Croatian American

Croatian American
Croatian American
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Total population
420,763 Americans

0.14% of the US population (2007)[1]

Regions with significant populations
Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, California, New York, Wisconsin, Indiana

American English, Croatian


Roman Catholic (dominant), Protestant, Orthodox, Islam, Judaism

Croatian Americans (Croatian: Hrvatski Amerikanci) are citizens of the United States of Croatian descent.




According to the 2007 US Community Survey, there are 420,763[1] Americans of full or partial Croatian descent.

According to the United States Census Bureau of Statistics (1990) there were over 544,270[2] Croatian Americans who identify themselves as being of Croatian descent or being born in Croatia.

In addition to that, many Americans who identify themselves as Slavs, Dalmatians, Yugoslavs, Bosnians, Austrians, or Austro-Hungarians are of Croatian heritage.

The states with the largest Croatian-American populations are:


Pennsylvania   50,350[2]
Illinois 43,613[2]
Ohio 41,812[2]
California 39,071[2]
New York 23,650[2]
Wisconsin 16,202[2]
Missouri 8,941[3]
Indiana 8,433[2]


  • 1880 estimate: 20,000[6]
  • 1980 census: 252,970[7]
  • 1990 census: 544,270[8]
  • 2000 census: 374,241[8]
  • 2004 community survey: 401,208[9]


It is very difficult to establish when the first Croatian people came to the United States. Some written documents indicate that individuals or small groups of Croatians (notably seafarers from the Dalmatian coastal regions) arrived to the United States some two or three hundred years ago. At least two theories of a pre-Columbian contact by Dalmatian sailors have appeared within the last 30 years or so.

But significant emigration from the region of Croatia can be said to date from the late 1890s and early 1900s, peaking around 1910, when many Croatians, the majority of them Roman Catholics, began emigrating to the United States. Many were economic immigrants, while others considered themselves political refugees.

Like other immigrants of that period, they migrated to find employment. Many of them, mostly single young men but, often, married men with or without their families, settled in small towns in Pennsylvania and New York as coal miners or steelworkers. Many also settled in factory towns and farming areas in Midwestern states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. For most of the single men, the stay was only temporary. Once they had saved enough money, many Croatian men returned to Croatia. However, those who did choose to stay found permanent homes where they had found jobs and sent for their families.

Within a comparatively short period of time, Croatians could be found all over the United States from New York to California, from New Orleans to Minneapolis-St. Paul. As it went through its most rapid expansion during the time of the 1890-1914 Great Migration and shortly thereafter from the onset of the First World War to the general clampdown on immigration in 1924, Croats and other South and West Slavs and members of other groups peaking in influx at the time were prominent in the history of the mining industry in the Iron Range of Minnesota; much the same is the case with the forestry-related industries there, elsewhere in Minnesota and in much of Wisconsin. A notable Croatian-American from the Iron Range was the late Dr Rudy Perpich, the 34th and 36th Governor of the state representing the Democrat/Farmer-Labor Party; he served terms in office from 29 December 1976 to 4 January 1979, and from 3 January 1983 to 7 January 1991, spans of time which add up to make him the longest-serving governor in the state's history. In private life, Dr Perpich was a dentist and after leaving office in 1991 assisted the post-Communist government of Croatia[10] He was born in Carson Lake, Minnesota (now part of Hibbing) on 27 June 1928 and died of cancer in Minnetonka on 21 September 1995.

A new wave of Croatian immigrants began to arrive after World War II. These were mostly political refugees, including orphans whose parents had been killed during the war, individuals and families fleeing Yugoslavia's Communist regime. Most of these Croatians settled in established Croatian colonies, often among relatives and friends.

It was assumed that this would be the end of Croatian immigration. But, beginning in 1965, America saw a new influx of Croatians, some of them political refugees, most of them younger families seeking economic security and a prosperity impossible to find in Yugoslavia.

Those arriving in the 1960s and the decades that followed settled mostly in larger cities. These immigrants were better educated and more liberal than their forebears in America, but they were also influenced by the new European standard of life and opposed to the Communist ideology forcefully imposed upon them in the totalitarian state of Yugoslavia.

