trade. Like the Germans, they formed a strong subculture within American society. In the 1890s, the Yiddish newspaper, the Jewish Daily Forward, had a circulation of a quarter of a million. Excluded from the more established avenues of advancement, many American Jews moved into the ‘media’ and entertainment businesses – newspapers, magazines, vaudeville, radio and films.
The spread of Yinglish (Yiddish-English) into the mainstream of the language is partly the result of the preponderance of Jewish Americans in the media of the United States, performers as well as executives. As Leo Rosten, the ‘champion of Yinglish’ has remarked,The foothold established on the hospitable shore of English may be glimpsed if you can scan the entries beginning with ‘ch’, ‘k’, ‘sch’, ‘sh’, ‘y’. The collision of English and Yiddish has also given America such expressions as Get lost, Give a look, He knows from Nothing, If you’ll excuse the expression, I’m telling you, I need it like a hole in the head, Enjoy!, Smart he isn’t and I should worry. Many of these expressions emerged in the in the burlesque theatres of the late nineteenth century, a place where the new arrivals could send each other up. W. C. Fields, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Bert Lahr and George Burns all grew up in this environment.
The USA’s “Quota Acts” of 1921 and 1924 ruled that Asiatic immigrants should be excluded entirely; people of Latin, Slav or Celtic extraction might be admitted, though only in moderation. Anglo-Saxon immigration was also to be restricted, but Canadians, Britons and Germans were to receive larger allocations than the other groups. The message was clear. The Statue of Liberty no longer had a notice with the word “Welcome” on it. “Keep Out!” was the order of the day. So, from this day forward, for all but a few who decided to leave Britain or even what was now ‘the Irish Free State’, it was “Empire or bust!”
Black Migration & North American Music:
North American music began with the songs of Black slaves in their African work songs and religious songs, or ‘spirituals’ with a shape of ‘call and response’. When the slaves gained their freedom, they began to to tell their own stories in music called the ‘blues’, particularly in the area along the southern Mississippi. It had the same shape as the spiritual, where the guitar answers the solitary singer. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Black people moved from the South to the North to find work. The half-century between the Civil War and the First World War saw the American Blacks catapulted from slavery to legal equality, then snapped back into a state almost as degrading as slavery. At the end of the Civil War, four million slaves were freed and an old English legal phrase, “civil rights” entered the American English lexicon. Congress rapidly passed further legislation granting full citizenship and the guarantee of the rights to vote to the freed slaves.
The avenging zeal of the Republican administrations of those immediate post-war years meant that by 1867 there were more Southern Blacks registered to vote than Whites, and Congress had twenty-four Black congressmen. All these gains were lost as White Southerners wore down the North. Once the last Federal troops were were withdrawn, the South hit back, passing ‘Jim Crow’ laws to abridge the rights of Blacks. The word segregation became part of the vocabulary of discrimination, as did uppity, a White Southern word for Blacks who did not know their place. In this way, language signified social and political reactionary change. The final blows to the freed Blacks came in the 1880s and 1890s when the Supreme Court attacked the Civil Rights Act as ‘unconstitutional’ and sanctioned segregated (“seperate but equal”) education. Decades of second-hand citizenship lay ahead for Southern Blacks.
Their new subjugation helped drive a great Black migration to the North. But most blacks did not migrate to the North until the 1920s. Meanwhile, in the mid-1870s the various elements of Southern Black language and culture – double meanings, covert sexuality, African rhythms, liberation – came together in what was then the most vital centre of Black American culture, New Orleans. The name they gave to the new music was ‘jazz’, and the musician Jelly Roll Morton claimed he was the first to play it in 1897, but nobody knows exactly when exactly it began. Certainly, by 1913, the word and the music had moved into the mainstream of American culture, with both Blacks and Whites using it to mean a particular type of ‘ragtime’ music with a syncopated rhythm. By the end of 1917, the year the “doughboys” sailed for Europe to fight the Kaiser, jazz music and jazz bands were the ‘talk of the town’ in New York, London and Paris.
