Numerous Ohioans are descended from Slovak ancestors. Today, Slovak Ohioans continue to enhance Ohio's cultural and social landscape.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of immigrants migrated to the United States of America, hoping to live the American Dream. Before the American Civil War, most immigrants arrived in the United States from Great Britain, Germany, and Ireland. By the 1880s, the home countries of immigrants began to change. Many of the new immigrants to arrive in the United States came from Eastern European countries, like Poland, Hungary, Latvia, and Czechoslovakia, rather than from Western European countries, like Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany.
In 1860, 328,249 immigrants lived in Ohio. These people accounted for fourteen percent of the state's population. By 1900, the number of immigrants in Ohio rose to 458,734, but the percentage of the population that was foreign-born declined to eleven percent. Most of these immigrants in 1900 came from Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland, yet a growing number of Eastern Europeans were also migrating to the state.
In 1900, fewer than ten thousand Slovak immigrants resided in Ohio. By 1920, their numbers had risen to over forty-two thousand people. Most of these Slovaks settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories, steel mills, or on railroads. More successful immigrants established businesses that supplied their fellow Slovaks with traditional Slovak products. By 1918, perhaps as many as thirty-five thousand Slovaks lived in Cleveland, making Cleveland the city with the most Slovaks in the entire world. In Cleveland, the Slovak immigrants tended to settle in their own communities, preferring to live among people who shared similar cultural beliefs and spoke the same language as they did. By the late 1800s, Cleveland claimed at least three Slovak communities. Most of the Slovak immigrants were followers of the Roman Catholic Church, but they also established Lutheran churches.
Slovak immigrants congregated together partly out of camaraderie but also out of fear. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many native-born Americans feared outsiders. Some of these people objected to the immigrants' religious and cultural beliefs, while others believed that the foreigners would corrupt the morals of United States citizens. These people also contended that the quality of life within the United States would decline, as there were not enough jobs to employ the millions of people migrating to America. Many native-born Americans hoped either to limit immigration or to force foreigners to convert to American customs and beliefs. The leaders of this movement were the Progressives of the late 1800s and the early 1900s. To accomplish their goals, the Progressives implemented numerous reforms, including settlement houses, which taught foreigners American practices. The Progressives also called for laws that would either limit or ban the cultural practices of recently arrived immigrants. It would take several generations before the immigrants became truly accepted by the vast majority of white Ohioans.
Most Slovak immigrants came to the United States prior to World War II. The largest immigration seemed to occur in the years immediately before and after World War I. Before this conflict, Austria-Hungary controlled the Slovak homeland. Following World War I, the nation of Czechoslovakia was created, and many Slovaks fled their war-torn homeland. World War I destroyed numerous Slovak homes and businesses, and many residents sought a better life in the United States. Ohio's Slovak residents actively assisted these new arrivals in beginning new lives.
Over the succeeding decades, Ohio's Slovak population continued to thrive. As late as 1970, forty-eight thousand Cleveland residents claimed Slovak ancestry. Numerous Slovak Ohioans created social institutions, such as dance troupes and theater groups, to promote traditional Slovak beliefs and customs. Many of these institutions continued to exist at the start of the twenty-first century, helping diversify Ohio socially and culturally.
- Van Tassel, David D., and John J. Grabowski, eds. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.
- Megles, Susi, Mark Stolarik, and Martina Tybor. Slovak Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland State University Press, 1978.