Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Hungarians, people from east-central Europe who speak a Finno-Ugric language unrelated to any of the Germanic, Slavic, and Romance languages, immigrated to North America in several waves after the mid-nineteenth century.

First came the "Forty-eighters" following the failure of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848–49. They were about 4,000 strong and mostly represented Hungary's gentry class. Although enthusiastically received, by virtue of their social background most of them were unable to fit into America's rugged society of self-made men. Consequently, following the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, which made them partners in the Austro- Hungarian Empire, many repatriated to Hungary. While in the United States, they generally stayed on the East Coast. The only exceptions were those few who settled in Chicago, St. Louis, Davenport (Iowa), and on an ephemeral farm community in southeastern Iowa called New Buda.

The Forty-eighters were followed by the 650,000 to 700,000 immigrants who arrived between 1880 and 1914 for economic reasons. Although they came as temporary guest workers, three-fourths of them stayed. Barely literate peasants, they went to work in the coal mines, steel mills, and industrial plants of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana. Their intention was to accumulate enough capital to repatriate and to make themselves into prosperous farmers or well-to-do artisans. For this reason few settled in the country's agricultural regions, including the Great Plains, where the accumulation of capital was much more difficult. The only exceptions were those peasants who after 1885 migrated from the United States to Canada and settled in the region between Winnipeg and Calgary, where they tried to establish themselves as prosperous tobacco farmers. The earliest of these Hungarian settlements in Manitoba (Hunsvalley) and Saskatchewan (Esterházy, Kaposvár, Otthon, Békevár) were established at the initiative of Paul Oscar Esterházy (1831-1912).

The quota laws of 1921 and 1924 and the Great Depression drastically lowered the number of Hungarian immigrants to the United States to a total of just under 40,000 during the 1920s and 1930s. At the same time, immigration to Canada increased. Whereas before World War I only 8,000 Hungarians had entered Canada, during the interwar years their numbers more than quadrupled to 33,000. With the exception of a few hundred highly skilled scientists and scholars who fled Hungary in the late 1930s because of the spread of Nazism, interwar Hungarian immigrants, although more mixed socially, still came for economic reasons.

Following World War II, two major waves of political immigrants entered the United States and Canada: the "displaced persons," or DPS, between 1948 and 1953, and the "Fifty-sixers," or "Freedom Fighters," between 1956 and 1960. These two immigrant waves brought about 65,000 émigrés to the United States and nearly 50,000 to Canada. The dps represented Hungary's elites while the Fifty-sixers were mainly technocrats who left in response to the defeat of the anti-Soviet and anti-Communist uprising that began on October 23, 1956.

According to the U.S. census of 1990 and the Canadian census of 1991, the Hungarian population of the ten states (Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana) and the three provinces (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta) in the Great Plains was 138,710, but only two-fifths of these were exclusively of Hungarian extraction. About 76 percent of them lived in two states (Texas and Colorado) and two provinces (Alberta and Saskatchewan). The remaining 24 percent resided in the remaining eight states and one province, where the Hungarian population ranged between 1,398 (South Dakota) and 8,070 (Manitoba).

By virtue of the fact that three-fourths of these Hungarians live in two states and two provinces that are only partly in the Great Plains, the actual number of Hungarians living in the region is probably considerably less than 138,710. For this reason there is little organized Hungarian activity in the Great Plains except in the urban centers on the region's peripherieséDenver and Dallas in the United States and Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, and Winnipeg in Canada. Of these centers of Hungarian life, Calgary, home to about a dozen Hungarian cultural associations, is probably the most important.

Steven Béla Várdy Duquesne University

Puskás, Julianna. Ties That Bind, Ties That Divide: 100 Years of Hungarian Experience in the United States, translated by Zora Ludwig. New York: Holmes and Meier Publishers, Inc., 2000.

Tezla, Albert. The Hazardous Quest: Hungarian Immigrants in the United States, 1895–1920. Budapest: Corvina Press, 1993.

Várdy, Steven Béla. The Hungarian-Americans. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985.

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