After the First World War and the surge in manufacturing, there were even more potent economic reasons for the Blacks to leave the South and move to the northern cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and later to Detroit. The arrows on the map above are not intended to show precise migration patterns, but to convey the essence of the move from South to North. Later, there was also a significant Black migration to California. In the 1920s, Blacks living in large numbers in the cities were seen by most White Americans as stereotypical maids, cooks, waiters, porters and minstrels. This partly reflected the socio-economic reality, but it also showed in the influence of vaudeville, radio and the talkies. It was through the entertainment business that many Blacks fought their way out of the ghettos in the northern cities and out of the poverty-ridden South, like the New Orleans jazzmen, all the way up the Mississippi to Chicago and finally New York. The stereotype was by no means entirely accurate.
Harlem in the 1920s underwent a cultural renaissance, symbolised by the work of the poet Langston Hughes and the flourishing there of a sophisticated Black middle class. The downtowners who came uptown would have been called ‘jazz babies’ or ‘flappers’ if they were women, and a ‘jazzbo’ or ‘sheik’ (after Rudolph Valentino’s starring role in the 1921 film, The Sheik) if they were men. The language of jazz players was known as ‘jive talk’, as defined here by Albert Murray, who was born in the South and ’emigrated’ to the North, where the money and the future were:
… It’s derived from down home speech … It’s the Southern musician moving into the North which made the difference. Although normally people in the North show the great influence of Irish and Jewish people in their talk, the other great influence would be the speech of Southern musicians. …
At the centre of Harlem, the clubs and the bands, was the greatest Black musician of them all, Louis Armstrong. Armstrong was born and raised in New Orleans, becoming renowned for his charismatic stage presence and voice as well as his trumpet playing. Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an inventive trumpet and cornet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance. Around 1922, he followed his mentor, Joe “King” Oliver, to Chicago to play in the Creole Jazz Band. In Chicago, he spent time with other popular jazz musicians, reconnecting with his friend Bix Beiderbecke and spending time with Hoagy Carmichael and Lil Hardin. He earned a reputation at “cutting contests”, and relocated to New York in order to join Fletcher Henderson’s band. Jazz music became famous across the world after it was taken to Paris and London in the mid-twenties, as can be seen from the ‘picture post’ articles below. George and Ira Gershwin, the black songwriters and composers, wrote jazz songs like ‘Lady Be Good’ and ‘I Got Rhythm’ and made use of it in orchestral compositions like ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and ‘An American in Paris’. A cast of African American singers staged their opera ‘Porgy and Bess’ in Budapest in 1935. American movies popularised jazz classics through music and dance and these films were distributed throughout the world by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Fox and Warner Brothers. Europe in particular was awash with American culture.
The Blues singers took their music with them to Chicago and Detroit. Musicians like Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf were the first to use electric guitars. Bakerlite recordings of the blues became very popular in the 1920s and ’30s, when singers like Bessie Smith became famous. The other kind of American music started from the folk music of the Scottish, Irish and British people who settled in the Appalachian Mountains. ‘Country’ music began to be really popular in the 1920s, when Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter family made the first country records and the Grand Ole Opry radio show started in Nashville, Tennessee, which became the centre for this genre, just as Detroit became the centre for ‘Motown’ music, from the 1950s. Of course, Memphis, Tennessee became associated, in that era, with Rock ‘n’ Roll.
But it was Black sportsmen who did most to combat segregation in the thirties. Joe Lewis, the ‘Brown Bomber’ restored the world heavyweight boxing title to the USA in 1937, after it had been held by two Germans and an Italian for most of the decade. Lewis retired undefeated in 1949 after almost singlehandedly fading out the colour bar in American sport. In 1936 it was the turn of Berlin to host the Olymic Games and Hitler tried to turn the occasion into a Nordic spectacular of Aryan superiority and the will to win of the ‘Master Race’. It was therefore a great personal blow to him when most of the honours were carried off by the Americans, and a disproportionate number of them by Black athletes, especially by Jesse Owens (born 1913), the son of a share-cropper from Alabama in the south, whose father had been born into slavery.
