Austrian americans

by Syd Jones


A mountainous landlocked country located in south-central Europe, Austria encompasses an area of 32,377 square miles, roughly the size of the state of Maine. Bordered to the west by Switzerland and Liechtenstein, to the south by Italy and the former Yugoslavia, to the east by Hungary, and to the north by the Czech and Slovak Republics as well as Germany, Austria lies at the center of political and geographic Europe. Two-thirds of Austria's land mass is located in the Alpine region, with its highest peak, the Grossglockner, reaching 12,457 feet.

With a population of 7,587,000, Austria has maintained zero population growth in the last half of the twentieth century. It is a German-speaking country. Eighty-five percent of its population are Roman Catholic while only six percent are Protestant. Vienna, the capital of the Federal Republic of Austria, also doubles as one of the nine autonomous provinces that constitute the federation. The Austrian flag is a simple red-white-red arrangement of horizontal stripes with the Austrian coat of arms in the center.


Austria's very name denotes its history. Ostmark or Ostarichi ("eastern provinces" or "borderland") as it was known in the time of Charlemagne, became over time the German Österreich, or Austria in Latin. As an eastern kingdom—more bulwark than principality, more fortress than palace—Austria bordered the civilized world. The first human inhabitants of this rugged environment were Stone Age hunters who lived 80,000 to 150,000 years ago. Permanent settlements were established in early Paleolithic times. Though little remains of that distant period, an early Iron Age settlement was unearthed at Hallstatt in the western lake district of present-day Austria. The Celts arrived around 400 B.C., and the Romans, in search of iron-ore deposits, invaded 200 years later. The Romans established three provinces in the area by 15 B.C. They introduced the grape to the hills surrounding the eastern reaches of the Danube near a settlement they called Vindobona, later known as Wien, or Vienna in English.

For the next four centuries the Romans fought Germanic invasions, eventually losing, but establishing a fortification line along the Danube River, upon which many modern Austrian cities are built. With the fall of Rome, barbarian tribes such as the Bavarians from the west and Mongolian Avars from the east settled the region, bringing new cultural influences. One Germanic tribe, the Franks, were particularly interested in the area, and by the end of the eighth century, Charlemagne succeeded in subduing the other claimants, Christianizing the region and creating a largely Germanic province for his Holy Roman Empire. This Ostmark, or eastern borderland, did not hold long. Incursions from the east by the Magyars around 900 A.D. unsettled the region once again, until the Magyars too were subdued.

The political and territorial concept of Austria came about in 976 when the eastern province was granted to the house of Babenberg. For the next three centuries that family would rule the eastern borderland, eventually choosing Vienna as their seat. By the twelfth century Austria had become a duchy and a flourishing trade center. With the death of the line of Babenberg in 1246, the duchy was voted first to Ottokar II, king of Bohemia, who was defeated in battle by a member of a Swiss noble house, Rudolf IV of Habsburg. The Habsburgs would rule not only Austria, but large parts of Europe and the New World as well until 1918. The Habsburgs created a central European empire around the region of Austria and extending into Bohemia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Poland, Spain, and the Netherlands. Throughout their rule, the empire acted as a bulwark against eastern invasion by Turks and Magyars, and through both diplomacy and strategic marriages, the Habsburgs established a civilization that would be the envy of the world. Under such emperors as Rudolf, Charles V, and the empress Maria Theresa, universities were established and Vienna became synonymous with music, fostering such composers as Franz Haydn, Wolfgang Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, and Johannes Brahms.

When the Napoleonic Wars ended the power of the Holy Roman Empire, the Austrian or Habsburg Empire took its place in central Europe and its foreign minister, Clemens Metternich-Winneburg, consolidated power to make a unified German state. The democratic revolutions of 1848 temporarily destabilized the country, but under the rule of Franz Joseph a strong government again rose to power. The Austrian Empire faced increasing nationalistic pressure, however. First the Magyars in Hungary won a compromise with Vienna, creating the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867. Other ethnic minorities in the polyglot empire pressed for independence, and eventually, with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 by a Serbian extremist, the world was plunged into a war that destroyed the Austrian Empire.

In 1918, with the abdication of the last Habsburg, Karl I, the modern Republic of Austria was founded. Now a smaller country, it comprised only the original Germanic provinces with seven million inhabitants. Operating under severe economic hardship, Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938 led by Adolf Hitler, a former Austrian who had become chancellor of Germany. Until 1945, Austria was part of the Third Reich, an ambivalent ally to Germany in the Second World War. With the defeat of Germany, the republic was again restored in Austria, but the country was occupied jointly by the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union until the state treaty of 1955 ensured Austria's permanent neutrality. Austria was no longer a bulwark against the east, but a buffer state between two competing ideologies. As a neutral country, Austria became the site of many United Nations organizations, and blending a market economy with a state partnership, its economy flourished. With the fall of the Soviet empire, Austria has rediscovered its former role as the geographic center of a new and revitalized Europe.


Austrian emigration patterns have been difficult to determine. There was no state known as Austria until 1918; prior to then the sprawling Habsburg Empire, an amalgam of a dozen nationalities, encompassed the idea of Austria. Thus Austrian immigration can rightly be seen as the immigration of Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Slovenian, Serbian, and Croatian peoples as well as a plethora of other national and ethnic groups. Additionally, immigrants themselves were often unclear about their countries of origin. A German-speaking person born in Prague in 1855, for example, was Czech, but also part of the larger Austrian Empire—Austrian, in fact, but may have considered himself German. Immigrants thus may have listed Czech, Austrian, and/or German as their country of origin. This study will confine itself to German Austrian emigration patterns.

The earliest documented German Austrian settlers in America were some 50 families of Protestants from Salzburg who arrived in the colony of Georgia in 1734 after fleeing religious persecution. Granted free passage and land, they established the settlement of Ebenezer near Savannah. Despite initial difficulties with poor land, sickness, and a relocation of their community, they grew and prospered as new families of immigrants arrived. Although the Revolutionary War witnessed the destruction of their settlements, one of these Austrian settlers, Johann Adam Treutlen, became the first elected governor of the new state of Georgia.