They sought "the good life"-a decent job, a balanced education for their children, good housing and utilities, the ability to be vocal in their political views in democratic America, and the freedom to live out their deeply rooted religious convictions.

Gradually, this new wave of immigrants joined Croatian Catholic parishes and organizations, and soon became the contemporary bearers of Croatian culture and tradition in the United States.

Currently, only a small number of Croatians continue to emigrate, mostly those who have relatives already well established in America.


Group of Croatian men in the club of town Joliet in Illinois around 1900

Large populations are found in Chicago, Cleveland, New York City and Los Angeles, with mid-sized communities in St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and the San Francisco Bay Area, and smaller communities in Sacramento, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Harrisburg. The Ohio Valley has one of the largest concentrations of Croatian-Americans today. The first Croatian settlements were in Mississippi estuary in Louisiana and in California. First Croatian immigrants to those places were sailors who left their ships out of economic reasons and also because of the news and rumors about war in Europe, various contagious diseases on ships, bad conditions of the ships, etc. There was already a considerably large group of them in 1835 that easily assimilated and started working in the fields of commerce and catering industry. These men usually married American women, which greatly contributed to their fast and easy assimilation.

Croatian Place district in San Pedro, Los Angeles, California.

From the middle of the 19th century a lot of Croats were involved in the oyster business. Luka Jurisic was a pioneer in establishing the large-scale cultivation and marketing of oysters. By the late 19th century the Croats controlled the oyster business. In San Pedro there is even a stretch of street called "Croatian Place". There are reportedly more than(today) 35,000 Croats in San Pedro, making it the biggest Croatian community on the Pacific. California had Croatian immigration colonies even before the wave of new immigration, but even greater immigration occurred during the period of gold rush in that area. Many of them established stock corporations in case they made more significant discoveries.

One of the most important companies established by the Croats was "The Slavonian Gold and Silver Company". San Francisco became the center of Croatian social life in California, where they established the first Croatian emigration society in 1857. Tadich Grill in San Francisco is a relic from that era and (still Croatian owned) currently is the oldest restaurant in the entire state of California.

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Area was a major destination for the post-1980's Yugoslavian immigration, including Croats and Bosnian Croats from Bosnia and Herzegovina escaped the Bosnian civil war in the 1990's. They formed several communities in Orange County; San Diego; the Inland Empire (California) region (i.e. Moreno Valley); and the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, but extending into the High Desert suburbs of Lancaster and Palmdale; and Ventura County in recent years.

A great number of Croats emigrated from California and settled in Arizona and Nevada after the gold rush. In Nevada Croats first worked in gold and silver mines, and later became engaged in service trades. In Arizona they usually worked as coalminers, office-workers, storekeepers, cooks, butchers, waiters, restaurant or hotel owners, etc. There were several Croatian settlements in Washington. A small Croatian fishing village existed back in the beginning of 19th century, where greatly experienced Croatian fishermen contributed to the development of modern fishing trade. Three main Croatian centers in Washington were Seattle, Anacortes and Roslyn. The high percentage of Croats can be illustrated by the fact that inn 1922/23 there were 23% Croatian pupils in Rosalyn schools. Some of the first groups of immigrants settled in Pennsylvania as well. As the center of the State, Pittsburgh employed a lot of immigrants from Croatia. Many of them were working in the heavy industry. In the beginning of the century there were around 38 000 Croatians in Pittsburgh. It was estimated that there were more than 200 000 Croatians and their descendants living in Pittsburgh in the early 1990s.

First Croatians in Detroit appeared around 1890, settling usually in the region of Russel. In Illinois the Croatians started concentrating mostly around Chicago. Although it was created a bit later, the Croatian settlement in Chicago became one of the most important ones in the United States. The settlement especially started developing after World War I and Chicago became the center of all Croatian cultural and political activities. It is calculated that there were roughly 50 000 Croats in Chicago in the 1990s, while there were altogether 100 000 Croats living in 54 additional Croatian settlements in Illinois.

