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Lithuanian American

Lithuanian American
George A. Romero
Total population


0.2% of the US population (2009)
Regions with significant populations
Northeast · Midwest
American English · Lithuanian
Majority Roman Catholicism · Agnosticism
Related ethnic groups
Lithuanians · Latvian American
Valdas Adamkus was a Lithuanian American working in the EPA before being elected President of Lithuania. Adamkus (right) is pictured with US Vice President Dick Cheney during the 2006 Vilnius Conference.

Lithuanian Americans are Americans who are of Lithuanian ancestry. According to the United States Census, there are 712,165 Americans of full or partial Lithuanian descent. New Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has the largest percentage of Lithuanian Americans (20.8%) in the United States.


  • History 1
  • Occupations 2
  • Contribution 3
  • Distribution 4
  • Prominent persons 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8


It is believed that Lithuanian emigration to the United States began in the 17th century[2] when Alexander Curtius[3] arrived in New Amsterdam (present day New York City) in 1659 and became the first Latin School teacher-administrator; he was also a physician.[4]

After the fall of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, most of Lithuania was incorporated into the Russian Empire. The beginnings of industrialization and commercial agriculture based on Stolypin's reforms, as well as the abolition of serfdom in 1861, freed the peasants and turned them into migrant-laborers. The pressures of industrialization, Lithuanian press ban, general discontent, suppression of religious freedom and poverty drove numerous Lithuanians to emigrate from the Russian Empire to the United States continuing until the outbreak of the First World War. The emigration continued despite the Tsarist attempts to control the border and prevent such a drastic loss of population. Since Lithuania as a country did not exist at the time, the people who arrived to the US were recorded as either Polish or Russian; moreover, due to the language ban in Lithuania and prevalence of Polish language at that time their Lithuanian names were not transcribed in the same way as they would be today.[5] Only after 1918, when Lithuania established its independence, the immigrants to the US started being recorded as Lithuanians. This first wave of Lithuanian immigrants to the United States ceased when the US Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act in 1921, followed by the Immigration Act of 1924. The Immigration Act of 1924 was aimed at restricting the Eastern and Southern Europeans who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s.

A second wave of Lithuanians emigrated to the United States as a result of the events surrounding the World War II - the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1940 and the Nazi occupation that followed in 1941. After the war's end and the subsequent reoccupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union, these Displaced Persons were allowed to immigrate to the United States and to apply for Americanship thanks to a special act of Congress which bypassed the quota system that was still in place until 1967.

Immigration of Lithuanians into the US resumed after Lithuania regained its independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990. This wave of immigration has tapered off recently as the decline of the dollar and the entry of Lithuania into the EU have made countries such as Ireland and the United Kingdom a more attractive option for potential Lithuanian emigrants.

Lithuanian days in Pennsylvania is the longest running ethnic festival in the United States.[6]


At the end of the 19th century Lithuanians differed from most immigrant groups in the United States in several ways. They came to the US not only to escape poverty, but also to avoid bitter religious, political and national persecution, and compulsory military service in the Russian army. They did not plan to remain permanently and become "Americanized." Instead their intent was to live in the US temporarily to earn money, invest in property, and wait for the right opportunity to return to Lithuania. Official estimates were that 30% of the emigrants from the Russian provinces of Poland-Lithuania returned home. When adjusted to include only non-Jews the number is closer to 50-60%. Lithuanian immigrants who mostly came to the United States from Imperial Russia lived in a social environment akin to early European feudal society, where classless Jews performed the essential middle roles of artisans, merchants and moneylenders.

American employers considered Lithuanian immigrants, like the Poles, as better suited for arduous manual labor in coal-mines, slaughterhouses, and steel mills, particularly in the primary stages of steel manufacture. Consequently, Lithuanian migrants were recruited for work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania and the heavy industries (steel mills, iron foundries, slaughterhouses, oil and sugar refineries) of the Northeastern United States as well the Great Lakes cities of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Buffalo, Milwaukee, and Cleveland.