Few Austrians immigrated to the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century; fewer than 1,000 Austrians were listed in official surveys by 1850. Those who did come settled in Illinois and Iowa and were supported by 100 to 200 Catholic priests sent from both Germany and Austria to oversee the settlers' religious training and education. The Leopoldine Stiftung, an Austrian foundation that supported such missionaries, funded priests not only for the newly emigrated, but also for the Native Americans. Priests such as Francis Xavier Weninger (1805-1888) spread the Gospel to Austrian immigrants in the Midwest and black slaves in New Orleans. Bishop Frederic Baraga (1797-1868) was one of the most active priests among the Native Americans, working and preaching in northern Michigan. John Nepomuk Neumann (1811-1860) established numerous schools in the Philadelphia area and was a proponent of the retention of German culture and language.

Tyroleans provided a further segment of early nineteenth-century immigration to America. Mostly peasants, these Tyroleans came to the new world in search of land, yet few had the money they needed to turn their dreams into reality. Other early emigrants fled the oppressive Metternich regime, such as Dr. Samuel Ludvigh (1801-1869), a democratic intellectual who eventually founded Die Fackel, a well-known German-language periodical in Baltimore. The 1848 revolutions in Austria saw a small but influential tide of political refugees. These socalled Forty-eighters were mostly anticlerical and held strong antislavery views as well. Though they were few in number, they had a lasting influence on not only politics and journalism, but also in medicine and music. They were mostly free-thinking, well-educated liberals who found assimilation a wearisome process in their newly adopted country. Their presence also upset the conservative Americans. Among these Forty-eighters were many Austrian Jews. Most of the Forty-eighters became abolitionists in America, joining the new Republican party despite the fact that the Democratic party traditionally showed more openness to immigrants. It has been conjectured that their votes helped Abraham Lincoln win the 1860 presidential election.


Immigration statistics are difficult to interpret for the years between 1861 and 1910, as the U.S. Bureau of Immigration categorized all the inhabitants of the Austro-Hungarian Empire together. During these decades immigration swelled, with estimates of German-speaking Austrians in the United States reaching 275,000 by 1900. Immigrants were encouraged by relaxed emigration laws at home; by the construction of more railways, which allowed easy access to the ports of Europe from their mountainous homeland; by general overpopulation in Europe; and by migration from the farm to the city as Western society became increasingly industrialized. America thus became a destination for displaced Austrian agrarian workers. Many Austrians found employment in the United States as miners, servants, and common laborers. Others flocked to the cities of the Northeast and Midwest—New York, Pittsburgh, and Chicago—where many first- and second-generation Austrians still live. The 1880s witnessed massive immigration to the United States from all parts of Europe, Austria included, with over five million coming to America in that ten-year period. But if peasants were being displaced from the land in Austria, much the same situation was at play in the American midwest where mechanization was revolutionizing agriculture. Thus, newly arrived immigrants, dreaming of a plot of farm land, were largely disappointed. Many of these new arrivals came from Burgenland, an agricultural province to the southeast of Vienna.

During the years 1901-1910 alone, over 2.1 million Austrian citizens arrived on these shores to become one of the ten most populous immigrant groups in the United States. The Austrians—Catholic or Jewish and cosmopolitan—avoided rural Protestant conservative America. Fathers left families behind in Austria, hoping to save money working in Chicago stockyards and Pennsylvania cement and steel factories. More than 35 percent of them returned to their native home with their savings.

With the onset of the First World War, Austrian immigration stopped for a time. Even during the postwar period of 1919 to 1924, fewer than 20,000 Austrians came to the United States, most of them from Burgenland. The passage of a restrictive immigration law in 1924 further curtailed Austrian immigration, first to a limit of 785 and then to 1,413 persons per year. Austrian immigration slowed to a trickle during the years of the Depression.

A new wave of immigrants from Austria began arriving in the late 1930s. Unlike earlier immigrants who were largely unskilled laborers from the provinces, these new arrivals were mostly well-educated urban Jews fleeing Hitler's new regime. In 1938 Austria had become incorporated into the Third Reich and anti-Semitism had become a daily fact of life. In the three-year period between the Anschluss, or annexation by Germany, and the outbreak of allout war in 1941, some 29,000 Jewish Austrians emigrated to the United States. These were generally highly skilled professionals in medicine, architecture, law, and the arts and included men of international renown: composers Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) and Erich Korngold (1897-1957); author Franz Werfel (1890-1945); and stage and film directors such as Max Reinhardt (1873-1943) and Otto Preminger (1906-1986). The Jewish Austrian intellectual elite was, in fact, scattered around the globe in the diaspora caused by the Second World War.

Some 40,000 Austrians entered the United States from 1945-1960. U.S. immigration quotas again limited and diverted immigration to other countries such as Canada and Australia. Recent Austrian immigration has been negligible, as Austria has built itself into a wealthy industrial state. The 1990 U.S. census listed 948,558 citizens of Austrian ancestry, only 0.4 percent of the total population. However, it is estimated that in the years from 1820 to 1960, 4.2 million or ten percent of the immigrants who arrived in America came from Austro-Hungary and the states succeeding it.


The first sizable wave of Austrian immigrants tended to settle in the urbanized centers of the northeastern United States, especially in New York City. They were also populous in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Allentown, Pennsylvania, for example, had an Austrian-born population of 6,500 in 1930, the largest single ethnic minority in that town. Recent emigration has changed this trend somewhat. The 1990 census reports the largest single concentration in New York, followed by large contingents in both California and Florida.