Furthermore, Croatian settlement in Kansas City played an important role as well. This settlement, too, was founded in the last decades of the 19th century, with the first neighborhood west of Armour Packing Co. and along James Street. The Strawberry Hill neighbourhood of Kansas City is an example of a city quarter almost entirely founded by Croats. First Croatian Settlement in St. Louis started forming very early. It generally consisted of immigrants who came from Louisiana along the Mississippi toward the north. According to Ante Tresic-Pavic, who visited the US in 1907, there were around 4-5 thousand Croats in St. Louis. The majority of them lived in boarding houses and had low paid jobs at that time.

New York served merely as a station on their way further into the United States. Later, during the mass immigration of Croats, this city became the most important center from which they moved into various parts of the US. In 1906 a real Croatian settlement did not yet exist in New York. Eventually many Croats settled thru out parts of New York City, especially in northwestern and northeastern Queens County, in such neighborhoods as Whitestone, Astoria, Bayside and Douglaston.

Alaska appeared to be a destination for Croatian immigrants in the early 20th century starting with the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-99. A few hundreds of Croatians settled in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Sitka. They established small shops and businesses relating to the local fishing industries. Today, Alaska may be home to 50,000 persons of Croatian descent, about one-eighth of the state population.[citation needed]


Croatian priests, mostly diocesan clergy, came in precious few numbers with the earliest immigrants towards the end of the 19 century. They were true missionaries. They traveled from place to place wherever their people settled, preaching parish missions and organizing religious, cultural, and benevolent societies. Often the priest was the only educated member of the Croatian colony, and thus they had to assume leadership roles; moreover, they were among the first to learn English well and often served as translators and interpreters. Their primary responsibility, however, was the organization of Croatian Catholic parishes in the urban centers with substantial Croatian populations. Thus, at the beginning of this century there were Croatian churches in Pittsburgh and Steelton, Pennsylvania, New York, Chicago, Cleveland and other cities. The oldest parish is St. Nicholas Church in Pittsburgh, founded in 1894; several others were erected in the early 1900s, such as the Church of the Nativity in San Francisco. Even before being officially established in 1926, the Croatian Franciscan friars traveled throughout the United States, establishing and assisting in Croatian parishes and keeping alive the religious and national sentiments of their people.Croatian Roman Catholics in America form a vital part of the American Catholic Church. This is due in large measure to the pioneering and ongoing efforts of their priests and sisters, whose witness has enabled the Croatian immigrant community and their children and grandchildren born in the United States to remain faithful to their Catholicism and their Croatian roots. Today there are altogether 32 Croatian parishes and 3 missions in the US.

Social association

Croatian Americans have been closely connected to one another almost since the day they left their home country. Chain migration contributed to the creation of settlements of Croats coming from the same regions of Croatia. They were connected because of their similar occupations that they had, equal social status, catholic religion and many other bonds that are sometimes much stronger than formal organization. The most popular informal meeting points of Croatians were the saloons. They were usually engaged in various charity organizations, and were among the first Croatian immigrants who learned to speak English. A great number of them had a very harsh daily routine, which largely appeared to be bed-factory-bed. But the positive side of the saloons cannot be denied. Beside these informal gatherings, Croatian Americans established several thousand organizations of different importance. In his work, "Early Croatian Immigration to America After 1945", George Prpic states that there were around 3 000 organizations founded between 1880 and 1940 in the United States. Croatians first started founding charitable, cultural, educational, religious, business, political, sporting or athletic organizations. All these organizations were firmly rooted in the settlement where they were initiated. Croatians were a minority group both in relation to Americans and other nationalities. Furthermore, the Croats came with the latest groups of immigrants, which lead to a further feeling of insecurity. Moreover, most of them did not speak English and had low paid jobs, which created an inferiority complex as well. Therefore, they found security within an organization of their own ethnic group. Another special type of gathering was happening around tamburica, which was often among the necessary items that a person from Croatia took to America. Tamburica and Singing clubs were not joined until March 1949 in Cleveland, where the "American-Croatian Singing Association" was founded. Croatian Americans had strong feelings about their homeland and they frequently demonstrated them publicly.


The Croatian American organization Croatian Fraternal Union is a society with long roots in the USA. It was started in 1897.[11] During World War II, it sent money to aid Croatia.[11] The CFU contributes to Croatian Americans by scholarships and cultural learning.[11]

The Croatian American Association is a group which lobbies the United States Congress on issues related to Croatia.[12]

The Croatian American Network is a popular Facebook Group for communication and networking.


