Polish Americans

Citation metadata

Author: J. Sydney Jones
Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 11,803 words
Lexile Measure: 1300L

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 
Page 477

Polish Americans

J. Sydney Jones


Polish Americans are immigrants or descendants of people from Poland, the seventh largest country in Europe. Located in east-central Europe, Poland is bordered to the east by Russia and the Ukraine, to the south by the Czech Republic and Slovakia, to the west by Germany, and to the north by the Baltic Sea. Poland's landscape is varied, distinguished by the central lowlands, the sand dunes and swamps of the Baltic coast, and the mountains of the Carpathians to the south. Poland's total land area is 120,727 square miles (312,685 square kilometers), somewhat smaller than the state of New Mexico.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the population of Poland was an estimated 38,415,284 in July 2012, making it the thirty-third most populated country in the world. Some 97 percent of the people identified themselves as Polish, but there were also small groups of Germans (0.4 percent), Belarusians (0.1 percent), and Ukrainians (0.1 percent). The overwhelming majority of the population, 98 percent, speak Polish, the official language. Roman Catholics make up 90 percent of the Polish population, but only 75 percent actively follow the Catholic faith. There are also small groups of Eastern Orthodox and Protestants. Poland is considered a major economic success when compared to the transitional economies in Eastern Europe that began to redefine themselves after the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of the Cold War. The per capita income of $20,200 (2011) is the sixty-first highest in the world. However, since the onset of the global economic crisis in 2007, Poland has endured some economic challenges. In 2010, unemployment was 12.4 percent, and it was even higher, 21 percent, among Polish youths age fifteen to twenty-four.

The first Poles arrived in what would become the United States in 1608, and more came between 1800 and 1860. However, industrialization was the draw for the first significant wave of Polish immigrants. Between 1880 and 1924, they were lured by the factories, mills, mines, and slaughterhouses that fueled American industrialization. Polish immigrants settled in New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Chiefly from the working class, they tended to be young males who were either unmarried or recently married. Upon arriving in the United States, they began producing large families and became enthusiastic Americans. Chicago soon had more Poles living within its borders than any other city in the world except Warsaw. A new wave of Polish immigrants began arriving during and immediately after World War II in response to communist displacement, with 179,000 arriving between 1940 and 1953. Between 1980 and 1990, the number of Polish Americans climbed from 3,805,740 to 6,542,844. By the early twenty-first century, new Polish immigrants were continuing to settle in Chicago and New York, but they also began making their homes in cities throughout the United States. Because of the high rate of assimilation among earlier Polish immigrants, the group reflected the trend among modern Americans to move away from cities and into the suburbs. However, many Polish American suburbanites continued to commute into cities to attend large Catholic churches.

In 2011, data gathered for the Census Bureau's American Community Survey reported that the size of the Polish American population was 9,530,571, and Poles continued to concentrate in New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. Other states with large populations of people of Polish descent include California, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin.


Early History The very name of Poland harkens back to its origins in the Slavic tribes that inhabited the Vistula valley as early as the second millennium BCE. Migrations of these tribes resulted in three distinct subgroups: the West, East, and South Slavs. It was the West Slavs who became the ancestors of modern Poles, settling in and around the Oder and Vistula valleys. Highly clannish, these tribes were organized in tight kinship groups with commonly held property and a rough-and-ready sort of representative government regarding matters other than military. These West Slavs slowly joined in ever-larger units under the pressure of incursions by Avars and early Germans, ultimately being led by a tribe known as the Polanie. From that point on, these West Slavs, and increasingly the entire region, were referred to as Polania or later, Poland. Under the Polanian duke Mieszko and his Piast dynasty, further consolidation around what is modern Poznan created a true state; and in 966, Mieszko Page 478  |  Top of Articlewas converted to Christianity. It is this event that is commonly accepted as the founding date of Poland. It is doubly important because Mieszko's conversion to Christianity—Roman Catholicism—ultimately linked Poland's fortunes to those of Western Europe. The East Slavs, centered at Kiev, were converted by missionaries from the Greek church, which in turn linked them to the Orthodox east.