Acculturation and Assimilation

In general, Austrian immigrants have quickly assimilated in America. Part of a multi-ethnic melange in their original homeland, Austrians were accustomed to the melting pot and were quick to pick up new languages and customs once in America. Dr. Harry Zohn (1922– ), professor of German literature at Brandeis University, voices a sentiment typical of many Austrian Americans: "I'm an American who just happened to be born in Vienna." Zohn, a refugee from Nazism, was one of the fortunate few whose entire family managed to escape. Once in the United States, Zohn quickly adapted to the culture and language, though never losing his intellectual and spiritual ties to Middle Europe, writing in both German and English about Austrian literature and culture (E. Wilder Spaulding, The Quiet Invaders: The Story of Austrian Impact upon America [Vienna: Österreichische Bundesverlag, 1968]).

On the whole, Austrians tend to differentiate themselves strongly from German immigrants whom they see as more chauvinistic and domineering. Austrians in America like to think of themselves as more cosmopolitan, sophisticated, and tolerant than their German neighbors. As a group, Austrian immigrants have not drawn attention to themselves. Moreover, they are, somewhat to their dismay, often lumped together with German immigrants and have thus suffered from the same stereo-types as the Germans in America. Both world wars of this century resulted in Americans often having negative attitudes toward Germany. In the First World War, the two groups were derogatorily called Dutchy, from the German word Deutsch. Names sounding German, such as Braun and Schmidt, were changed overnight to Brown and Smith. Austrians and Germans became, for many Americans, the enemy within. Other stereotypes persisted even in peacetime, including the beer-swilling Austrian, and the pleasure-loving, wine-sipping, charming proponents of GemĂĽtlichkeit or coziness.


Austrian traditions, maintained most faithfully by those living in the mountainous region of Western Austria, center mainly around the seasons. Fasching is an old winter custom that traditionally takes place in February. In its pagan form, it was an attempt to drive out the evil spirits of winter and prepare for spring. Processions of villagers dressed in varieties of masked costumes and ringing cow bells symbolized the fight of spring against winter. Some of these processions still take place in parts of Tyrol and Styria, but the Fasching has generally evolved into a procession of carnival balls linked with Lent and the passion of Easter.

Similarly, the old spring festivals wherein village children would parade with boughs decorated with ivy and pretzels to celebrate the reawakening of the sun, have been replaced by Palm Sunday and Corpus Christi celebrations. May Day and the dance around the maypole is still a much-celebrated event in villages all over Austria. The festival of the summer solstice, announced by bonfires on the hills, still takes place in parts of Salzburg, under the name of St. John's Night.

Harvest festivals of autumn, linked with apple and wine gathering, have a long tradition throughout Austria. Harvest fairs are still a vital part of the autumn season, and the wine harvest, from grape picking and pressing through the various stages of wine fermentation, is an affair closely monitored by many Austrians. The pine bough outside a winery signals customers that new wine is available. The thanksgiving festival of St. Leonard, patron saint of livestock, is a reminder of a pagan harvest celebration.

Perhaps best known and most retained by Austrian immigrants in America are traditions of the Christmas season, the beginning of which is marked by St. Nicholas Day on December 6. Good children are rewarded with apples and nuts in their stockings, while bad ones receive only lumps of coal. Caroling and the Christmas tree are but two of the Austrian and German contributions to the American celebrations of yuletide. One of the best-known Christmas carols, "Silent Night," was written by an Austrian.

As many customs and beliefs from Austria have been incorporated by the Catholic Church, many Austrian Americans have retained the feast days of their native country, though without the pageantry or connection to their original purpose. The Austrian custom of placing a pine tree atop newly constructed houses has become a traditional ceremony for American ironworkers as well, many of whom were of Central European origin. The fir tree, as mentioned, has become a staple of American Christmas. Yet overall, Austrian customs have become barely recognizable in America.


Austrian cuisine relies heavily on meat, especially pork. The famous dish wienerschnitzel, pork or veal fried in bread crumbs, is among the many recipes that were imported along with the immigrants. Goulasch, a spicy Hungarian stew, is another item that has found its way onto the American table, as has sauerkraut, both a German and Austrian specialty. Sausages, called wurst in German, have become so popular in America that names such as wiener (from wienerwurst ) and frankfurter (from Frankfurt in Germany) are synonymous with a whole class of food. Pastries and desserts are also Austrian specialties; Austrian favorites include cake such as Sachertorte, a heavy chocolate concoction closely connected with Vienna's Hotel Sacher; linzertorte, more of a tart than cake, stuffed with apricot jam; and the famous pastry apfelstrudel, a flaky sort of pie stuffed with apples. The list of such sweets is lengthy, and many of them have found places, under different names, as staples of American cuisine. Breads are another Austrian contribution to the world's foods: the rye breads of both Germany and Austria are dense and longlasting with a hearty flavor.

Austrian beer, such as the light lagers and heavier Bock —brewed for Christmas and Easter—is on par with the better known German varieties. Early immigrants of both nationalities brought the fondness for barley and hops with them, and many Austrians founded breweries in the United States. Wines, especially the tart white wines of the Wachau region of the Danube and the refined, complex varietals of Gumpoldskirchen to the south of Vienna, have become world famous as well. The Austrian love for the new wine, or heuriger, is witnessed by dozens of drinking songs. The simple wine tavern, owned and operated by the vintner and his family, combines the best of a picnic with dining out.


In Austria, the traditional costumes or trachten, are still fashionable, not only for the rural population, but for city-dwellers as well. Most typical and best known by those outside Austria is the dirndl. Both village girls and Viennese matrons can be seen wearing this pleated skirt covered by a brightly colored apron and surmounted by a tight-fitting bodice. White blouses are worn under the bodice, sometimes embroidered, sometimes with lace. For men the typical trachten is the steirer anzug, a collarless variation of a hunting costume, usually gray with green piping and trim, which can be worn for both formal and informal occasions. The wetter-fleck, a long loden cape, is also still worn, as are knickers of elk hide or wool. Lederhosen, or leather shorts, associated with both Germany and Austria, are still typical summer wear in much of Austria.


