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Italian Emigration

The unification of the new Kingdom of Italy in 1861 had the ironic effect of magnifying the disparity in social and economic conditions of the wealthy north and the poor south. Between 1861 and 1960 over 25 million Italians emigrated. Overpopulation, poverty, backwardness, isolation, and illiteracy in the south contributed to a migration boom between 1871 and 1915 when well over 13.5 million emigrants left the country for European and overseas destinations.

Northern Italians migrated primarily to European destinations, although a substantial number also went overseas to countries such as Argentina (Ligurians) and Brazil (Venetians). Migrants from southern Italy went predominantly to America.

Most significant Overall Emigration from Italy 1870-1915


3 million plus


1.2-1.4 million


1.2-1.4 million


1.2-1.4 million


1.2-1.4 million

Most significant Overseas Emigration 1870-1915.  About 2/3 emigrated to the USA

Campania (mostly Salerno & Avellino),Sicily (mostly Palermo),Calabria (mostly Catanzaro & Consenza)



Abruzzi e Molise (mostly Campobasso, Isernia & Aquilia)


According to one source 2 the southern Italian immigrants to the U.S. from 1880-1930 came from the following regions:

  • Molise & Abruzzi – 16.2 %
  • Apulia – 7.4%
  • Calabria – 13%
  • Basilicata – 5.8%
  • Campania – 27.4%
  • Sardinia – 0.4%
  • Sicily - 29.8%

Of the 4 million Italians who emigrated to the United States between 1871 and 1915, about 2 million returned to Italy. The first significant wave of migration occurred 1880-1890 with the majority of these emigrants remaining in the USA. The second significant, and much larger, migrant wave (1900-1915) was less permanent. By the last 5 years of this second wave 60% of Italians were returning to Italy.

Immigration to the U.S. decreased substantially in 1915 (less than 50,000) and was virtually nonexistent during WW I (1918-19) when Italy’s emigration of military-aged men was suspended. Immigration to the U.S. increased sharply again in 1920 (about 150,000) and 1921 (about 225,000) before declining to yearly totals of less than 50,000.

List of Vigoritos arriving to NY ports from 1880-1899


  1. Family Tree Maker's Family Archives CD #353, Passenger and Immigration Lists: Italians to America (1880-1893), 1999 Broderbund Software, Inc.
  2. Center for Migration Studies. Piety and Power: The Role of the Italian Parishes in the New York Metropolitan Area, 1880-1930. New York: Center for Migration Studies, 1975.


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Last updated: August 23, 2005