Meanwhile, the South Slavs had been coalescing into larger units, forming what is known as Little Poland, as opposed to Great Poland of the Piasts. These South Slavs joined Great Poland under Casimir I, and for several generations the new state thrived, checking the tide of German expansionism. But from the twelfth to thirteenth centuries, the new kingdom became fragmented by a duchy system that created political chaos and civil war among rival princes of the Piast lineage. Following devastations caused by Tatar invasions in the early thirteenth century, Poland was defenseless against a further tide of German settlement. One of the last Piasts, Casimir III, succeeded in reunifying the kingdom in 1338, and in 1386 it came under the rule of the Jagiellonian dynasty when the grand duke of Lithuania married the crown princess of the Piasts, Jadwiga. Known as Poland's Golden Age, the next two centuries of Jagiellonian rule enabled Poland-Lithuania to become the dominant power in central Europe, encompassing Hungary and Bohemia in its sphere of influence and producing a rich cultural heritage for the nation, including the achievements of such individuals as Copernicus (Mikołaj Kopernik, 1473–1543). At the same time, Poland enjoyed one of the most representative governments of its day as well as the most tolerant religious climate in Europe.

But with the end of the Jagiellonian dynasty in 1572, the kingdom once again fell apart as the landed gentry increasingly assumed local control, sapping the strength of the central government in Krakow. This state of affairs continued for two centuries until Poland was so weakened that it suffered three partitions: Austria took Galicia in 1772; Prussia acquired the northwestern section in 1793; and Tsarist Russia possessed the northeastern section in 1795. By the end of the three partitions, Poland had been completely wiped off the map of Europe. Poland as an independent nation did not exist again for a century and a half, though a nominal Kingdom of Poland was established within the Russian Empire by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. In both Russia and Germany a strict policy of suppression of the Polish language and autonomous education was enforced.

Modern Era After World War I, an independent Poland was once again reestablished. With Josef Pilsudski (1867–1935) as its president and dictator from 1926 to 1935, Poland maintained an uneasy peace with the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Poland became the site of the first aggression of World War II when Germany invaded on September 1, 1939. This invasion triggered declarations of war from France, Great Britain, and the Commonwealth, though Poland was quickly defeated and was once again subsumed into other countries: Germany and the Soviet Union initially and then Germany alone. The Nazis attempted to subdue and eradicate Polish culture by executing its intellectuals and nobles, and by “settling” the Jewish question once and for all through the extermination of the Jews of Poland and Europe. In concentration camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau this gruesome strategy was put into effect, and by the end of the war in 1945, Poland had lost a fifth of its population, half of which—more than 3 million—were Jews.

Liberation, however, did not mean freedom, for after the war Poland fell under the Soviet sphere; a communist state was set up, and Poland once again became a fiefdom to a foreign power. In 1956 Poland's workers went on a general strike to protest Moscow's heavy-handed domination. Though brutally suppressed, the strike did force Poland's new leader Wladysław Gomułka to relax some of the totalitarian controls imposed by Warsaw and Moscow, and farms were decollectivized. Through successive leadership of Edward Gierek and General Wojciech Jaruzelski, however, economic conditions worsened, and the Poles struggled increasingly for more autonomy from Moscow. By 1980 three events had coincided that became decisive for Poland's future: the Soviet Union was going bankrupt; Karol Cardinal Wojtyła became Pope John Paul II; and a new and illegal union, Solidarity, had been formed under Lech Wałesa. These last two especially brought Poland into international focus. By 1989, Solidarity won concessions from the government that included participation in free elections. After an overwhelming victory, which installed Lech Wałesa as president, Solidarity set up a coalition government with the communists; and with the fall of the Soviet Union, Poland, along with all of central Europe, regained new breathing room in its heartland.

Under the guidance of Solidarity, the country faced the difficult task of transforming from a centrally planned economy to a market economy, a change that caused enormous dislocations including inflation rates as high as 600 percent. To combat this, Poland's minister of finance, Leszek Balcerowicz, along with several other leading economists including George Soros and Jeffrey Sachs, drafted the Balcerowicz Plan, a program of what Sachs called “shock therapy,” which included such measures as privatizing public assets, eliminating state subsidies, and withdrawing state-imposed price controls. Most economists agree that these policies, designed to protect free trade, raised the standard of living in Poland, even though the plan may have been responsible for a new set of problems, including rising crime and unemployment rates. Economic growth continued into the early twenty-first century, and Poland became the only country in the European Union to escape major recession between 2008 and Page 479  |  Top of Article2009. However, the government continues to struggle with rebuilding infrastructures and with attracting businesses capable of boosting the economy.