From simple lieder, or songs, to symphonies and operas, Austrian music has enriched the cultural life

Austrian American Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his role as president of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, meets with President George Bush at the White House in January 1990.
Austrian American Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his role as president of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, meets with President George Bush at the White House in January 1990.
of the Western world. Vienna in particular was the home of native Austrian and German composers alike who created the classical idiom. Men such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms developed symphony and chamber music. More modern composers such as Anton Bruckner, Gustav Mahler, and Arnold Schoenberg—the latter immigrated to the United States—expanded the boundaries of tonality and structure in music composition.

Austria is also synonymous with the waltz, developed from an earlier peasant dance and made famous through the music of Johann Strauss and Joseph Lanner. The Viennese operetta has also influenced the musical taste of the world, helping to develop the form of the modern musical. Johann Strauss, Jr., is only one of many who pioneered the form, and a Viennese, Frederick Loewe, helped to transform it on Broadway by writing the lyrics to such famous musicals as My Fair Lady and Camelot.


Beyond such traditional holidays as Christmas, New Year's, and Easter, Austrian Americans cannot be said to celebrate various feast and seasonal days as a group. The more cosmopolitan immigrants from Vienna, for example, were and are much more internationalist in outlook than fellow Austrian immigrants from Burgenland, who hold to more traditional customs even in the United States. This latter group, former residents of a rural, agricultural area and generally Catholic, are more likely to observe such traditional feasts as St. Leonard's Day in November, St. Nicholas Day on December 6, and Corpus Christi in June, as well as such seasonal festivities as harvest festivals for wine in October.


The medical tradition in Austria is long and noteworthy. The Viennese have contributed medical innovations such as antisepsis and new therapies such as psychoanalysis to the world. Austrian Americans place a high value on health care. They also bring with them the idea of medical care as a birthright, for in Austria such care has been part of a broad government-run social program during much of the twentieth century. There are no documented congenital diseases specific to Austrian Americans.


Austria and Germany are, to paraphrase Winston Churchill's famous quip about England and America, two countries separated by a common language. That Austria is a German-speaking country seems to come as a surprise to many Americans. Germans also have great fun scratching their heads over Austrianisms (e.g., the German kartoffel becomes erdapfel, or apple of the earth, in Austria). However, Austrian German, apart from a lighter, more sing-song accent and some regional words, is no different from true German than Canadian English is from American English. The umlaut (ä, ö, ü) is the primary diacritical mark over vowels, and is sometimes expressed by an "e" after the vowel instead of employing the diacritic.

As English is an offshoot of Old German, there are enough similarities between the two languages to make language assimilation a reasonably easy task for Austrian Americans. The "v" for "w" confusion is an especially difficult phonetic problem, as German has no unaspirated pronunciation of "w." Another pronunciation difficulty is the English diphthong "th" for which German has no equivalent, resulting in the thick "s" so caricatured by stage and screen actors.


Typical Austrian greetings and farewells include the more formal Germanisms such as Guten Tag ("gooten tahg")—Good day; Guten Abend ("gooten ahbend")—Good evening; and Auf Wiedersehen ("ouf veedersayen")—Good-bye. More typically Austrian are Grüss Gott ("groos gote")—literally Greetings from God, but used as Hello or Hi; and Servus ("sairvoos")—both Hello and Good-bye, used by younger people and between good friends. Other polite expressions—for which Austrian German seems to have an overabundance—include Bitte ("bietuh")—both Please and You're welcome; Danke Vielmals ("dahnka feelmahls")—Thanks very much; and Es tut mir sehr leid ("es toot meer sair lied")—I'm very sorry. Seasonal expressions include Frohe Weihnachten ("frohuh vienahkten")—Merry Christmas; and Prosit Neujahr ("proezit noy yahr")—Happy New Year. Zum wohl ("tzoom vole")—To your health—is a typical toast.

Family and Community Dynamics

Initially, many of the immigrants from Austria were males who came to America to earn and save money and then to return home. Most often, these early immigrants would live together in crowded rooming houses or primitive hostels in urban centers of the industrial northeastern United States. As permanent immigration patterns replaced this more nomadic style, the structure of the Austrian family became transplanted to America. Typically a tight nuclear family that seldom included a grandmother, the Austrian family has few of the characteristics of the extended Mediterranean family. The father ruled the economic life of the family, but the strong matriarch was boss at home. As in Austria, male children were favored. Sundays were a sacrosanct family time together. In general, few outsiders were allowed the informal "Du" greeting or even invited into the home.

This tight structure soon broke down, however, in the more egalitarian American environment. Austrian immigrants tended overall to assimilate rapidly into their new country, adapting to the ways of America and being influenced by the same cultural trends that affected native-born Americans: the increasing importance of the role of women in the twentieth century; the decline of the nuclear family, including a rising divorce rate; and the mobility of citizens—both geographically and economically. The variety of Austrian immigrants also changed in this century. Once mainly agrarian workers who congregated in urban areas despite their desire to settle on the land, immigrants from Austria—especially after the First World War—tended to be better educated with a larger world view. The flight of the Jewish Austrian intelligentsia during the Nazi period especially affected the assimilation patterns. These professional classes placed a high premium on education for both male and female children. Thus Austrian immigrants became skilled workers and professionals.


Mostly Roman Catholic, Austrians brought their religion with them to America. Austrian missionaries, mainly Jesuits, baptized Native Americans and helped chart the New World from the seventeenth century on. But by the nineteenth century that mission had changed, for newly arrived Austrian immigrants, disdained by Irish Catholic priests who spoke no German, were clamoring for Austrian priests. Partly to meet this need and partly to convert new souls to Catholicism, the Leopoldine Stiftung or Foundation was established in 1829. Collecting weekly donations throughout the Habsburg Empire, the foundation sent money and priests into North America to bring faith to the frontier. Through such contributions over 400 churches were built on the East Coast, in the Midwest, and in what was then known as Indian country further west. The Jesuits were especially active during this period in cities such as Cincinnati and St. Louis. The Benedictines and Franciscans were also represented by both priests and nuns. These priests founded bishoprics and built congregations in the thousands. One unfortunate reaction to this was an intensification of nativist tendencies, or anti-immigrant sentiments. This influx of priests was looked upon as a conspiracy to upset the balance of the population in America with Roman Catholics imported from Europe. For many years such nativist sentiments made it difficult for Austrian immigrants to fully assimilate into American society.

