The real question is not why so many Europeans emigrated, but why so many stayed home.

Dudley BainesEmigration from Europe 1815-1930, MacMillan, Basingstike & London, 1991.

Emigration from Central Europe to America 1880-1914

City Museum of Rijeka

Rijeka, better known in earlier times as Fiume, became at the beginning of the twentieth century one of the more significant emigration ports. As a result, in 2008 the City Museum of Rijeka mounted an exhibition entitled Merika, Emigration from Central Europe to America 1880-1914.

In the hundred year period of the emigrant tide, from 1815 to 1930, fifty million Europeans participated in the great transoceanic migration. That migration left deep traces on both sides of the Atlantic, on the countries from which they left and on the countries to which they arrived.

The extent of that movement became a special phenomenon, displaying evidence of being a planned and carefully organized project, with a specialized infrastructure, having far-reaching consequences.

Ervin Dubrović, City Museum of Rijeka, Croatia

Central Europe and America

Central Europe - Millions of Emigrants

4,383,000 people emigrated from Central Europe, or, more specifically, Austria-Hungary, in the period between 1871 and 1915.

Around 10% of all transoceanic emigrants who left in the period between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the Second World War (1815-1940) had been born in Central Europe.

After Great Britain (11.4 million), Italy (9.9 million) and Ireland (7.3 million), this area represented the largest source of emigration (5 million).

More than 3,700,000 emigrants from Austria-Hungary settled in the United States.

Emigration from the European Periphery

The most dramatic year occurred in 1907 when 338,452 immigrants came from the Monarchy, almost a third of those who came to the United States in that year. This number represents the largest migration of persons from one country to another in a one year time frame.

The numbers are indeed dramatic. From a country which at the turn of the century had approximately forty million people (around 10% of the entire population of Europe), over 4 million emigrants left during a period over little more than three decades, of whom 83% went to the United States.

The Hungarian-American Line and Austro-Americana

The Hungarian-American Line

Massive and systematically organized emigration through the port of Rijeka began with the British Cunard Line, which received a monopoly on the Rijeka-New York route. Rijeka’s position with respect to Cunard’s route contrasted sharply with that of Trieste where Cunard was placed in a much more disadvantageous position as a result of the domestic carrier Austro-Americana (which in reality came under the control of the great German shipping companies). Cunard regularly dedicated three ships to the Hungarian-American Line. A ship left Rijeka every other Friday, and the trip generally took 18 days, though sometimes it took much longer.


The Unione Austriaca di Navigazione had an initial capitalization of 2 million crowns, which rose to 16 million in 1904. Such a large increase in capital resulted from the entry of Austrian banks into the Company, but even more from the investments of North German Lloyd and HAPAG which, according to one source, purchased 5 million crowns worth of stock, assuring them control over the Company and a right of first refusal to purchase more shares should any further stock be issued. When it began to carry emigrants, the Austro-Americana, as it remained commonly known, had a flotilla of 19 ships. The steamship Gerty began the Trieste – New York route in June 1904 with stops at Messina, Naples and Palermo, followed by the steamships Giulia and Freda, in July of the same year.

The Ports of Rijeka and Trieste

The Port of Rijeka

After the Austro-Hungarian compromise (1867), Rijeka became an important Hungarian port and quickly grew. The shipping traffic through the port increased tremendously once it was connected by rail in 1873 to Vienna and Budapest. The largest transoceanic shipping company based in Rijeka, the Hungarian Sea Navigation Company Adria (established in 1881), ran a merchant route to Brazilian ports and a significant number of emigrants left for South America, where they sheared sheep, worked on farms and prospected for gold.

From the end of 1903 until mid-1914, 332,986 emigrants left the port of Rijeka for the United States. During the most intense period of emigration, from 1904 to 1910, between 30,000 and 50,000 persons left via Rijeka on an annual basis.

The Port of Trieste

The main Austrian port of Trieste began its great growth during the 18th century. By the First World War, it became the most important and largest industrial and transportation hub, surpassed only by the capital cities of Vienna and Budapest. With its suburbs, it numbered more than 230,000 people.

As early as 1888, two brothers, Isaaco and Giuseppe Morpurgo, leased three steamships from Austrian Lloyd and transported emigrants to Brazil, but their initial successes would be quickly squelched by the authorities.