Poles were among the earliest colonists in the New World, and as of 2010, when their numbers approached 10 million, they represented the largest of the Slavic groups in the United States. Claims have been made that Poles sailed with Viking ships exploring the New World before 1600, but there is no hard evidence to support this. By 1609, however, Polish immigrants began to appear in the annals of Jamestown, having been recruited by the colony as skilled craftsmen to create products for export. These immigrants were integral to the establishment of both the glassmaking and woodworking industries in the new colonies. In 1719, Anthony Sadowski, a Polish explorer, founded the Amity Township in Berks County, Pennsylvania, which developed into a stable middle-class American community with a population of more than 12,000 as of 2010. Two other names of note occur in the early history of what became the American republic: the noblemen Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746–1817) and Casimir Pulaski (1747–1779) both fought for the Patriots in the Revolutionary War. Pułaski, killed in the battle of Savannah, is still honored by Polish Americans by annual marches on Pulaski Day, which is celebrated on October 11.

Since the times of those earliest Polish settlers—romantics, adventurers, and men simply seeking a better economic life—there have been four distinct waves of immigration to the United States from Poland. The first and smallest, occasioned by the partitioning of Poland, lasted from roughly 1800 to 1860 and was largely made up of political dissidents and those who fled after the dissolution of their national homeland. The second wave was far more significant and took place between 1860 and World War I. Immigrants during this time were in search of a better economic life and tended to be of the rural class, so-called za chleben (for bread) emigrants. A third wave lasted from the end of World War I through the end of the Cold War and again comprised dissidents and political refugees. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and Poland's democratic reforms, there has been yet a fourth wave of a seemingly more temporary immigrant group, the wakacjusze, or those who come on tourist visas but find work and stay either legally or illegally. These economic immigrants generally plan to earn money and return to Poland.

The first wave of immigrants, from approximately 1800 to 1860, was largely made up of intellectuals and lesser nobility. The partitioning of Poland and insurrections in 1830 and 1863 also forced political dissidents from their Polish homeland. Many fled to London, Paris, and Geneva, but New York and Chicago also received their share of such refugees from political oppression. Immigration figures are always a problematic issue, and those for Polish immigrants to the United States are no different. For much of the modern era there was no political entity of Poland, so immigrants coming to the United States had an initial difficulty describing their country of origin. Also, with Poles, there was more back-and-forth travel between host country and home country. This group tended to save money and return to their native country in higher numbers than many other ethnic groups. Additionally, minorities within Poland who immigrated to the United States confuse the picture. Nonetheless, numbers that exist from U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service records indicate that fewer than 2,000 Poles immigrated to the United States between 1800 and 1860.

The second wave of immigration began in 1854 when some 800 Polish Catholics from Silesia founded Panna Maria, a farming colony in Texas. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the community still exists and is the oldest permanent Polish settlement in the United States. In the 1860s Poles began arriving in large numbers due to harsh economic conditions in Poland. Known as za chlebem, or “for bread” immigrants, these new arrivals tended to cluster in industrial cities and towns of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states—New York, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago, and St. Louis—where they became steelworkers, meatpackers, miners, and, later, autoworkers. These cities still retain their large contingents of Polish Americans.

Confusion over exact numbers of Polish immigrants continued, with large underreporting, especially during the 1890s when immigration was highest. Most scholars agree, however, that between the mid-nineteenth century and World War I, some 2.5 million Poles immigrated to the United States. This wave of immigration can be further broken down into two successive movements of Poles from different regions of their partitioned country. The first to come were the German Poles, who tended to be better educated and more skilled at crafts than the Russian

A Polish woman and her three sons arrive in the U.S. A Polish woman and her three sons arrive in the U.S. UPI / CORBIS-BETTMANN. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

Page 480  |  Top of Article

and Austrian Poles. High birthrates, overpopulation, and large-scale farming methods in Prussia, which forced small farmers off the land, all combined to send German Poles into emigration in the second half of the nineteenth century. German policy vis-à-vis restricting the power of the Catholic Church also played a part in this exodus. Those arriving in the United States totaled roughly a half million during this period, with numbers dwindling by the end of the nineteenth century.

