It has been said that Chicago has more Polish people living in it than Warsaw does. It turns out this particular piece of passed around wisdom simply isn’t true. Even so, it is clear that Chicago does have a large population of people who have Polish heritage. Why did so many Polish people come to Chicago?
It isn’t factual to say that Chicago has the largest Polish city outside of Warsaw, Poland. This is because there are two other Polish cities, Lodz, and Wroclaw, that have a larger population of Polish people than does Chicago.
If you wanted to compare the Polish population of American cities, Chicago comes in second, behind New York and ahead of Philadelphia. The city of New York is three times the size of Chicago. New York’s size gives it a larger volume of people than Chicago.
That being said, it is still true that Chicago itself has a large population of people who have Polish heritage. Why did so many Polish people choose to live in Chicago? There were plenty of other cities that had a Polish population and that could offer jobs to new immigrants. In the 19th century, tens of thousands of Polish immigrants chose to come to Chicago.
One of the reasons Chicago was so attractive was its vast variety of available jobs. People could find work in the stock yards, tanneries, and steel mills. In the early 19th century, Chicago was seen as the place where new ideas and new technology, could be tried out.
Chicago was undergoing a period of tremendous growth at the same time that a lot of Polish immigrants were arriving in America. Between 1860 and 1910, Chicago’s population grew twenty-fold. It went from a little bit over 100,000 to over two million. At the same time, Chicago was becoming the connection hub between the eastern and western railroads. That made it easier for people to move in and out of Chicago.
Another factor that made Chicago so attractive to Polish immigrants was that Chicago had it’s own population of people with Polish heritage. As often happens when a new group of immigrants arrives in the United States, the Polish ended up living in Polish neighborhoods.
They established a culture and started building their own institutions. The Archdiocese of Chicago started creating Polish-friendly parishes and schools. There are now fifty-two Catholic Churches in the Archdiocese of Chicago that offer Mass in Polish.
The Displaced Person Act of 1948 allowed Polish people to immigrate to the United States, but the amount of people who were helped by this Act was rather limited. Around 450,000 Poles arrived in America as refugees. After arriving, many moved to Chicago because they wanted to reunite with relatives who had previously immigrated to the United States.
Image by vxla on Flickr.
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