By the time he travelled to Berlin, he was already known as the fastest man in America, and was one of the first black athletes to run for the USA at the Olympics. When the time came for Hitler to meet the champions, the German leader didn’t speak to Owens or offer his hand because he didn’t want to be seen in newspaper photographs greeting a black athlete. But the discrimination against the Jewish athletes in the US team by its own coaches and administrators, as a sign of deference to Hitler, was also a sign that the ‘melting pot’ had not yet done its job. After the Olympics, Jesse visited many towns and cities throughout the USA to speak about the need to bring black and white American together through sport and to bring about an end to segregation.
Westward Migration – Cowboys, Settlers & Plains Indians:
Wave upon wave of new Americans were now flooding in from Ireland, Germany, Italy and, in the 1880s, from Central Europe. Many of them were also pushing westwards, pioneering the new frontier. Throughout the nineteenth century, the very notion and definition of the West kept changing. When Charles Dickens visited America, he went no father than St Louis, nine hundred miles short of the Rocky Mountains, announced that he had seen the West, and declared it to be a fraud. A generation later, Oscar Wilde lectured his way round America, drinking gold miners under the saloon tables of the ‘Wild West’. As the frontier moved, its language changed with each new environment. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the vast American continent offered so many obstacles to travel that the easiest way to the West was along the great, broad Mississippi, running from New Orleans to St Louis, then marking the boundary of ‘the West’. The Mississippi is 2,340 miles long and has 250 tributaries, including the Ohio and Missouri rivers. The river was a way of life which ferried settlers, farmers, and merchants; it prompted the development of the ‘steamboat’ or ‘paddlesteamer’. Together with its mighty tributaries, it was the cargo route for cotton, sugar, tobacco and slaves; it brought prosperity to scores of cities and towns, including Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Kansas City, Minneapolis, St Louis, Memphis, Baton Rouge and, of course, New Orleans.
In the Far West, the frontier was often hard to define. After the beaver trade in the Rocky Mountains collapsed, many of the trappers and ‘mountain men’ found new business as guides when ‘Oregon fever’ swept the Mississippi in the early 1840s. But that migration was nothing compared with what was to follow in 1848 with ‘Gold fever’, encouraging every adventurous ‘Yankee’ to head out to the Far West to the new “El Dorado”. But in the long history of the American frontier, the Gold Rush was something of a freak, a story of overnight riches that ran counter to the experiences of most pioneers. Those who came to settle the land and live on it, year by year, generation by generation, had to find a way of life less precarious than the fur trade and less solitary and dangerous than prospecting, a way of life that suited the peculiar climate and geography of the Far West. This was the way of the ‘cowboy’, a word that first appeared in print, in its present sense, in 1877, though its earlier British meaning of ‘a boy who tends cattle’ was first recorded a century and a half earlier.
The legend of the cowboys began ten years before the word appeared in print in American English, in the spring of 1867, when the as-yet-uncompleted transcontinental railroad ran a branch line to Abilene, Kansas. It was there that a twenty-nine-year-old livestock trader from Chicago named Joseph McCoy had an idea that put millions of dollars into his bank account and his name into the dictionaries. Having bought most of the town for $4,250, he set about bringing the cows from the high grasslands of Texas up to the new railhead to ship them back to feed the cities of the North and East. He advertised for cow-handlers to bring the the half-wild longhorns up the Chisholm Trail to his new railhead cattleyards. For this, he offered $40 a head, ten times the going rate. Apparently, a hundred days after McCoy first posted his offer, the first herds arrived from the South, two and three thousand at a time. McCoy had bragged that he wouéd deliver two hundred thousand cattle in the first decade of business. In the first four years alone he shipped more than two million back East. His performance matched his advertising: He was “the real McCoy”. Soon there were at least five thousand cowboys on the Chisholm Trail and for the next twenty years (until the drought of 1886-7), the ‘cowboy was king’, though the ‘cattle barons’ like McCoy were ultimately in control. In fact, there were very few cowboys, fewer than forty thousand at peak, and they rarely fought Indians or had gunfights with each other. At least a quarter of them were black or Mexican.