However, just as German Polish immigration to the United States was diminishing, that of Russian and Austrian Poles was getting under way. Again, overpopulation and land hunger drove this emigration, as well as the enthusiastic letters home that new arrivals in the United States sent to their relatives and loved ones. Many young men also fled from military conscription, especially in the years of military buildup just prior to and including the onset of World War I. Moreover, the journey to the United States itself had become less arduous, with shipping lines such as the North German Line and the Hamburg American Line now booking passage from point to point, combining overland as well as transatlantic passage and thereby simplifying border crossings. Numbers of Galician or Austrian Poles totaled approximately 800,000. Another group of 800,000 was comprised of Russian Poles, the last large immigration contingent from Poland. It has been estimated that 30 percent of Galician and Russian Poles arriving between 1906 and 1914 ultimately returned to their homelands.

During the last half of the nineteenth century, immigrants from Poland, like those from other parts of Europe, experienced racial intolerance. As was typical for immigrant groups, Polish Americans sought support from members of their community and from the local organizations that developed within those communities. Polish fraternal, national, and religious organizations such as the Polish National Alliance, the Polish Union, the Polish American Congress, and the Polish Roman Catholic Union were instrumental not only in maintaining a Polish identity for immigrants, but also in obtaining insurance and home loans that provided opportunities within the United States. Friction abated as Poles assimilated in their host country, only to be supplanted by new waves of immigrants from other countries. Polish Americans continued to maintain a strong ethnic identity into the late twentieth century, and efforts to reclaim that identity and pass it down to children and grandchildren who had never even seen Poland continued into the twenty-first century.

With the end of World War I and the reestablishment of an independent Polish state, it was believed that there would be a huge exodus of Polish immigrants returning to their homeland. Such an exodus did not materialize, though there was a general decline in immigration to the United States among all Europeans due to a number of factors including immigration quotas imposed in the United States during the 1920s as well as the Great Depression. But political oppression in Europe between the wars, displaced persons brought on by World War II, and the flight of dissidents from the communist regime did account for an additional half million immigrants—many of them refugees—from Poland between 1918 and the late 1980s and the fall of communism. Large numbers of Polish American families sponsored displaced Poles and facilitated their entry into the United States. However, almost immediately, dissension broke out between the new immigrants and those highly acclimatized Poles already living in the United States. The new immigrants frequently opted to build their own more radical organizations rather than joining those already in existence. Despite disagreements, most Polish Americans were united against communism.

The fourth wave of Polish immigration was comprised mostly of younger people who immigrated to the United States to escape difficult transition times brought on by the decline of Soviet communism and the rise of free-market capitalism in Poland. Though not significant in numbers because of immigration quotas, this newest wave of post-Cold War immigrants, whether they were short-term workers, wakacjusze, or long-term residents, continued to swell the number of Polonians living in the United States. Estimates from the 1970 U.S. Census placed the number of either foreign-born Poles or native born with at least one Polish parent at nearly 3 million. More than 8 million claimed Polish ancestry in their background in the 1980 Census, and 9.5 million did so in the 1990 Census, 90 percent of whom were concentrated in urban areas. A large part of such identity and cohesiveness was the result of outside conditions. It has been noted that initial friction between Polish immigrants and “established” Americans played some part in this inward-looking stance. Additionally, such commonly held beliefs as folk culture and Catholicism provided further incentives for communalism. Newly arrived Poles generally had their closest contacts outside Polish Americans with their former European neighbors: Czechs, Germans, and Lithuanians. Over the years there has been a degree of friction specifically between the Polish American community and Jews and African Americans. However, during the years of partition, Polish Americans kept alive the belief in a free Poland. Such cohesiveness was further heightened in the Polish American community during the Cold War, when Poland was a satellite of the Soviet Union. But since the fall of the Soviet empire, which was followed by free elections in Poland and the revitalization of the Polish economy, Polish Americans have had fewer reasons to worry about affairs in their native Poland and the well-being of members of the extended family still living there. Poland's prosperity has, to some degree, led to a decrease in cohesiveness among Polish Americans.

