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Italian Migration to Pittsburgh

Italian Migration to Pittsburgh

by Larry Ciptak

from Out of This Kitchen: a History of the Ethnic Groups and Their Foods in the Steel Valley


In the early 1800s in southern Italy, the transfer of land that had been previously owned by royalty or government resulted in the peasants selling their small tracts–too small to cultivate profitably–to wealthy landowners. In search of better economic opportunities, several decades later they began to move away from their agrarian roots to Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, other South American countries, and the United States.

Like the blacks, the Italians came to western Pennsylvania with high expectations of social mobility, according to the book "Lives of Their Own: Blacks, Italians and Poles in Pittsburgh, 1900-1960." "They were intent on individual advancement and proprietorship in America," states the book.

Few of the Italians who emigrated to Pittsburgh had a desire to return to their homeland. Rather, they saw Pittsburgh affording them greater opportunity than they could ever achieve in their homeland. The late 1880s saw a steady flow of Italian immigrants settling in downtown Pittsburgh. Those from middle or upper class in Italy were more likely to emigrate than the day laborers in the lower echelon. Many of the immigrants brought experience as peddlers, tailors, shoemakers, mason and carpenters.

Downtown business expansion in the 1890s forced residents to relocate, and the Italians moved outward to Bloomfield, East Liberty and the Hill District.

Many of the Italians found employment in Pittsburgh's new filtration plant in 1905 in East Liberty. The 1,700 Italians working in the iron and steel industries in 1910 were averaging about $11.90 a week, according to a U.S. Congress report.