Finnish Ohioans

From Ohio History Central

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 or Northern European countries, like Finland, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, 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 and Northern Europeans were also migrating to the state.

In 1920, fewer than one thousand Finnish immigrants resided in Ohio. Most of these Finns settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland, where they found low-paying jobs in factories or worked as day laborers. Many Finns also worked as tailors, domestics, sailors, or fishermen. Immigrants who were more successful established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Finnish products. In 1930, approximately three thousand Finns lived in Cleveland alone, with Ashtabula, Conneaut, and Fairport Harbor also boasting sizable Finnish communities. In these cities, the Finnish 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.

Most Finnish immigrants arrived in the United States prior to World War II. Over the succeeding decades, Ohio's traditional Finnish communities began to lose their cohesiveness and many Finnish communities began to disintegrate. Many Finns moved into other communities, while non-Finns began to infiltrate the traditionally Finnish neighborhoods. Second and third generation Finns also preferred the more open and free lifestyle of Americans, apposed to their traditional and more conservative customs and beliefs. Unlike most other national groups who migrated to Ohio, the Finns lost their cultural identity by the late twentieth century.

Today, Finnish Ohioans participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote and support Finnish beliefs and customs.  The Finnish-American Heritage Association supports the Finnish American Cultural Center in Ashtabula, Ohio.  It features museum, artifacts, historical photos and documents, as well as activities and events. The Scandinavian Club in Columbus and in Cincinnati, representing Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland, celebrate their heritage with monthly cultural events highlighting traditional holidays, cooking, literature and history.

See Also


  1. Van Tassel, David D., and John J. Grabowski, eds. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.