In 2000 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that there were almost 9 million people of Polish descent Page 481  |  Top of Articleliving in the United States. Approximately 500,000 had been born outside the United States, and many of the rest were second- and third-generation Americans. Almost one-third of the Polish American population lived in the Chicago area. In 2008, census data indicated that the number of Polish immigrants was declining in conjunction with that of other European immigrants. New York (55,000) displaced Chicago (46,000) as the city with the largest Polonian population. However, Chicago continued to have the largest concentration of Polish Americans because those who lived in New York were dispersed among various communities. According to the Modern Polonia Survey conducted by the Piast Institute in 2009, Polish Americans continued to cluster in major urban areas (41.2 percent) and the suburbs of those urban areas (41 percent). In 2011 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that there were over 9.6 million people of Polish descent living in the United States. Five states continued to claim the largest numbers: New York (985,593), Illinois (957,355), Michigan (881,668), and Pennsylvania (861,914). Other states with populations over 400,000 included Wisconsin, California, New Jersey, Ohio, and Florida.


Polish is a West Slavic language, part of the Lekhite subgroup, and is similar to Czech and Slovak. Modern Polish, written in the Roman alphabet, stems from the sixteenth century. It is still taught in Sunday schools and parochial schools for children. It is also taught in dozens of American universities and colleges. The first written example of Polish is a list of names in an 1136 Papal Bull. Manuscripts in Polish exist from the fourteenth century. The Polish vocabulary is in part borrowed from Latin, German, Czech, Ukrainian, Belarusian, and English. Dialects include Great Polish, Pomeranian, Silesian, and Mazovian. Spelling is phonetic with every letter pronounced. Consonants in particular have different pronunciation than in English. Ch, for example, is pronounced like the “h” in horse; j is pronounced like the “y” at the beginning of a word; cz is pronounced “ch” as in chair; sz is pronounced like “sh” as in shoe; rz and z are pronounced alike as the English “j” in jar; and w is pronounced like the English “v” in victory. Various diacriticals are also used in Polish: ż, ź, ń, ć, ś, ą, ę, and ł.

According to the American Community Survey's 2011 estimates, 92 percent of Polish Americans over the age of five spoke only English at home, and 97 percent reported that they spoke English fluently.

Greetings and Popular Expressions Typical Polish greetings and other expressions include: Dzien dobry (“gyen dobry”)—Good morning; Dobry wieczor (“dobry viechoor”)—Good evening; Dowidzenia (“dovidzenyah”)—Goodbye;


Page 482  |  Top of Article

Dozobaczenia (“dozobahchainya”)—Till we meet again; Dziekuje (“gyen-kuyeh”)—Thank you; Przepraszam (“psheprasham”)—I beg your pardon; Nie (“nyeh”)—No; Tak (“tahk”)—Yes.

Sidebar: HideShow

“We wanted to be Americans so quickly that we were embarrassed if our parents couldn't speak English. My father was reading a Polish paper. And somebody was supposed to come to the house. I remember sticking it under something. We were that ashamed of being foreign.”

Louise Nagy in 1913, cited in Ellis Island: An Illustrated History of the Immigrant Experience, edited by Ivan Chermayeff et al. (New York: Macmillan, 1991).


The major religion of Poland is Catholicism, which survived even under the anticlerical reign of the communists. Religion is a deeply ingrained part of Polish life, and immigrants to the United States brought their religion with them. Initially, Polish American parishes were established from simple meetings of the local religious in stores or hotels. These meetings soon became societies, taking on the name of a saint, and later developing into the parish itself, with priests arriving from various areas of Poland. The members of the parish were responsible for financial support of their clergy as well as for construction of a church and any other buildings needed by the priest. Polish American Catholics were responsible for the creation of seven religious orders, including the Resurrectionists and the Felicians, who in turn created schools and seminaries and brought nuns from Poland to help with orphanages and other social services.

The new arrivals quickly turned their religious institution into both a parish and an okolica, a local area or neighborhood. There was rapid growth in the number of such ethnic parishes: from 17 in 1870 to 512 only forty years later. The number peaked in 1935 at 800 and has tapered off since, with 760 in 1960. The close of Vatican II (an ecumenical council that sought to strengthen the church's relationship with the modern world) in 1965 led to a declaration that Mass could be said in any language, not just in Latin. Consequently, in many Polish parishes throughout the East and Midwest, Mass was said in Polish. However, in the 1970s as churchgoing declined and as fewer young Poles spoke their native language, the number of churches offering Mass in Polish declined as well.