On the whole, the formal traditions and rights of the Church in the United States and in Austria were the same, but external pressures differed. Thus, as with the U.S. population in general, Austrian Americans in the twentieth century have become more secular, less faith-bound. New waves of Austrian immigrants, especially those fleeing Nazism, also changed the religious makeup of the groups as a whole. For the most part, arrivals between 1933 and 1945 were Jewish.

Employment and Economic Traditions

As with all examinations of Austrian immigration, occupational statistics suffer from the inconsistent distinction between ethnic groups among the Austro-Hungarian immigrants. German-speaking Austrians did settle in the center of the country to become farmers, but in what numbers is unclear. Prior to 1900 Austro-Hungarian immigrants were also laborers, saloon keepers, waiters, and steel workers. Statistics that are available from 1900, however, indicate that a high proportion of later arrivals found work as tailors, miners, and peddlers. By the mid-twentieth century, these same occupational trends still prevailed, with tailoring and the clothing industry in general employing large numbers of Austrian Americans. The food industry was also heavily weighted with Austrians: bakers, restaurateurs, and meatpackers. Mining was also a predominant occupation among Austrians.

In the half-century since then, Austrian Americans have branched out into all fields: medicine, law, entertainment, management, and technology, as well as the traditional service industries where many of them started as new immigrants.

Politics and Government

The earliest notable political influence that Austrian Americans wielded came through the pens and the votes of the Forty-eighters. These liberal refugees from the failed revolts of 1848 were strongly abolitionist and pro-Lincoln. Later arrivals during the half-century of mass immigration from Austro-Hungary (1860-1910) packed the ranks of unskilled labor and of America's fledgling labor movement. Indeed, the deaths of ten Austro-Hungarian laborers during the 1897 mining strike in Lattimer, Pennsylvania, prompted a demand for indemnity by the embassy of Austro-Hungary.

Immigrants in the 1930s and 1940s tended to have strong socialist beliefs and formed organizations such as the American Friends of Austrian Labor to help promote labor issues. During World War II an Austrian government in exile was attempted in the United States, but fighting between factions of the refugees, specifically between Social Democrats and Christian Socialists, prevented any concerted action on that front. The creation of the Austrian battalion—the 101st Infantry Battalion—became the center of a debate that raged among Austrian Americans. Groups such as Austria Action and the Austrian Labor Committee opposed such a formation, fearing it would become the vanguard of the restoration of the Habsburg monarchy under Otto von Habsburg after the war. On the other side, the Free Austrian Movement advocated such a battalion, even if it meant aligning the right with the left among the recruits. A scant six months after its formation, the Austrian battalion was disbanded. Despite this failure, the debate occasioned by the creation of the battalion had helped to bring to the forefront of American discussion the role of Austrian Americans and of Austria itself in the Second World War. Not only were Austrian Americans not interned, but Austria itself, in the Moscow Declaration of November 1, 1943, was declared one of the first victims of Nazism, and the restoration of its independence was made an Allied war aim.

Little information on Austrian American voting patterns exists, though early Jewish Austrian immigrants and Austrian socialists tended to vote Democrat rather than Republican. Interesting in this context is the career of Victor Berger (1860-1929), an Austrian who not only influenced Eugene V. Debs in becoming a socialist, but also became the first socialist to sit in the House of Representatives in Washington.

Austrians of the first generation, on the whole, maintain close links with Austria, returning periodically to their place of birth. Even Jewish Austrians who had to flee the Holocaust return to visit and sometimes to retire in their homeland.

Individual and Group Contributions

Austrian Americans have made lasting contributions in all fields of American life, though seldom are their Austrian roots emphasized. From the arts to the world of science, this immigrant population has made its mark.


Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883-1950) was a well-known critic of Marxism and an authority on business cycles. Another notable Austrian American economist was Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973), a critic of the planned economies of socialist countries. Other Austrian Americans in the fields of literature and history have done much to generate interest in Austria and Central Europe: Harry Zohn is a much-published professor of German literature at Brandeis University, and the Viennese Robert A. Kann's (1906-1981) A History of the Habsburg Empire has become a standard reference. R. John Rath helped to centralize Austrian studies with his center at Rice University and then at the University of Minnesota. These are only a few of the many notable Austrian American historians at work in this country.


Austrian artists who came to the United States include the painter George Peter (b. 1860), who immigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1885, painted Civil War themes, and eventually became director of the Milwaukee museum. Others include the artist and architect Joseph Urban (1872-1933); the sculptor and architectural designer Karl Bitter (1867-1915); Joseph Margulies, born in Austria in 1896, who painted and etched scenes of the New York ghetto; and René d'Harnoncourt (b. 1901) from Vienna, who eventually became director of contemporary art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Max Fleischer (b. 1885) was one of the pioneers of the animated cartoon on film whose creations include Betty Boop and Popeye. The exodus from Austria caused by the rise of Hitler brought to the United States such distinguished painters as the modernist Wilhelm Thoeny (1888-1949); the expressionist painters Franz Lerch (b. 1895) and Max Oppenheimer (1885-1956); and the graphic artist, John W. Winkler (b. 1890). Among architects of note are Karl Bitter, mentioned above, and John L. Smithmeyer (1832-1908), who was the architect of the Library of Congress. Best known of all Austrian American architects was Richard Neutra (1892-1970), whose name is synonymous with the steel and concrete structures he pioneered in California. Other more modern architects include R. M. Schindler (1887-1953) and Victor Gruen (1903-?), who emigrated in 1938 and whose environmental architecture helped transform such cities as Los Angeles, Detroit, and Fort Worth. Frederick John Kiesler (1896-1965) was known as an innovative architect, whose set designs, interiors, and bold floating architectural designs earned him a reputation as a maverick and visionary.


