Immigration to Iowa
What would compel people to move to a new place?
Iowa has been the destination for immigrants since it began welcoming settlers in the 1830s. The origins of those new arrivals changed significantly over the past 175 years and can be roughly divided into three waves. In each case, they came in response to a combination of “push/pull” factors. Push factors like wars or persecution at home or poverty and lack of economic prospects forced them to seek a new homeland. Pull factors included the advantages they saw in relocating in Iowa. The rich farmland and economic opportunities were the major factor in early Iowa.
Iowa's Early Settlers
Following the Black Hawk War when Native Americans were pressured to relinquish title to a significant portion of eastern Iowa, pioneers headed for the “land across the river.” Most early settlers were attracted by the acres of cheap government land. Small farmers from the Ohio River Valley furnished a large share of the early population. The states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri were stopping points along the way for many families who had begun in New England or the states of the upper South like Virginia, Maryland or Kentucky.
Europe also began its contribution to the Iowa scene. Political revolutions and repressive reactions swept central Europe in the late 1840s. Germany supplied the largest contingent, with a tidal wave following failed revolutions in 1848. Many Germans settled in the Mississippi River towns like Dubuque and Davenport where they formed strong ethnic communities. However, Germans were a sizable presence in many Iowa communities and rural neighborhoods. The potato famines of the 1840s forced many Irish families to seek a new home in America, promoting Ireland as the second largest source of early European immigrants. Great Britain, Canada, Holland and the Scandinavian countries also contributed residents to early Iowa. Railroads and the state itself promoted foreign immigration. They developed and distributed brochures throughout northern and western Europe in native languages describing the climate, economic prospects and practical information on how to reach Iowa.
In the late 1800s and until World War I, immigrants from Italy, Russia and Eastern Europe began showing up in the census. Because most of the land was now privately owned and no longer available at cheap prices from the government, it was early Iowa industries that attracted these new arrivals. Coal mining was important in drawing Italians and Croatians. Often a single male would arrive and get a job in a coal mine. When he had saved enough, he would sponsor a brother, son or nephew who would then also contribute to the migration costs of other family members. World War I fostered distrust of these later immigrants and efforts were made to “Americanize” them and to limit the numbers of future arrivals. Mexican immigration also increased with the demand for farm labor during the war.
Beginning in the 1970s, a third wave of immigrants began to enter the state and this immigration continues today. These individuals were often the victims of civil wars or natural disasters. The Vietnam War created thousands of displaced persons confined in refugee camps in Southeast Asia. In 1975, President Gerald Ford urged the nation to help to resettle refugees here, and Iowa’s Governor Robert Ray responded by setting up a state agency to work with private organizations. As a result, many Vietnamese arrived in the state, learned English and became productive citizens. Wars in their homelands also “pushed” Bosnians, Ethiopians and others from Africa and Asia to seek new homes in Iowa. Hispanics from Mexico, South America and the Caribbean were drawn here by work in Iowa's meatpacking plants and became a significant segment of the population in several Iowa communities including Perry, Storm Lake, Marshalltown and Denison.
Iowa boasts several nationally-recognized museums that pay tribute to Iowa immigrant groups: Vesterheim for Norwegians in Decorah; The Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids; the German Heritage Center in Davenport; and the Danish Museum of America in Elk Horn.
Why do people move or choose to immigrate?
- Sivell Family Passengers' Contract Ticket, 1852 (Document)
- Sivell Ship's Manifest, 1852 (Document)
- The Great Bartholdi Statue, 1885 (Image)
- Statistical Atlas of the United States' Population, 1898 (Map)
- Emigrants coming to the "Land of Promise," 1902 (Image)
What did immigrants experience when they arrived in America?
- Inspection Room, Ellis Island, New York, between 1900 and 1915 (Image)
- Emigrants [i.e. immigrants] Landing at Ellis Island, 1903 (Video)
- Immigration Figures for the United States, 1903 (Document)
- Immigrants' Landing at Ellis Island, between 1910 and 1920 (Image)
- Language Proclamation Concern Letter, June 6, 1918 (Document)
- Revocation of Babel Proclamation, 1918 (Document)
How does one's culture influence where they choose to live?