Many Polish American Catholics have endured some measure of hardship since their arrival in the United States. A largely Protestant nation in the nineteenth century, the United States proved somewhat intolerant of Catholics, a fact that only served to separate immigrant Poles from the mainstream even more. Also, within the church, there was dissension. Footing all the bills for the parish, Polish American Catholics often had little representation in the church hierarchy, which was largely controlled by Irish Americans. There were also differences in the ways in which rituals were conducted in Polish Catholic and Irish Catholic churches within the United States. In areas where Irish Catholics dominated, Polish Catholics were often forced to adopt Irish Catholic rituals. However, in areas where Polish Americans made up the majority, they were able to worship in their own way. Disputes among Polish and Irish Catholics ultimately led to the establishment of the Polish National Church in 1904. The founding bishop, Reverend Francis Hodur, built the institution to thirty-four churches and more than 28,000 communicants in a dozen years' time. In the 1980s, Polish Americans that had been living in cities such as Detroit, Chicago, Hartford, and Philadelphia began to move to the suburbs, and the number of parishes that held Polish American majorities declined significantly. However, by the early twenty-first century, Polish American Catholics had influenced American Catholicism to such an extent that rituals such as celebrating with the oplatek wafer on Christmas Eve had become common in many Catholic parishes, including those without large numbers of Polish American members.


As part of the European emigration, Polish immigrants have had an easier time racially than many other non-European groups in assimilating or blending into the American scene. However, Polish immigrants were not treated as equals by the various white-skinned peoples who had arrived in the United States before them. Culturally, the Polish contingent has held tightly to its folk and national roots, making Polonia more than simply a name. It has been at times a country within a country, Poland in the New World. By and large, Poles have competed well and succeeded in their new homeland; they have thrived and built homes and raised families, and in that respect have participated in and added to the American dream. Yet this process of assimilation has been far from smooth as witnessed by one fact: the Polish joke. Such jokes have at their core a negative representation of the Poles as backward and uneducated simpletons. This stereotype—perhaps hardest for Polish Americans to combat—is a legacy of the second wave of immigrants, the largest contingent between 1860 and 1914, which consisted mostly of people from Galicia and Russia. Though recent studies have shown Polish Americans to have high income levels as compared to British, German, Italian, and Irish immigrant groups, the same studies demonstrate that they come in last in terms of occupation and education. For many generations, Polish Americans, like many immigrants in the United States who held wage-earning jobs, had limited opportunities to pursue college degrees. However, this trend changed significantly in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century. Polish Americans are now heavily represented Page 483  |  Top of Articlein the professions as well as in the blue-collar world. Yet the Polish joke persists, and since the 1970s, Polish Americans have been actively fighting the stereotype through educational programs. In addition, groups such as the Polish American Guardian Society have lobbied to eliminate the propagation of anti-Polish stereotypes on national television.

The days of Polish Americans anglicizing their names seem to be over; Polish Americans now talk of ethnic pride. They keep their culture alive both within the Polonian community and among the general public through annual observances such as cultural festivals and parades. Since 1981, Chicago has held a parade on May 3 to celebrate the Polish Constitution of 1791. New York has been hosting the Pulaski Day Parade each March since 1937. Milwaukee holds an annual Polish Fest.

Traditions and Customs It had been noted that clans and kinship communities were extremely important in the early formation of Slavic tribes. This early form of communalism has been translated into today's world by the plethora of Polish American fraternal organizations. By the same token, other traditions out of the Polish rural and agrarian past still hold today.

Gospodarz may well be one of the prettiest sounding words in the Polish language—to a Pole. It means landowner, and it is the land that has always been important in Poland. Ownership of land was one of the things that brought the huge influx of Poles to the United States, but less than 10 percent achieved that dream, and these were mainly the German Poles who arrived first—when there was still a frontier to carve out. The remaining Poles were stuck in urban areas as wage earners, though many managed to save the money to buy a small plot of land in the suburbs. Contrasted to this is the Górale, or mountaineer. To the lowlanders of Greater Poland, the stateless peoples of the southern Carpathians represented free human spirit, unbridled by convention and laws. Both of these impulses run through the Polish people and inform their customs.

Cuisine The diet of Polish Americans has changed over the years. One marked change from Poland is the increased consumption of meat. Polish sausages, especially the kielbasa—garlic-flavored pork sausage—have become all but synonymous with Polish cuisine. Other staples include barszcz, or beet soup, cabbage in the form of sauerkraut or cabbage rolls, dark bread, potatoes, beets, barley, and oatmeal. Of course this traditional diet has been added to by usual American fare, but Polish Americans still serve their traditional food, especially at festivities and celebrations such as Christmas and Easter. In addition to kielbasa, Polish Americans have also contributed staples to American cuisine, including the breakfast roll, bialys, the babka coffeecake, and pierogi, dumplings stuffed with potato, sauerkraut, meat, or cheese.