The new railroads opened up the prospect of cattle worth only two to three dollars a head in Texas being sold for twenty times as much in the cities of the East. All the cowboys had to do was to round up the cattle and drive them seven hundred miles to the railheads in the north. Between 1867 and 1887 they drove fifty-five million head of cattle to the towns of Abilene, Ellsworth and Dodge City, plus other railroad towns in Kansas and Missouri. From there the cows were sent to the abattoirs of Chicago in cattle wagons. Their work was hard and dangerous, though most days in the saddle were simply hot, dusty and long. The dangers of the trail, however, caught the popular imagination, as did the wild behaviour at the end of the trail when the cowboys spent their earnings like water in the saloon bars and dance halls of the cow towns. With all attention focused on his skill as a rider, his six-shooters, his hard-drinking and reckless gambling, the cowboy was soon glamorised in ‘Wild West’ shows and early Hollywood films. He became the first all-American hero. This process of immortalisation began with the drawings of Francis Remington, like the one below.
The cowboy era lasted little more than twenty years. As cattle ranchers fenced in more and more of the open range and as the railroads brought an increasing number of settlers to the area, the cowboy’s job became almost impossible in terms of being able to drive cattle through open country. The last of the big drives was in 1886 and it was not long before cattle trailing had dwindled away completely, and the railroad lands were sold to immigrant farmers. From 1862 to 1900 more than half a million farmers migrated to the West.
Until the 1870’s the Great Plains were still largely unsettled. As the far West filled up, however, settlers were driven to consider cultivating the open grasslands of the ‘Great American Desert’. Daunting though the prospect was, the railroads made it possible to think of moving into this region. The journey there presented no problems and any special equipment and timber which might be needed to establish a farm in this dry, treeless area could now be brought in as required. It was in interests of the railway companies to encourage settlers to fill up the West’s empty spaces. Some companies, as a result of generous government grants, owned a great deal of unoccupied land which they now wished to sell. Every company wanted as much traffic as possible running along its lines. Railway companies began, therefore, to mount intensive advertising campaigns in which the mid-West was painted in very rosy colours. A circlar by the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad:
Ho for the West! Nebraska ahead! The truth will out! The best farming and stock-raising country in the world! The great central region, not too hot or too cold.
The facts about Western Iowa and Southern Nebraska are being slowly but surely discovered by all intelligent men. The large population now pouring into this region, consists of shrewd and well-intentioned farmers, who know what is good, and are taking advantage of the opportunities offered.
The crops of Southern Nebraska are as fine as can be; a large wheat and barley crop has been harvested; corn is in splendid condition and all other crops are equally fine. The opportunities now offered to buy B. & M. R. R. lands on long credit, low interest twenty-per-cent rebate for improvements, low freights, and fares, free passes to those who buy, etc., etc., can never again be found.
The ‘Homesteaders’ as they were called, built their own homes using the logs delivered by train and the sods of earth they dug up in order to plant their crops. This was back-breaking work as the prairie grass was usually very deep-rooted. One family that moved onto this land was the Ingalls family, whose dughter, Laura Ingolls Wilder wrote the story of migration and settlement in Little House on the Prairie. The homesteads were often very isolated and life was tough, especially in winter, and lonely, though the railroad towns helped to bring people together. Before the end of the century, the Great Plains were settled, marking the end of an era for Americans. For the first time in their history there were no large tracts of land for them to move into. In that sense, The West was won.
It was won, however, at the expense of the Plains Indians, who were forced to exchange their hunting grounds for inadequate reservations allowed by the US government. Some went peaceably, while others had to be forcibly removed. For the Plains Indians, the building of the railroads across the plains marked the beginning of the end of their way of life. They also brought the men who virtually exterminated the animal around which that way of life revolved. In 1840, perhaps forty million buffalo roamed the Great Plains. By 1890 perhaps only a thousand remained. Many were killed by men employed by the railroad companies to supply their construction crews with meat. William Cody earned his nickname ‘Buffalo Bill’ by killing 4,280 buffalo in the space of eighteen months on behalf of the Kansas Pacific Railway Company. He was renowned for his skill at shooting from the saddle of a galloping horse. Many more buffalo were killed for sport and by professional hunters who sold the hides to tanneries in the East for $1 to $3 apiece.