- Sokol Festival, July 4-6, 1911 (Image)
- Sauerkraut Day, September 7, 1912 (Image)
- Italian Immigrants in Iowa, April 15, 1942 (Image)
- Sudanese Immigrants in Iowa, late 1990s (Image)
Sivell Family Passengers' Contract Ticket, August 20, 1852
Sivell Ship's Manifest, 1852
The Great Bartholdi Statue, Liberty Enlightening the World: The Gift of France to the American People, 1885
Statistical Atlas of the United States' Population (excluding Indians not taxed), 1898
Emigrants coming to the "Land of Promise," 1902
Inspection Room, Ellis Island, New York, between 1900 and 1915
Emigrants [i.e. immigrants] Landing at Ellis Island, 1903
- Video resource
Immigration Figures for the United States, 1903
Immigrants' Landing at Ellis Island, New York, between 1910 and 1920
Language Proclamation Concern Letter, June 6, 1918
Revocation of Babel Proclamation, 1918
Sokol Festival, July 4-6, 1911
Sauerkraut Day, September 7, 1912
Italian Immigrants in Iowa, April 15, 1942
Sudanese Immigrants in Iowa, late 1990s
- The Goldfinch: Iowa History for Young People (Volume 12, Number 4, April 1991)
This Iowa history magazine for children was published quarterly by the State Historical Society of Iowa from 1975-2000. Each issue focuses on a theme and this particular volume highlighted immigration in Iowa and included articles, games, photos and fiction.
- Alicia Ostriker reads Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus"
Poet and professor Alicia Ostriker reads the poem "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus as a donation to an auction of art and literary works intended to raise money to build a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. According to Ostriker, Lazarus was initially not interested in contributing a poem, but "a friend convinced her that the statue would be of great significance to immigrants sailing into the harbor."
- Immigration: Stories of Yesterday and Today
This online toolkit allows students to experience the process of immigration to America through the eyes of an immigrant. Students can take a tour of Ellis Island, explore an interactive immigration timeline and meet young immigrants through this online resource.
- Civics Test (2016)
This document is the "Civics (History and Government) Questions for the Naturalization Test," and is an oral exam that an USCIS officer will ask the applicant up to 10 of the 100 civics questions. Applicants must answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test.
- Iowa Pathways: Oral History Videos
The media artifacts of this collection include videos and information about different groups of immigrants coming to Iowa, such as Jewish, Dutch and German settlers.
- Escaping to America by Rosalyn Schanzer
This book, written for children 8 to 12, is Rosalyn Schanzer recounting how her father traveled with his family in 1921 from Sochocin, Poland, to the United States. His family left Poland under rising violence against and persecution of Poland's Jewish population.
- How People Immigrate by Sarah De Capua
A civic book targeted as the elementary grade level that includes information about American history, government and politics.
- At Ellis Island: A History In Many Voices by Louise Peacock
The book follows the journey of different immigrants and their families as they recount their travels, struggles and wonders of coming to America.
- I Pledge Allegiance by Pat Mora & Libby Martinez
This children's book follows Libby's great aunt, Lobo, who is from Mexico. Lobo called the United States her home for many years, and she wants to become a U.S. citizen. At the end of the week, Lobo says the Pledge of Allegiance at a special ceremony. Libby is also learning the Pledge of Allegiance and she and Lobo practice together.
Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (3rd Grade)
Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are elementery-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for third grade students.
- SS.3.9. Compare and contrast the treatment of a variety of demographic groups in the past and present.
- SS.3.12. Use historical examples to describe how scarcity requires a person to make choices.
- SS.3.16. Describe how people take risks to improve their family income through education, career changes and moving to new places.
- SS.3.17. Explain an individual's responsibility for credit and debt. (21st century skills)
- SS.3.20. Describe how cultural characteristics influence people’s choices to live in different regions of the U.S.
- SS.3.28. Explain the cultural contributions that different groups have made on Iowa.