Franz Martin Drexel (1792-1863), a native of Voralberg, founded the banking house of Drexel and Company in Philadelphia, which later gave rise to the House of Morgan. Another immigrant from Voralberg, John Michael Kohler (1844-1900), built one of the largest plumbing outfitters in the United States and introduced the enamel coated bathtub. August Brentano (1831-1886) was an impoverished Austrian immigrant who turned a newspaper stand into a huge bookshop chain. The development of department stores in America also owes a debt to Austrian Americans Nathan M. Ohrbach (1885-?), founder of the Ohrbach stores, and Joe Weinstein(b. 1894), founder of the May stores. John David Hertz (1879-1961), an Austrian Czech, made his name synonymous with rental cars. Austrian American fashion designers have included Nettie Rosenstein (b. 1893), a winner of the prestigious Coty award for clothing design, and the Vienna-born Rudi Gernreich (1922– ) who created the topless bathing suits of the 1960s. In the world of publishing, Frederick Ungar, a refugee from the Hitler era, created a well-respected New York house, as did Frederik Amos Praeger (1915– ). Tourism in the United States has also been enhanced by the Austrian-style ski resorts and schools in Sun Valley developed by Felix Schaffgotsch, with a ski school operated by Hans Hauser. The Arlberg technique in skiing was promoted by Hannes Schneider (1890-1955) in Jackson, New Hampshire, and later resorts such as Aspen and Heavenly Valley were made famous by their Austrian instructors. In technology, the 1978 invention of a text scanner by the Austrian American Ray Kurzweil (1948– ) has opened a new world for blind readers.


Among journalists, the foremost name is Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911). Though claimed by both Hungarians and Austrians, Pulitzer spoke German and had a Hungarian father and an Austrian mother. The founder of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and owner of the New York World, Pulitzer's name is remembered for the prize in journalism that he endowed. He was one of many Austro-Hungarians involved in journalism in nineteenth-century America. Others include Gustav Pollak (1848-1919), a contributor to The Nation and the Evening Post, and Joseph Keppler (1838-1894), an innovator in color cartoons and owner of the humorous magazine Puck. A more recent publishing venture involving an Austrian American is the New Yorker, whose founding president, Raoul H. Fleischmann (1885-1969), was born in Bad Ischl, Austria. Other more current Austrian American journalists include the one-time associate editor of the Boston Globe, Otto Zausmer; an editor for the Christian Science Monitor, Ernest S. Pisko; and Erwin Knoll (1928-1994), a Vienna-born journalist and longtime editor of The Progressive.


One of the best-known Austrian Americans in the law was Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965), a native of Vienna, who was a justice on the Supreme Court for 23 years. The Spingarn Medal, awarded yearly to an outstanding African American leader, was created by Joel Elias Spingarn (1875-1939), one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the son of an Austrian immigrant.


Franz Werfel (1890-1945), though born in Prague, was a thoroughly Austrian writer. He and his wife fled the Nazis and came to the United States in 1940. His Song of Bernadette became a best seller in the United States, and the Werfels settled in Beverly Hills. The children's writer and illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962) was born in South Tyrol and settled in New York as a youth. His famous Madeline stories continue to charm young readers. Hermann Broch (1886-1951), one of the most influential of modern Austrian writers, known for such novels as The Sleepwalkers and The Death of Virgil, was another refugee from Hitler's Europe and taught at both Princeton and Yale. Frederic Morton (1925– ), born in Vienna and educated in New York, has written many nonfiction books of renown, among them The Rothschilds and A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889.


Among Austrian American Nobel laureates in medicine were Karl Landsteiner (1868-1943), the discoverer of blood types, and the German Austrian Otto Loewi (1873-1961), a co-winner of the Nobel for his work in the chemical transmission of nerve impulses. Loewi came to New York University after he was driven out of Graz by the Nazis. Many other Austrian Americans have also left their mark in the United States both as practitioners and educators, but perhaps none so methodically as the psychoanalysts who spread Sigmund Freud's work to America. These include A. A. Brill (1874-1947), the Columbia professor and Freud translator; Heinz Werner (1890-1964); Paul Federn; Otto Rank (1884-1939), a Freud disciple; and Theodor Reik (1888-1969), the New York psychoanalyst. This group of immigrants was not limited to Freudians, however. Alexandra Adler (b. 1901), daughter of Alfred Adler, who is generally known as the second great Viennese psychoanalyst, came to the United States to work at both Harvard and Duke. Bruno Bettelheim (1903-1990) was also a native of Vienna; he became known for his treatment of autistic children and for his popular writings. The list of those both in medicine and mental health who were driven out of Austria during the reign of Hitler is long and impressive.


Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), creator of the 12-tone system and a pioneer of modern music, fled the rise of Nazism in 1933 and continued composing and teaching at both the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles. Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), a Viennese composer best known for his opera Die tote Stadt, immigrated to the United States in 1934 and composed and conducted film scores in Hollywood. Ernst K<caron>renek (1900-1991), also a Viennese, was a modernist whose fame was built through his incorporation of jazz and opera in his Jonny spielt auf. He taught at Vassar for many years. Frederick Loewe (b. 1904), a native Viennese, was the lyricist in the team of Lerner and Loewe who helped transform the American musical. The folk singer and actor Theodore Bikel (1924– ) was born in Vienna and came to the United States via Israel and London. Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961), brother of the philosopher and a pianist of note, settled in New York after 1938. Having lost his right arm in the First World War, Wittgenstein became famous for playing with one hand, and major composers such as Maurice Ravel wrote music for the left hand for him. The longtime general manager of New York's Metropolitan Opera, Rudolf Bing (b. 1902), was also Austrian, born in Vienna. Bruno Walter (1876-1962), a German conductor who became a naturalized Austrian and then fled Hitler, was famous for his recordings of Mahler and Mozart and his conducting at the Met and with the New York Philharmonic. Another conductor, Erich Leinsdorf (1912-1993), also found fame in America with a longtime association with the Boston Symphony.