In 1876, Cody served as a scout to General George Custer just before the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and two weeks later he led the retalitory raid against the Cheyenne, killing and then scalping Chief Yellow Hand. Such was the stuff of legend at that time, of course, and Cody set about bringing the legend to a growing American and then, finally, a European audience. He formed the Wild West Show in 1883 and, as ‘Cowboy and Indian’ fever first swept the English-speaking world, he became the toast of fashionable society on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1887, Queen Victoria was persuaded by the Prince of Wales to attend his show and was reportedly much impressed by the dignity of the Indian Red Cloud who, had become part of the act, and commanded a royal performance for her Jubilee guests ten days later. Four European heads of state and the Prince of Wales were driven around the arena in the “Deadwood Stagecoach” and ambushed by Indians. The reality was that for almost thirty years the Plains Indians had resisted the white man. Tribe by tribe, however, they were defeated and confined to reservations. Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe had surrendered in 1877, declaring:
I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Theold men are all killed. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are, perhaps freezing to death. I want time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.
The last battle of the Indian Wars was fought in 1890. Fearing another uprising the US Army attacked the Sioux on the reservation. The Indians fled and were massacred in what is known as the ‘Battle of Wounded Knee’. The Indian Territory to the west of the Mississippi was the largest piece of land left to the Indians. Numerous tribes were settled there by the US government. As land grew scarce, white settlers looked greedily at this region and in 1889 the government declared the unoccupied central part of the Territory open to settlement. On 22 April, thousands of settlers lined up along the edge of this region. They had come on horseback, in wagons, on bicycles and even with wheelbarrows. When the bugles sounded at noon they raced in to stake their claim. Within twenty-four hours the whole area had been staked out. Other rushes followed, the biggest of them photographed below on 16 September 1893. In 1907, the Indian Territory became the State of Oklahoma.
A generation later, when long-rooted prairie grass had been removed by the ‘sodbusting’ settlers, and the topsoil had become exhausted by over-cultivation and blown away in dust storms, the ‘Okies’ were forced to ‘upsticks’ once more and go all the way West to pick fruit in California. By that time, the USA was no longer the nation of farmers Jefferson had hoped it would become. Already by the end of the nineteenth century, vast industries were developing in cities like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Chicago. Rather than continuing to go west, increasing numbers of Americans and new immigrants chose to live and work in these and other industrial centres. In 1860 only sixteen cities had populations of over fifty thousand. By 1890 this number had reached fifty-eight. The days were gone when the West was the only place to go for those who wanted to improve their lives. In reality, it never had been.
Migrating Militants & Managers in the Midlands of England:
In 1926, with many miners leaving the south Wales valleys during the six-month lock-out to find work in the new industry centres of the Midlands and South-East of England, the Pressed Steel Company of Detroit accepted the invitation from William Morris, the car magnate, to open a factory in Cowley, then just outside the City of Oxford. The purpose of the Works, as the name suggests, was the mass-production of steel bodies for Morris and other car assembly companies in England. Eight years later, on Friday 13 July 1934, almost every man in the press shop at the giant Works decided to walk out in protest over wage cuts and conditions. One of the key figures leading the unofficial strike was Tom Harris, a crane operator in the press shop. He had been born in Monmouthshire in the 1890s and, following some years working in the pits there, emigrated to Scranton, Pennsylvania in his early twenties. There he worked as a miner, and assisted John L. Lewis in building up the United Mine Workers (UMW). He then returned to South Wales in the mid-1920s, probably to the Maesteg District (covering the Llynfi, Ogmore and Garw valleys), where he became active in the South Wales Miners’ Federation (SWMF), the ‘Fed’, and became involved in the leadership of the General Strike locally. It was with this transatlantic experience of migration and trade union organisation that he arrived in Cowley at some point shortly before the strike in 1934.