A Polish American woman prepares homemade perogi with a friend in Brooklyn, New York. A Polish American woman prepares homemade perogi with a friend in Brooklyn, New York. DAVID GROSSMAN / ALAMY

Traditional Dress Traditional clothing is worn less and less by Polish Americans but may still be seen during certain ethnic celebrations. An example is Pulaski Day, when upward of 100,000 Polish Americans parade between 26th Street and 52nd Street in New York, many of them wearing traditional dress. For women this means a combination blouse and petticoat covered by a full, brightly colored or embroidered skirt, an apron, and a jacket or bodice, also gaily decorated. Headdress ranges from a simple kerchief to more elaborate affairs made of feathers, flowers, beads, and ribbons decorating stiffened linen. Men also wear headdresses of felt or straw that are significantly less elaborate than those worn by females. Trousers are often white with red stripes, tucked into the boots or worn with mountaineering moccasins typical to the Carpathians. Vests or jackets cover white embroidered shirts, and the favorite colors—red and white—replicate the flag.

Page 484  |  Top of Article

Holidays In addition to Pulaski Day, which President Harry Truman decreed an official remembrance day in 1946, Polish American celebrations consist mainly of the prominent liturgical holidays such as Christmas and Easter, as most Polish Americans follow the Catholic calendar of feast days. The traditional Christmas Eve dinner, called wigilia, begins when the first star of the evening appears. The dinner, which is served upon a white tablecloth under which some straw has been placed, consists of twelve meatless courses—one for each of the apostles. An empty chair is also kept at the table for a stranger who might happen by. This vigil supper begins with the breaking of a wafer, the oplatek, and the exchange of good wishes; it moves on to such traditional fare as apple pancakes, fish, pierogi or a type of filled dumpling, potato salad, sauerkraut, and nut or poppy seed torte for dessert. To ensure good luck in the coming year one must taste all courses, and there must also be an even number of people at the table to ensure good health. The singing of carols follows the supper. In Poland, between Christmas Eve and the Epiphany (January 6, or “Three Kings”) “caroling with the manger” takes place: carolers bearing a manger visit neighbors and are rewarded with money or treats. The Christmas season comes to a close with Candelmas day on February 2, when the candles are taken to church to be blessed. It is believed that these blessed candles will protect the home from sickness or bad fortune.

The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is celebrated by much feasting. Poles traditionally make fried pączki (fruit-filled doughnuts) in order to use the sugar and fat in the house before the long fast of Lent. In the United States, especially in Polish communities, the day before Ash Wednesday has become popularized as Pączki Day; Poles and non-Poles alike wait in line at Polish bakeries for this pastry. Easter is an especially important holiday for Polish Americans. Originally an agrarian people, the Poles focused on Easter as the time of rebirth and regeneration not only religiously, but for their fields as well. It marked the beginning of a farmer's year. Consequently, it is still celebrated with feasts that include meats and traditional cakes, butter molded into the shape of a lamb, and elaborately decorated eggs (pisanki), along with a good deal of drinking and dancing.

In the first half of the twentieth century these holiday traditions were kept alive in most Polish American parishes. Over the course of the latter half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, churchgoing on holidays such as Epiphany and Candlemas declined substantially. However, many contemporary Polish Americans honor these traditions by remembering them, if not by practicing them. The website for the Polish American Journal, for example, contains a series of articles on how native Polish people celebrated the various days of the Easter and Christmas seasons and how they conducted all of the rituals associated with these holidays. Although most of the writers note that contemporary Polish Americans no longer celebrate Catholic holidays in

Sidebar: HideShow


Polish proverbs emphasize the undercurrents of Polish nature, highlighting hospitality, belief in simple pragmatism and honesty, and cynical distrust of human nature. Some examples include the following:

Gose w dorn, Bog w dorn.

When a guest enters the house, God enters the home.

Czym chata bogata, tym rada.

What's ours is yours.

Ani kura darmo nie gdacze.

You cannot get something for nothing. (Literal translation: The only free cheese is in the mousetrap.)