Three of Austria's four Nobel Prize winners in physics immigrated to the United States. They include Victor Franz Hess (1883-1964), the discoverer of cosmic rays; Isidor Isaac Rabi (1898-1988), a physicist at Columbia; and Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958). George Paul Sutton (1920– ) immigrated to the United States in 1920 and contributed greatly in the development of rockets and missiles. Otto Halpern (b. 1899-) also contributed to the defense effort of his new homeland by his invention of a counter-radar device. A fair assortment of world class mathematicians also arrived in America from Austria. Among these, Richard von Mises (1883-1953) had a distinguished career at Harvard. Distinguished biologists include Spaeth Hauschka (b. 1908) and Erna Altura Werber; among chemists are Ludwig F. Andrieth (b. 1901), Oskar Paul Wintersteiner (b. 1898), Ernst Berl (1877-1946), who came to the United States to work on explosives and chemical warfare, and Hermann Francis Mark (b. 1895), whose work in synthetic plastics led to the development of such materials as nylon and orlon.


The earliest contribution of Austrian Americans is found in the theater. Many of the earliest theater houses in this country were built by Austrian immigrants who brought their love for theater with them. Prominent arrivals from Austria include the impresario Max Reinhardt (1873-1943). Famous for his Everyman production at the Salzburg Festival and for a school of dramatics in Vienna, Reinhardt worked in Hollywood and New York after immigrating to escape the Nazis. Other Austrian Americans include such well-known stage and screen actors as Rudolph Schildkraut (1895-1964), who starred for De Mille in Hollywood, Paul Muni (1895-1967), Hedy Lamarr (1915– ), Oscar Homolka (1898-1978), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (1947– ). An impressive group of film directors also hail from Austria: Erich von Stroheim (1885-1957), whose film Greed is considered a modern masterpiece; Joseph von Sternberg (1894-1969), the father of gangster films; Fred Zinnemann (1907– ), the director of High Noon; Billy Wilder (1906– ) whose many accomplishments include The Apartment and Sunset Boulevard; and Otto Preminger (1906-1986), a boyhood friend of Wilder's in Vienna and director of such film classics as Exodus and Anatomy of a Murder.



Austria Kultur.

This bimonthly publication is published by the Austrian Cultural Institute, an agency funded by the Austrian government to represent Austrian culture in the United States. It concentrates on cultural affairs such as exhibitions and exchanges.

Contact: Wolfgang Waldner, Editor.

Address: 11 East 52nd Street, New York, New York, 10022.

Telephone: (212) 759-5165.

Austrian Information.

Newsletter/magazine on Austrian news, events, and personalities published monthly by the Austrian Press and Information Service.

Address: 3524 International Court NW, Washington, D.C. 20008-3027.

Telephone: (202) 895-6775.

Fax: (202) 895-6722.


Online: .

Ariadne Press.

Publishes studies on Austrian culture, literature, and film; works of Austrian American writers; and translations of Austrian authors.

Address: 270 Goins Court, Riverside, California 92507.

Telephone: (909) 684-9202.

Fax: (909) 779-0449.

Other regional German-language newspapers and magazines such as California's Neue Presse and the Staats Zeitung operate throughout the United States, though none are specifically oriented to or targeted at an Austrian readership.


Though the short-wave broadcasts of the Austrian Broadcasting Company, ORF, can be picked up in the United States, and various cable networks air German-language programming on their international channels, there is no domestically produced programming that targets the Austrian American audience.

Organizations and Associations

In general, Austrian Americans, because of diverse interests and ethnic backgrounds, have tended to favor small regional organizations and clubs over national ones. Most of these societies are organized by province of origin, and those of the Burgenland contingent are the most pervasive. In addition, urban areas such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami Beach tend to have associations for the promulgation of Austrian culture. Other Austrian societies and organizations are united by such common themes as music or literature, or by shared history as with those who fled Austrian Nazism or Hitler. The following are a sampling of regional fraternal and cultural associations.

Austrian American Club, Los Angeles.

Contact: Othmar Friedler, President.

Address: P.O. Box 4711, North Hollywood, California 91607.

Telephone: (310) 634-0065.

Austrian American Council Midwest.

Contact: Gerhard Kaes, President.

Address: 5411 West Addison Street, Chicago, Illinois 60641-3295.

Telephone: (312) 685-4166.

Austrian American Council Northeast.

The six chapters of this nonprofit organization have a common goal: to deepen the friendship and understanding between the United States and Austria. To this end, members facilitate cultural and educational exchange between the two countries and also participate in humanitarian efforts such as SOS Kinderdorf, an outreach to disadvantaged children in both Europe and the United States.

Contact: Juliana Belcsak, President.

Address: 5 Russell Terrace, Montclair, New Jersey 07042.

Telephone: (201) 783-6241.

Austrian American Council Southeast.

Contact: Alfred Marek, President.

Address: P.O. Box 337, 33 Monsell Court, Roswell, Georgia 30077.

Austrian American Council Southwest.

Contact: Christa Cooper, President.

Address: 1535 West Loop South, Suite 319a, Houston, Texas 77027.

Telephone: (713) 623-2233.

Austrian American Council West.

Contact: Veronika Reinelt, Vice-President.

Address: 2701 Forrester Drive, Los Angeles, California 90064.

Telephone: (310) 559-8770.

Austrian-American "Enzian" Club, Colorado Springs.

Contact: Helga Jonas, President.

Address: 29 Circle Sea Road, Fountain, Colorado 80817.

Telephone: (719) 382-7639.

Austrian-American Federation, Incorporated.

Contact: Dr. Clementine Zernik, President.

Address: 31 East 69th Street, New York, New York, 10021.

Telephone: (212) 535-3261.

Austrian American Film Association (AAFA).

Promotes Austrian film culture, history, and New Austrian Film; presents annual symposium on the relationship between Austria and Hollywood; and publishes on topics regarding Austrian and Austrian America filmmakers.