The emigration after the World War II was very different from the previous wave. The people who came to the US were escaping in order to avoid the Soviet deportations to forced labour camps that were directed at certain social groups. Many of these people constituted political, economical, and intellectual elite of the pre-war Lithuania and therefore were more qualified to find better jobs in the US. Although some people took factory jobs in Detroit or Chicago, many Lithuanians pursued careers in engineering, medicine, or education. Also, some clergy in predominantly Catholic Lithuania felt oppressed by Communism and came to America.


Many famous people in the United States are or have been aware of their Lithuanian ancestry, including famous anarchist Emma Goldman, movie directors Robert Zemeckis and John Milius,[7] actors Ruta Lee, Blackie Dammett, John C. Reilly, Charles Bronson, Brendon Small and Daniel Jason Sudeikis, rock stars Anthony Kiedis, Brandon Flowers, and Thalia Zedek, model Jurgita Valts, notorious criminal Alvin Karpis, radio host Tom Leykis, scientist Marija Gimbutas, and Bishop Louis Vezelis, OFM. Current Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin is half-Lithuanian. Noted Catholic Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, who held a post at the Vatican for a while, was an American whose father was Lithuanian. Famous skateboarder Natas Kaupas, one of the innovators of street skating in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is of Lithuanian heritage. Others, such as J. D. Salinger, Sean Penn, Moe Howard, Curly Howard, Shemp Howard and Pink, had their Jewish ancestors come from Lithuanian lands. Author Ruta Sepetys, an American of Lithuanian descent, traveled to Lithuania and interviewed people and then wrote an award-winning book, Between Shades of Gray, related to the hardships of Lithuanians during Soviet occupation of their land.

Many American sport celebrities have Lithuanian heritage: Fluxus movement.

Several fictional characters of Lithuanian birth who immigrated to the United States have prominently captured the American imagination. The first is Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant around whom Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle chronicles the life of the Lithuanian community in Chicago and the treatment of workers in the Chicago Stockyards. The second, Hannibal Lecter, is the fictional villain from The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal was born in Lithuania but later moved to the United States and took US citizenship. Marko Ramius, the Soviet submarine captain in The Hunt for Red October, is also described as "Lithuanian by birth" and as the "Vilnius Schoolmaster".


Distribution of Lithuanian Americans according to the 2000 census.

Chicago, Illinois, is home to the second largest population of Lithuanians in the world,[8] and the old "Lithuanian Downtown" in Bridgeport was once the center of Lithuanian political activity for the whole United States. Another large Lithuanian community[9] can be found in the Coal Region of northeastern Pennsylvania, particularly in Schuylkill County where the small borough of New Philadelphia has the largest percentage of Lithuanian Americans (20.8%) in the United States. There is also a large community of Lithuanian descent in the coal mining regions of Western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia Panhandle and Northeastern Ohio tri-state area. Grand County, Colorado's Lithuanian-American community has the unusual distinction in that it is the only sizable immigrant population in an otherwise fairly homogeneous population in a rural, mountainous community. There is also a small but vibrant Lithuanian community in Presque Isle, Maine. Many Lithuanian refugees settled in Southern California after World War II; they constitute a community in Los Angeles.

The states with the largest Lithuanian-American populations today are:[10]
Illinois 87,294
Pennsylvania 78,330
California 51,406
Massachusetts   51,054
New York 49,083

Prominent persons

See also


  1. ^ 2008 US Census Community Survey
  2. ^ History of St. George Parish
  3. ^ First Latin School of New Amsterdam
  4. ^ Lithuanian emigration to USA
  5. ^ [1] Lithuanian genealogy
  6. ^ Lithuanian Days in Pennsylvania
  7. ^
  8. ^ The Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture
  9. ^ Lithuanians in Pennsylvania
  10. ^ Lithuanians in America

Further reading

  • "Baltics in Boston" (Archive). WGBH-TV. August 22, 1989.
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