General Historical Information prior to 1900

In speaking of the economic aspects of Italian agriculture it is
necessary to distinguish between North and South Italy. The northern part is
the more progressive section. The agricultural and industrial methods
prevailing there are essentially the same as in other countries of Western
Europe, being characterized by the intensive cultivation, the use of modern
machinery, and the employment of the best methods of irrigation and
fertilization. On the contrary, Southern Italy, though essentially an
agricultural country, suffers from crude, primitive methods of cultivation.
The Italian peasant is among the poorest in Europe. The prevalence of large
estates and the presence of tenants and hired laborers who cultivate the
land are characteristic features of Italian agriculture. No definite
statistics are gathered on the subject, but it is estimated that the
agricultural producers are made up of 40 per cent. laborers, 40 per cent.
tenants, and 20 per cent. owners. The cultivation of the soil by owners is
most common in Venetia. Other regions in which peasant proprietorship is
most prevalent are the northern districts of Piedmont and Liguria, and to a
considerable extent also the provinces of Rome, Abruzzi e Molise, Campania,
Calabria, Apulia, and Potenza, and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
The system of rent varies greatly in the different regions, and often in
the same region, but it is almost always some form of grain or share-rent.
Only in a few places is the cash system well known. Sometimes the owner not
only supplies the land and bears the burden of the taxes, but in addition
furnishes the stock, implements and seed, and also sometimes free
house-rent, in which case the bulk of the product goes to the owner. Indeed,
the owner much more commonly has a share in supplying the requisites for the
running of the farm than is the case in America. According to some systems,
however, the renter supplies some or all the requisites and sometimes pays
a portion of the taxes. The rent period varies in length with the different
systems, but is most often short.

FINANCES: The condition of Italian finance is the country's blight. The
enormous debts that the Government of United Italy had to assume, the costly
wars waged to bring about the unification, the new debts incurred for public
works, and the constantly growing expenditure for the army and navy, have
all led to the accumulation of such heavy burdens, that there is a
distressing state of affairs. Although the annual budgets of the Government
usually show a surplus, this is often achieved with the help of loans and
other objectionable means, and always through burdensome taxation.

EMIGRATION...The unsatisfactory condition of public affairs is responsible
for the enormous tide of emigration. More than 2,000,000 Italian emigrants
are living in foreign countries, and their number increases from year to
year by hundreds of thousands. The growth of emigration in the last quarter
of the nineteenth century was as follows:

1876 (108,771)
1880 (119,901)
1885 (157,193)
1891 (293,631)
1896 (307,482)
1898 (283,715
1900 (352,782)

It will be seen that the emigration increased more than threefold in the
period indicated. As the conditions responsible for this exodus from the
country do not seem to improve much there are no reasons to expect any
decline of emigration in the near future. The region contributing most to
the emigration is the less productive and more poorly developed southern
portion of the Peninsula from Naples southward, and the emigrants are
chiefly peasants or representatives of other lower classes. The Province of
Genoa contributes more than any other province in the north to the stream of
emigration. The country most vitally interested in this question is the
United States. As late as 1888 less than 12 per cent. of all the Italian
emigrants went to the United States, while more than 33 per cent, went to
Brazil, and about 23 per cent, to Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. In 1900
the proportion was reversed, the number of immigrants to the United States,
Brazil, and Argentina being 136,000, 11,500, and 72,000, or 38.5, 3.3, and
20.4 per cent., respectively. About one-half go to European countries,
especially France, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. The majority of these
ultimately return home, and the remainder finally embark for America.

CHIEF PORTS:.. Genoa, Leghorn, Naples, Messina, Catania, Palermo, and
Venice. Ancona and Brindisi are also well-known seaports.

Source of Information: The New International Encyclopaedia
Publisher: Dodd, Mead and Company....New York
Copyright: 1902-1905 Total of 21 volumes.

                      N E W   Y O R K  S T A T E

Italians fleeing from abortive revolts against Austria started coming as
early as 1820. Immigration during the 40 years before the World War was made
up predominantly of Italians and Greeks and the peoples of the Slavic countries
of eastern Europe: Poles, Lithuanians and Letts, Roumanians, Russians, and
Russian Jews. These filled the steerages of westbound ships and were
filtered through Ellis Island. Many of these newcomers, especially the
Italians, regarded coming to America as a temporary adventure from which they would 
return home with pockets full of money. Some did carry out that plan, but the vast
majority became rooted in the new world.

The flood of Italian immigration reached its crest in 1907, when 300,000
passed through the port of New York. They settled mainly along the
water-level route from New York City to Buffalo.

                           *  *  *  *  *  *
            During the last decades of the century Italians were attracted
by labor opportunities. Several of the city's largest manufacturing plants
were established in the seventies and eighties.

            Buffalo's 80,000 Italians, predominantly of Sicilian extraction,
are represented in almost every type of commercial endeavor and share with
the Poles the heavy labor in steel mills and iron foundries. Italian singing
societies have long played an important part in the city's cultural life.

New Rochelle:
      In the poorer sections of the city live 5,000 descendants of the
Italian laborers imported in the eighties to lay railroad lines.