Contacts: Professor Robert von Dassanowsky and Dr. Gertraud Steiner Daviau, Co-directors.

Online: .

Austrian Society of Arizona.

Contact: Wolfgang Klien, President.

Address: 4501 North 22nd Street, Phoenix, Arizona 85016.

Telephone: (602) 468-1818.

Museums and Research Centers

Austrian Cultural Institute.

Part of the cultural affairs section of the Austrian Consulate General, the institute is responsible for cultural and scientific relations between Austria and the United States. It maintains a reference library specializing in Austrian history, art, and folklore, and organizes lectures and panel discussions as well as educational exchanges.

Address: 950 Third Avenue, 20th Floor, New York, New York 10022.

Telephone: (212) 759-5165.

Fax: (212) 319-9636 .


Online: .

Center for Austrian Studies.

Located at the University of Minnesota, the center conducts research on Austrian history and publishes both a newsletter, three times annually, as well as the Austrian History Yearbook.

Contact: Richard L. Rudolph, Director.

Address: University of Minnesota, 314 Social Sciences Building, 267 Nineteenth Avenue South, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455.

Telephone: (612) 624-9811.

Fax: (612) 626-9004.


International Arthur Schnitzler Research Association.

Maintains a Schnitzler archive at the University of California, Riverside, and encourages and conducts research on that Austrian playwright and novelist as well as contemporaries of Schnitzler. It publishes the quarterly Modern Austrian Literature.

Contact: Jorun B. Johns.

Address: Department of Literature and Languages, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, California 92521.

Telephone: (909) 787-5603.

Fax: (909) 684-9202.


Society for Austrian and Habsburg History.

Focuses on central European history, and on Austria in particular. For scholars interested in research.

Contact: Ronald Coons.

Address: Department of History, University of Connecticut, 241 Glenbrook Road, Storrs, Connecticut 06269-2103.

Telephone: (203) 486-3722.

Sources for Additional Study

Goldner, Franz. Austrian Emigration 1938 to 1945. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1979.

Spaulding, E. Wilder. The Quiet Invaders: The Story of the Austrian Impact upon America. Vienna: Ă–sterreichische Bundesverlag, 1968.

Vertreibung der Vernunft: The Cultural Exodus from Austria, edited by Friedrich Stadler and Peter Weibel. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1995.

User Contributions:

I am looking for free sites to find out when and how my grandfather came to America from Rosenberg Austria 1901-1910. Can you direct me to a free site?
Zvonko Matana


sean thompkins
I would like some more first black Irish Australian American Indians history information
Stephanie Stadjuhar
One of the most through histories I have come upon in my search for Austrian history. My particular focus is in the 1200's, 1400's and late 1500 to early 1600's. Though vague in these centuries it brings me hope that I might be able to fine historical information for these times periods in many of the topics mentioned above. Anyone having sources for these historical periods please feel free to correspond.
My thanks to these contributors.
Sincerely, a second generation of Austrian immigrants.
Stephanie Stadjuhar (in my historical society known as Stephania von Graz)
Loretta Fleischmann
This information may be added to your site:
I am President of American Friends of Austria founded in 1941 and chartered as a non profit organization
in 1955. American Friends of Austria has hosted an elaborate Viennese Ball every year since it was founded with the exception of the WW2 era. It has currently for the last 15 years been held at the Goldcoast Room of the Drake Hotel in Chicago and is taking place on Feb. 6, 2015. Visit facebook/American Friends of Austria for information and pictures.

Also the Austrian American Council in Chicago is now headed by Klaus Rummer, 2585 Alta Court Lisle IL 60532
My great-grandparents came to the US from Austria-Hungary in the early 1900's or late 1800's. Their last name was Schlosser, and they settled
in Greensboro, NC. They owned a small sausage factory that I believe was all family-run. My grandmother, Rosa, was a baby during the time that a the local newspaper printed a story about the rock bridges and houses that my great-grandfather and uncle had built in the upscale Fisher Park
area just outside of downtown Green
Where can I find more information on "earliest documented German Austrian settlers in America were some 50 families of Protestants from Salzburg who arrived in the colony of Georgia in 1734"? For instance, what other families arrived besides the Treutlen's?

Hi, i am working on an essay on my Ethnic background and need to cite my work, and I need the author. Can you give me a name to use? Thanks
Hi I was born in Hawaii in 1960 my mother gave me up for adoption. When I turned 21 I started writing the state of Hawaii about my adoption records. My birth mom had them sealed. I stood before the judge I was writing to as a kid so he did give me information but no names. My father was 33 when I was born w/ 2 kids, divorced. My mom came from Czech and is Austrian Hungarian. She lived in Cincinnati Ohio before moving to Hawaii. What way can I go to search for her with no name. Help!! Thank you
My great great grandparents immigrated from Austria circa 1880-1881. Their last name was Staurousky but I have seen variations Storosky and a few others. The family originally lived in New Jersey area but then moved to Tioga County. I would really like to reconnect with Austrian family, what is the best way to search for connections in 2018?
Frank Buzolits
For those whose ancestors came from the eastern part of today's Austria known as Burgenland, there is a site you can join free call burgenlandbunch . The site has a lot of help with finding people for your family tree.
Gail Jurgel
I have been trying to find my great grandfather who was from Austria-Hungary . Even though I have many old papers I still cannot seem to find anything out about him. I have been working on this for a couple of years now. Can anyone help me? My father is in his 90s and I would love to be able to find out anything I can for him! Thanks!
jennifer bombiani
wonderful breakdown, my great grandfater john jurisin born 10jun1883 came to usa from austria, i am sure it is at that port of entry or around this time that he met my great grandmother anna blasko born 1883 from czechoslovakia...they both died in 1937 in pennsylvania, usa. great grandmother anna died 13jan1937 and great grandfather john died 19jan1937. i would like to reach out and obtain infomation about the jurisin family in you have any suggestion on how to begin...i would like to start my family ancestral tree but don't have sufficient infomation

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