The first Cunard ship to sail between Trieste and New York left on November 10, 1903.

The Immigrants - Anxiety, the Voyage and Life

America - Fleeing From Poverty

Where Did Emigrants from Central Europe Settle?

For the most part, Central European emigrants went to industrial and mining areas and cities such as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Illinois, Cleveland, Ohio and New York.

Emigrants were left with jobs that not even the most poverty-stricken Americans wanted. The new arrivals did not know the language and, for the most part, they came from villages and had no education and generally no skills. Their inability and lack of knowledge only allowed them to have the most difficult jobs – generally at first laboring on large construction projects and in quarries, mines, and forests, rather than on the assembly lines of great industrial factories.

Immigrant Fates

Vignettes of immigrant life in America have been credibly provided by the immigrants themselves, in their letters to their families. More descriptive, though sometimes less believable, are articles in immigrant newspapers as well as those in the homeland. The latter usually would be opposition newspapers which blamed the government for massive emigration. A rich source also consists of numerous memoirs written about life in America, written by those who made use of the chance they had been provided as well as those who wasted it or had been devoured by great financial crises.

The Unlucky Antonio Glavina in New York

In an April 27, 1934 letter from New York, Antonio wrote with some optimism: “My dear wife, I wanted to let you know that, thank God, I am somewhat well and hope that you are all as well. I sent a little bit of cash ….” He goes on: “You wrote to me once that I am in the devil’s hands, and indeed I was, but thank God I am, still alive.

The Rusyn Family of Andy Warhol

Ondreij Varchola, a Rusyn and Greek Catholic born in Medzilaborce in today’s Slovakia, first came to the United States in 1907. But he soon returned home, met Julija Zavacky and married her in 1909. When drafted in 1912, Ondreij decided that he would be better off in America and he fled. Ondreij worked at a construction site and in a coal mine in Forest City near Scranton. They later moved to Pittsburgh.

America to Central Europe – Central Europe to America

What Did America Give to Central Europe?

America became the second home for emigrants from Central Europe, more comfortable and pleasant than their ancestral homes.

Despite the difficulties confronting newly–arrived Central European peasants in America, the newcomers adapted to their new lives and used the opportunities given them, which they did not have at home. As a result, approximately three-quarters of all immigrants from Central Europe remained in America.

Those who did return to Central Europe became well-regarded citizens – “Americans” – as they became known. Cash savings from America and American experiences brought a better life and proved to be an important spur to bettering of the lives of their families and the development of their homeland.

What Did Central Europe Give to America?

Young people who faced the future and sought to exploit their opportunities came from the “heart of Europe.”

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a fourth of all immigrants came from Central Europe, with young people bringing the best that the Old World could give to the New. Some brought their brawn and others their intellect and entrepreneurial spirit.

While America awed Europe with its unseen possibilities of development and progress, Central Europe “conquered” America with its culture and the agility and inventiveness of its scientists and artists who united European and American traditions.


Exhibition photos

Exhibition videos


Press release




MERIKA opened in 2008 at the City Museum in Rijeka.


Exhibition at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum,
Statue of Liberty National Monument,
National Park Service, New York

June 28 – September 4, 2012

Author of the Exhibitions
Ervin Dubrović

The designer of the Exhibition
Klaudio Cetina

Jasna Milinković

Translation to English
John P. Kraljic

Collaboration in researching, advising, and proofing
Ellis Island Immigration Museum
Statue of Liberty National Monument, National Park Service
Diana Pardue, Chief, Museum Services
Judy Giuriceo-Lord, Curator of Exhibits and Media
Barry Moreno, Librarian

Collaborators in design
Bojan Kukuljan
Mirna Kutleša

Marija Lazanja Dušević

Video presentations
Ervin Dubrović, Jelena Dunato, John P. Kraljic, Zoran Ventin, Kanal Ri, Rijeka
Kreativni odjel, Rijeka