The strike was successful, leading to the establishment of a T&GWU branch, of which Harris became Chairman. He was also a ‘secret’ member of the Communist Party (CPGB) and became Vice-President of the Oxford Trades Council. In the space of four years, the T&GWU branch had grown in strength to up to three thousand members at the factory, representing ninety per cent of the unskilled workforce. Towards the end of 1938, however, Harris was ‘victimised’ by the American management for organising meetings at his place of work. The strike which followed did not succeed in getting him reinstated and, somewhat weary after his long career as a union organiser, Harris left the Pressed Steel to set himself up as a coal merchant. The membership of the branch declined sharply after what became known as the ‘Tom Harris episode’, demonstrating his importance as an organiser. Jack Thomas, the Regional Organiser for the T&GWU at the time (an experienced trade unionist from Swansea sent to Oxford by Ernest Bevin to gain control over the ‘militant’ branch), considered that…
It would be fair to say that in the centres of the country that had a strong trade union background, the young people got it from their fathers and the first thing they wanted to do was to join the union even if they had very little money.
In his work with the leaders of the branch, ‘back-to-work Jack’ (as he was known in the Works) got the impression from ‘most Welsh boys’ that their industrial and trade union background; the sense of heritage and solidarity, or ‘clannishness’ among them as immigrant workers, provided a powerful motivation to organisation at the Pressed Steel. By contrast, it was said by local investigators that workers in the Morris Motors’ Plant in Cowley were mostly natives of Oxford and lack therefore any trade union tradition; in Pressed Steel on the contrary the men are largely from other parts of the country…
The primacy of social and cultural factors among the largely immigrant workforce had been present in its early recruitment from former Garw Valley miners following the opening of the plant in 1926. Key figures in the management had played an important role in this before the arrival of Tom Harris. In particular, the foreman in the Trucking Department was a Welsh-American from Detroit, Tudor Brooks, who was als the bandmaster of Headington Silver Band. Brooks became good friends with a number of the Welsh workers who joined the band, including Dai Husk, who was on the Band’s Executive. Always on the look-out for new members of the band as well as being keen to recruit workers from industrial backgrounds for the tough, unskilled work at Pressed Steel, Brooks would tell Husk to ‘send the bugger up’ every time he ‘had a good man wanting a job’. Brooks and Husk were therefore responsible for the migration of large parts of the Garw and Maesteg Salvation Army Bands.
This process continued well into the 1930s, when the Oxford Welsh Male Voice Choir’s secretary was asked to write to the Pressed Steel’s manager, Otto Moeller, to ask if anything more could be done to secure a permanent job for Will Davies, the choir’s new conductor in 1936. When no prompt reply was received, it was then decided that Davies be taken to see Tudor Brooks,who had been responsible for finding positions for many Welsh immigrants at the plant. This worked, and Brooks received a letter of thanks from the choir, asking him to become an Honourary Vice-President. Besides choirs and brass bands, he was responsible for ‘transferring’ gymnastic groups and rugby teams. These experiences provides a further illustration of the primary role played by cultural institutions as well as trade union traditions in migration and settlement. In this sense, Tom Harris and Tudor Brooks, as experienced transatlantic migrants, were two sides of the same coin in this third migration experience.
Sources on Migration:
From Papers in Modern Welsh History: The Journal of The Modern Wales Unit, 1, Cardiff, 1983:
W. D. Jones, ‘The Welsh Experience in Scranton, P. A.’
A. J. Chandler, ‘ “The Black Death on Wheels”; Unemployment and Migration – the Experience of Inter-War South Wales’.
W. D. Jones (1987), ‘Wales in America: Scranton and the Welsh, c.1820-1920. University of Wales, Cardiff PhD thesis.
A. J. Chandler (1988), ‘The Re-making of a Working Class: Migration from the South Wales Coalfield to the New Industry Areas of the Midlands, c. 1920-1940’. University of Wales, Cardiff PhD thesis.
Richard Garrett (1973), The Search for Prosperity: Emigration from Britain, 1815-1930.
Robert McCrum, William Cran & Robert MacNeil (1987), The Story of English. New York: Penguin Books.
Marc J. Susser (2007), The United States & Hungary: Paths of Diplomacy, 1848-2006. Washington D. C. : US Department of State.
Stephen Constantine et. al. (2001), The Penguin Atlas of British & Irish History, London: Penguin Books.