Historic Ethnic Groups in Ohio

Topic Historic Ethnic Groups of Ohio
Time Period Late 1800s/early 1900s
Keyword(s) Ethnic groups, immigrants, Italians, Greeks, Germans, Swiss, Polish, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Czechoslovakian, Irish, Jewish
Grade level(s) Grades 4-9
Learning standard(s) High School American History; Grade 8 History 2 (North America, originally inhabited by American Indians, was explored and colonized by Europeans for economic and religious reasons.); Grade 4 Geography 13 (The population of the United States has changed over time, becoming more diverse–e.g., racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious. Ohio’s population has become increasingly reflective of the multicultural diversity of the United States).

Ohio boasts a rich multi-ethnic history. People from several different cultures came to settle in Ohio for various reasons. Families tended to arrive in waves, joining their relatives who had preceded them in emigrating. The various ethnicities who arrived in Ohio maintained their traditions by making roots in individual ethnic neighborhoods of large cities or areas within specific counties. Immigrants sought a life where they could practice their religions freely with one another. Ethnic foods were still made and sold for each other, providing fond memories of the lands the immigrants left behind. Immigrants also brought their unique talents, such as glass-blowing and candy-making. Some specific examples included in this primary source set are Toledo, Ohio, which boasts a large Polish heritage. Cleveland, Ohio, likewise, saw many Eastern Europeans choosing its city as their new home. While thousands of Germans often chose rural areas throughout Ohio as their new residence, they also settled in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland. In fact, at the beginning of the 20th century, at least 50 percent of Cleveland residents were German. Over 75 percent of Cleveland’s population was foreign born by 1900. In addition to first-hand accounts of the immigrants’ own experiences moving to the United States, this source set also includes the U.S. citizens’ opinions and response to the influx of foreign-born people.

Italian & Greek Americans

Emilio Fabrizi Interview Preview

Emilio Fabrizi Interview

Emilio Fabrizi was born in Italy on August 9, 1935. He arrived in Cleveland, Ohio in 1949 at the age of 13 with his brother. The brothers and an uncle formed Fabrizi Trucking and Paving in 1949, which grew into a company that employed as many as 250 people. In his interview, he spoke of his journey to the United States, as well as family history and history of the company.

Contributed by Toledo Lucas County Public Library

South Side Settlement House: Reverse Preview

South Side Settlement House: Reverse

Italian born pupils in a citizenship class at the South Side Settlement House, Columbus, is under the direction of Mr. Grover Gilfillen. The South Side Settlement House is still in operation. It can be found at 310 Innis Avenue, in Columbus. Founded in 1899, it is one of the oldest settlement houses in the country.

Contributed by Ohio History Connection

Greek Folk Dance Preview

Greek Folk Dance

A group of youthful St. Demetrios dancers in native Greek costumes includes Emily Pamphilis, Dina Mihalis, Manuel Kamkutis, Tom Parras and Toni Kakludis.

Contributed by Cleveland Public Library

Practical Italian recipes for American kitchens  Preview

Practical Italian recipes for American kitchens

Compiled in 1918, this cookbook was sold as a fundraiser for World War I orphans. It provides a detailed description of specific foods that were common in authentic Italian dishes.

Contributed by the University of Wisconsin


Jeanette Czajka interview Preview

Jeanette Czajka interview

Born in Toledo to Polish immigrant parents, Joseph and Mary Samsel, she was raised with many Polish traditions. A long time Polish Village resident, Mrs. Czajka worked for Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. for more than thirty years.

Contributed by Toledo Lucas County Public Library

Roots in Birmingham Preview

Roots in Birmingham

The book, a compilation of interviews with Birmingham residents, evokes the neighborhood’s history and culture. A “Birmingham Cultural Center Book”.

Contributed by Toledo Lucas County Public Library

Burying the Fiddle Ceremony Preview

Burying the Fiddle Ceremony

Dated ca. 1935-1940, this photograph shows the Burying the Fiddle ceremony, a Hungarian custom observed at the beginning of Lent, in Cleveland, Ohio. This photograph is one of the many visual materials collected for use in the Ohio Guide.

Contributed by Ohio History Connection

Lithuanians in Cleveland Preview

Lithuanians in Cleveland

Part of a series about Cleveland’s ethnic communities, published by the Americanization committee of the Mayor’s advisory war committee.

Contributed by Cleveland Public Library

Hungarian-American cookbook; culinary gems from world-famous Hungarian recipes, especially adapted to American tastes Preview

Hungarian-American cookbook; culinary gems from world-famous Hungarian recipes, especially adapted to American tastes

This compilation starts with a forward explaining the techniques of Hungarian cooking and what the author describes as the Hungarian secrets of cooking.

Contributed by the University of Minnesota

German & Swiss-Americans

Sausage Stuffer Preview

Sausage Stuffer

Food provided one of the most basic ways for immigrants to stay connected to their cultural heritage, as well as providing an introduction to a different ethnic heritage for other immigrants.

Contributed by Wisconsin Historical Society

Dunkards, Group of 7 Preview

Dunkards, Group of 7

This photograph shows a group of seven people, wearing the traditional Dunkard clothing. Because of persecution, many Brethren emigrated to America with the greatest influx being in the 1719 and 1729. As of 2008, almost 54% of the members live in Ohio and Indiana.