In 2007, the annual Croatian Film Festival in New York was founded by The Doors Art Foundation.[13]

Croatan Indians

Legend is that the Croatan Indians, who lived in what is today North Carolina, were partially of Croatian origin. Historians prescribing to this theory submit the story of Croatian sailors shipwrecked of Cape Hatteras in 1498 who remained to live in the vicinity, assimilating with the native Americans in the area. They also refer to the tree carving found by an English expedition in 1593, in what was at the time the Roanoke Colony. The tree had the inscription "Croatoan", which is recognized among American historians as an Algonquian Indian name.[14]

White Croatians

In Poland there existed an ethnic group called White Croats (Bijeli Hrvati) which emigrated to United States. The group was concentrated around Krakow and mostly emigrated due to Nazi and later Stalinist oppression in Poland. It is interesting to add that according to American documents, from the beginning of this century, there were about 100,000 immigrants to the USA born around Krakow (Poland) who declared themselves to be Bielo-Chorvats, i.e. White Croats by nationality.[15]

Well-known Croatian-Americans

Well-known Croatian-Americans past and present include Democratic politicians Mark Begich and Dennis Kucinich, Republican politicians George Radanovich and John Kasich, Republican political consultant Mary Matalin, Louis Cukela United States Marine numbered among the nineteen two-time recipients of the Medal of Honor, John J. Tominac also Medal of Honor recipient, game show host Gene Rayburn, professional basketball players George Mikan and Rudy Tomjanovich, professional baseball player Roger Maris, actors John Malkovich, Jenna Elfman, Elfman's uncle and lead singer of vocal group The Lettermen Tony Butala, bassist of Nirvana Krist Novoselic, oil industry pioneer Anthony Francis Lucas, inventor and modern fishing industry pioneer Mario Puratić, mathematician William Feller, winemaker Mike Grgich, film critic Lou Lumenick and Franjo Vlasic, founder and namesake of Vlasic Pickles, Ed Kobak, Jr., sports reference book author and publisher, John Owen Dominis, Prince Consort of Hawaii, Ron Kovic, anti-war activist, John Mayasich, hockey player, Judah Friedlander, actor and comedian, professional football coaches Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, Denny "Sharkey" Mihalinec A well known Community Activist & Honorary Mayor in Trilby Florida.

See also


General references:

  • Adamic Luj A Nation of Nations (1945, New York)
  • Bonutti Karl Selected Ethnic Communities of Cleveland: A Socio-Economic Study (1974, Cleveland: Cleveland State University)
  • Cordasco Dictionary of American Immigrants in America (1971, New York: Philosophical Library Inc.)
  • Habenstein R. W. & Wright R. Jr. Ethnic families in America: Patterns and variations (3rd ed.) (1998, Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall)
  • Jamshid A. Momeni Race, Ethnicity, and Minority Housing in the United States (1986, New York: Greenwood Press)
  • Ljubomir Antic Hrvati i Amerika (1992, Zagreb: Hrvatska sveucilisna naklada)
  • Thernstrom Stephen . Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (1980, Cambridge: Harvard University Press)

Specific references:

  1. ^ a b S0201. Selected Population Profile in the United States, Population Group: Croatian (109-110), Data Set: 2007 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Survey: American Community Survey.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Croatians in America. May 28, 2007.
  3. ^ "The White Population: 2000". United States Census Bureau. August 2001. Retrieved 10 March 2011. 
  4. ^ Croatians in America. May 28, 2007.
  5. ^ [1]. January, 2000.
  6. ^ Croatian Americans
  7. ^ Persons Who Reported at Least One Specific Ancestry Group for United States: 1980
  8. ^ a b Ancestry:2000
  9. ^ 2004 American Community Survey
  10. ^ Rudy Perpich
  11. ^ a b c Croatian Fraternal Union of America. May 28, 2007.
  12. ^ Croatian American Association
  13. ^ Croatian Film Festival Opens in New York
  14. ^ Croatian-Americans: The bridge between two homelands, from the Croatian Embassy website
  15. ^ US Senate-Reports on the Immigration commission, Dictionary of races or peoples, Washington DC, 1911, p. 40, 43, 105. [2]

External links

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