Soundtrack for Exhibition
Bojan Kukuljan

Technical arrangement
Safet Baštrakaj

Photo print by
Pruša, Rijeka

Ivan Balta, Osijek; Martin Besedič, Bratislava; Theodor de Canziani Jakšić, Rijeka; Mario Cicogna, Trieste; Emil Crnković, Rijeka; Andreja Cvitković, New York; Boris Cvjetanović, Zagreb; Maria D. Zic, New York;  Gerhard Dienes, Graz; Saša Dmitrović, Rijeka; Marjan Drnovšek, Ljubljana; Jelena Dunato, Rijeka; Claudio Ernè, Trieste; Francesco Fait, Trieste, Mladen Grgurić, Rijeka; Sanja Grković, Zagreb; Danijela Grlaš, Opatija;  Javier Grossutti, Udine; Marijan Gubić, New York; Egon Hreljanović, Rijeka; Jovana Ivetić, Novi Sad; William Klinger, Gradisca d’ Isonzo; Nena Komarica, New York; Igor Kramarsich, Rijeka; Ljubo Krasić, Chicago; Damir Krizmanić, Rijeka; Milan Krivda, Vienna; Vedran Krušvar, Rijeka; Irvin Lukežić, Rijeka; Michaela M. Schuller, Graz; Maksimilijan Mance, Fužine; Stefan Malfèr, Vienna; Dorotea Marjanović, Rijeka; Zoran Martinis, Saronno; Rebeka Mesarić Žabčić, Zagreb; Damir Murković, Trieste; Ivica Nemec, Kastav; Ferenc Németh, Novi Sad; Ljubica Otić; Novi Sad;  Vanja Pavlovec, Rijeka; Deborah Pustišek, Rijeka Wanda Radetti, New York; Jakov Radovčić, Zagreb; Marijeta Rajković Iveta, Zagreb; Jasna Rotim Malvić, Rijeka; Malcolm Scott Hardy, London; Ira Stanić, Klagenfurt; Branka Stergar, Ozalj; Ferenc Szili, Kaposvár;  Ivan Šarar, Rijeka; Radovan Tadej, Zlobin; Dumitru Teicu, Resita; Ljubinka Toševa Karpowicz, Rijeka;  Danijela Urem, Rijeka – New York; Ranko Vilović, New York; Zvjezdana Vrzić, New York; Stelio Zoratto, Trieste; Josip Žgaljić, Rijeka; Sabrina Žigo, Rijeka; Ivana Živković Mikec, New York; Adam Walaszek, Cracow;

Arcadia Publishing, Portsmouth USA; Associazione Marinara Aldebaran, Trieste; Christian Brandstätter Verlag; Vienna, City Museum of Ljubljana; City Museum of Zagreb; Civici Musei di Storia ed Arte, Trieste; Civico Museo del Mare, Trieste; Croatian Ethnic Institute, Chicago; Croatian Fraternal Union, Pittsburgh; Croatian Heritage Foundation, Rijeka; Donauschwäbishes Zentralmuseum Ulm; Ellis Island Immigration Museum – National Park Service, Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island, New York; Hamburg-Amerikanische Paketfahrt Actien-Gesellschaft Archiv, Hamburg; Historical and Maritime Museum of Istria, Pula; Historical Museum, Bratislava; Institute of Romanians From Vojvodina, Zrenjanin; La Guardia & Wagner Archives, New York; Ministry of Culture, Photo Archive, Zagreb; Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul; Modiano S.p.a., Trieste; Museum of Arts and Crafts, Zagreb; Museum of Vojvodina, Novi Sad; National Széchény Library, Budapest; Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade; Regional Museum, Ozalj; Slovenian Migration Institute – ZRC SAZU, Ljubljana; Slovenian National Library of Studies, Trieste; Southampton City Heritage Services; Staastsarchiv Hamburg, Transport Museum Budapest; Universalmuseum Joanneum, Graz; University Library Rijeka

City of Rijeka, Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Republic of Croatia, Primorsko-Goranska County, City of Opatija, City of Kastav, Commune of Matulji, Commune of Vinodol, Bribir, Kvarner County Tourist Board, Opatija; Rijeka Tourist Board

Luka Rijeka d.d.
Tisak d.d., Zagreb
Podravka d.d., Koprivnica
VIPnet d.o.o, Zagreb

City Department of Culture, Rijeka
Consulate General of the Republic of Croatia,  New York,
Permanent Mission of Republic of Croatia to the United Nations, New York
Croatian Ethnic Institute, Chicago
Croatian National Tourist Office, New York,
Eunic – European Union National Institutes for Culture, New York