Contributed by Ohio History Connection

Fisher House in Walnut Hills Preview

Fisher House in Walnut Hills

This home, known as the Fisher House, is located in the Walnut Hills neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. The work of architect Lucian Plympton, it was built in the Swiss Chalet style popular between 1885-1910. The house was completed in 1892. Characteristics of the Swiss Chalet style include a low-pitched front gable roof, second-story balconies, and decorative carving. The ornate detailing on the home’s facade is also characteristic of a decorative style known as “gingerbread.”

Contributed by Ohio History Connection


Sten Westlund interview Preview

Sten Westlund interview

Sten Westlund was born in Sweden on March 30, 1900. He learned glass blowing in his native land, and came to Toledo to work at Libbey Glass Manufacturing Company in 1917. In this interview, he discusses the making of various glass items, the factory, the artisans, and the various supervisors at the company, primarily before WWII.

Contributed by Toledo Lucas County Public Library


Housing in Akron Preview

Housing in Akron

Akron was originally laid out in 1825 and in 1841 and became the seat of Summit County. Many of the town’s earliest residents were Irish immigrants employed to build the Ohio and Erie Canal.

Contributed by Ohio History Connection

Garfield-Invincible L.O.L. Badge Preview

Garfield-Invincible L.O.L. Badge

A parade badge produced by Whitehead & Hoag Co. for a fraternal organization. The badge is reversible so it may be used for both parades and funerals.The dates on the badge bar (1688-1690) refer to the period when James VII and II was fighting William III of Orange for the crown of England. The medallion has the word “enniskillen,” which is what Protestant Irish who fought with William called themselves. Boyne, the decisive battle in the war, was won by William III in 1690. L.O.L” likely stands for “Loyal Orange Lodge.” The Orangemen were a Irish Protestant fraternal organization who celebrated the memory and ideals of William III of Orange.

Contributed by National Museum of American History

Peter Hamill interview Preview

Peter Hamill interview

Pete Hamill discusses his book “A Drinking Life.” He talks about immigrants learning about baseball, the working class, and life after war. He says that men face their morality when they go into a war. Hamill shares that before becoming a newspaper man, he was a painter and commercial artist. He reads a passage from his book detailing the “codes of the neighborhood,” discusses not rising above one’s station, and Irish parents building a “green ceiling” to protect their children from embarrassment. He also talks about his mother and her experience with bigotry. Possibly broadcast in March 1995.

Contributed by Claremont Colleges Library

Response to Immigrants by Americans

Invasion of Cleveland by Europeans Preview

Invasion of Cleveland by Europeans

A survey of ethnic communities in Cleveland in 1906, with sections on Poland, Hungary, Bohemia, Slavonia and Croatia, Italy, Russia, Germany, Scandinavia, Ireland, and Jews. From front cover: Comprising a brief statement of the religious conditions of Cleveland resulting from the incoming of foreign born people.

Contributed by Cleveland Public Library

Ethnic composition of Ohio Map Preview

Ethnic composition of Ohio Map

This photograph is a copy of the map of the geographical and numerical distribution of non-native white groups (the larger map) and the ethnic composition of the earliest settlements. These maps were created by the Ohio Writers’ Project of the Work Progress Administration in 1936.

Contributed by Ohio History Connection

Founding of the Toledo Jewish Foundation Preview

Founding of the Toledo Jewish Foundation

A 1913 document listing the Board of Directors for the original Toledo Jewish Federation, the Toledo Federation of Jewish Charities. The charity was organized to assist immigrant families fleeing their native countries to escape discrimination, persecution, lack of educational and economic opportunity, and even death. Many families arrived with only the clothes on their backs and a willingness to work hard. The charity assisted the newcomers to find a place in Toledo’s society.

Contributed by Toledo Lucas County Public Library

Additional resources

1.    U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services – Website of the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.
Provides information on immigration laws, the naturalization test and citizenship requirements. This is also where an immigrant can apply online to begin the citizenship process, acquire a passport or green card, find doctors and check on their citizen status.

2.    Charts of the Week: Facts about Immigration – 12 economic facts compiled and charted by the Hamilton Project. The Brookings Institution is a non-profit public policy organization in Washington D.C.

3.   Immigration Timeline – Explains how immigrant to the United States has changed over time. There is also a link to search for ancestors who may have arrived at Ellis Island from their country of origin.

4.    Calendar of Ethnic Holidays  –  Wake Forest University American Ethnic Studies Department. A list of common holidays celebrated in the United States with the religion or country where they originated in parenthesis.

Teaching guide

This guide will serve to outline some possible ways to interact with the digital content and has suggestions to have students pull information from the examples listed above.

Discussion questions (Download)

1. Describe some ways that immigrants retain their culture and traditions after they arrive in America. Why do you think retaining these celebrations were so important to them?

2. How does assimilation to America differ today than 100 years ago?

3. Are you multi-cultural or do you know someone who celebrates their ethnic heritage? Please share these traditions.

4. What are some of your family’s unique traditions, especially during the holidays? If you aren’t sure, ask your family members to describe some celebrations that have been passed down from prior generations.


Classroom activities (Download)

1. Listen to one of the 3 featured interviews. Share 5 interesting facts you learned in this interview.

2. Imagine you are an immigrant to another country. What are some American traditions you might want to continue?

3. Pick a country covered in this lesson and explore its ethnic foods, clothing and music.