New York City:         (Manhattan)
      The immigration waves of the 1880's and the 1890's brought in Jews and
Italians.The lower East side stretches along the east of Chinatown, from
Brooklyn Bridge to 14th street. With the Bowery, the East Side is a
notorious slum district. Here are tens of thousands of Jews and Italians and
thousands of other ethnic groups, such as Poles, Greeks, Russians,
Spaniards, Lithuanians, and a scattering of Turks, Persians, and Chinese. A
concentrated melting pot of the Nation's immigrants. Italian Harlem,
bordering the East River opposite Ward's and Randall's Islands, has a
population of 150,000 living in an area of one square mile, the most densely
populated section of Manhattan. It is the largest colony of
Italian-Americans in the country. Half the families had no income in 1937.
During prohibition years it was the center of gang leaders. Social
organizations, among them Harlem House, have exercised a reforming influence.


      The southern end of Brooklyn is Italian.


      Scattered along the north and northeast shores are ship-building
yards, lumber mills, printing and publishing plants, and a large soap and
oil plant. Italians are grouped in the industrial areas.

Niagara Falls:
      About one third of the city's population is of foreign stock, with
Italians and Poles, who supply most of the labor in these factories,

      Rochester's 55,000 Italians, less compact as a racial group than those
in other cities, work in many industries, including clothing and shoe

Schenectady (Schnectady):
      The Italians are concentrated around the locomotive works at the
northern end of Erie Boulevard. For several years Schnectady (Schenectady) was an
important railroad center, with short lines branching out to Saratoga, Utica
and Troy. But as soon as most of these roads were combined with others
westward to form the New York Central, Schnectady (Schenectady) became just another stop
on the New York-Buffalo run. It was during this early period of railroad
development, in 1848, that the first locomotive factory, financed by local
capital, was organized. Italian laborers were imported in the 1870's to
build the West Shore Railroad.

     In Syracuse the Italians dominate the city's north side and are
employed in the steel
mills, chemical plants, and clothing factories. The Italians have their own
business section along North State and North Salina Streets.

      Italians between 1860 and 1910, settled in the city supplying the
labor for railroad construction and municipal improvements.

    In Utica, where they occupy a distinct district, they are principally
knitting mill workers. There are 13,000 Italians in this city. The Italian
section in northeast Utica, a distinct air of the homeland prevails.
Weddings are gala affairs; at funerals files of marchers tramp to the dirge
of a muffled band; and Saints' days are celebrated with parades and
fireworks. The textile industry, the backbone of Utica's economic structure,
began with the opening of the woolen mills in 1847, and of the cotton mills
in 1848. The manufacture of locomotive headlights was started in 1851, of
steam gauges in 1861, of firearms in 1862, of knit goods in 1863. The
manufacture of worsted and caps was started in 1886. A wave of Italian
immigration, attracted by the varied industries, reached its crest in 1910.

      Plays a double role as a residential suburb for New York City
commuters and as an important manufacturing center. The foreign groups of
the industrial city, representing 28 nationalities and employed mostly in
the mills and factories, comprise 25 per cent of the population. The more
recent Italian, Slav and Polish arrivals outnumber the earlier Irish, Scotch
and German groups. These newcomers hold the balance of power in elections
and take an absorbing interest in sports. In the second half of the
nineteenth century, Yonkers enjoyed a national reputation for the products
of its looms, spindles, and machine shops. New industries were added and
attracted Italians as well as other nationalities.

Silver Creek:
                   (northern end of the Chautauqua grape belt.)
      In the years of the early grape boom, grape culture was wholly in the
hands of American farmers, but Italian immigrants were attracted to an
industry familiar to them in the homeland. They flocked to the grape belt,
bought and paid for their farms, and within a few years increased the output
of wine. Grape harvesting, while it involves hard work, has about it a
carnival spirit. Thousands of pickers would come in trailers and remain for
the season; others come out daily from the near-by cities.

      It is an industrial center and a shipping point for dairy products.
The town is divided by the New York Central tracks into the north side and
south side; most of the large Polish and Italian population, generally
factory workers, live on the south side. A well-known member of the Italian
community is Lou Ambers, ex-lightweight boxing champion, known to the
sporting fraternity as the Herkimer Hurricane; after his victories Ambers is
welcomed home with a parade, band, and fireworks.

      The village is one of the onion-growing centers of the State. The
surrounding muckland region, a rich black soil four to five feet deep, is
especially adapted to the intensive cultivation of onions, and also lettuce,
celery, and cabbage. Much of the onion crop (in 1938 it amounted to more
than a million and a quarter bushels), is produced by Italian sharecroppers,

who work the land and share 50-50 with the owner. Most of them are Italian
immigrants. A sharecropper family of five or six members can earn $1,000 in
a good season.

Mount Vernon:
      It was developed as a refuge for industries and commuters escaping the
high rents in New York City. The 115 industries of the city turn out
clothing, chemicals, beverages, weather strips and screens, electrical
equipment, dyes, machinery, and metal products. Many of the workers are of
Italian origin.
While attempting to keep alive its racial heritage, the Italians  have
contributed their share to our American culture. The Italians have been largely 
responsible for the addition of Columbus Day to our calendar of holidays and the 
delight of spaghetti to our tables. Italians bedeck city streets with flags and 
bunting to celebrate Saints' days.

Source:  New York--A Guide to the Empire State
Publisher:  Oxford University Press--New York
Copyright:  1940
Compiled by the workers of the Writers' Program of the Work Projects
Administration in the State of New York and sponsored by New York State
Historical Association.
          Researched and Transcribed by Miriam Medina