Czasowi ludzie slusa.

Gnaw the bone that falls to your lot.

I cyprysy majaswoje kaprysy.

Every fool is pleased with his own folly.

Tonacy brzytuy sie chwyta.

A drowning man plucks at a straw.

Anielskie usta a szatanskie serce.

A honey tongue, a heart of gall.

Biada bez dzieci, biada i z dziećmi.

Children are uncertain comforts but certain cares.

Broda nie czyni filozofa.

If the beard were all, the goat might preach.

Dar za dar, słowa za słowa.

He who works for nothing shall receive nothing from others except complaint.

Domowe psy, choć się kąsają, wilka ujrzawszy naź się rzucają.

Don't go between the tree and the bark.

traditional ways, they write fondly of traditional celebrations held in their childhoods in places such as Detroit and New York City.

Health Care Issues and Practices Health problems among Polish immigrants during the American Industrial Revolution were often connected to living conditions such as overcrowding and inadequate sanitation. The creation of fraternal and insurance societies such as the Polish National Alliance in 1880, the Polish Roman Catholic Union in 1873, and the Polish Women's Alliance in 1898 helped to bring life Page 485  |  Top of Articleinsurance to a larger segment of Polonia. By the late twentieth century, health problems being diagnosed among recent Polish immigrants were generally related to lifestyle and to workplace conditions common in Poland. Such immigrants were especially susceptible to obesity because of inadequate exercise and to respiratory illnesses and cancers, particularly leukemia, because of the lack of safety measures used in Polish mills and mines.

Death and Burial Rituals Polish Americans retain some of the traditional funeral practices of their home country. The word “death” in Polish (śmiercċ) is a feminine noun and is characterized as a tall woman draped in white. Once again, Catholic rites take over for the dead. Often the dead are accompanied in their coffins by strong shoes for the arduous journey ahead or by money as an entrance fee to heaven. The funeral itself is followed by a feast or stypa, which may also include music and dancing.


Typically, the Polish family structure is strongly nuclear and patriarchal. However, as with other ethnic groups coming to the United States, Poles have adapted to the American way of life, which means a stronger role for the woman in some Polish American families and in the working world. Initially, single or married men were likely to immigrate alone, living in crowded quarters or rooming houses, saving their money and sending large amounts back to Poland. That immigration trend changed over the years, to be replaced by family units immigrating together. By the 1990s, however, the immigration pattern had come full circle, with many single men and women moving to the United States in search of work.

Gender Roles Before the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent transition in the early 1990s to a free market economy in Poland, all adults there, even married women with children, were expected to hold full-time jobs. Despite this demand, it was still assumed that women would look after most of the domestic chores, with men helping only occasionally. During the 1990s, the expectation that women, no matter what their circumstances, would stay gainfully employed, diminished, but the new set of economic challenges frequently required women to continue earning money for their families. Economists such as George Soros and Jeffrey Sachs have recognized that the most pressing challenge for many adults throughout Eastern Europe at the time was coping with unusually high levels of anxiety. In Poland, as in other countries, prices were changing rapidly, and there was the persistent threat of widespread unemployment. Though the threat never materialized in Poland, most people thought it unwise to leave work during such stressful times. In other words, though democracy and free market capitalism presented women with more choices, the reality was that most women needed to stay employed to make ends meet.

A woman shares photos stored on her digital camera with her aunt. Both emigrated from Poland to the U.S. A woman shares photos stored on her digital camera with her aunt. Both emigrated from Poland to the U.S. DAVID GROSSMAN / ALAMY

Moreover, as tempestuous as the economic and social climate was at the time, the massive changes also granted new opportunities for women in the working world and in education. Women could choose not to work, but they could also pursue loftier career goals and obtain more clout in the workplace. These radically different options caused a sense of role conflict in many Polish women who had been raised to accept their place in the traditional Polish family. In homes in which both spouses have obtained advanced degrees, this sense of role conflict has been diminished as the men have been more likely to take on domestic duties normally reserved for women. Also, most Polish parents want their daughters to achieve some level of economic independence so they push them to graduate from college and pursue jobs. Even so, unemployment rates in Poland are still higher among women, and average wages remain lower.

Page 486  |  Top of Article

Polish American families tend to be more traditional than Polish families. For example, second- and third-generation Polish Americans, especially those born in the Rust Belt (specifically western New York, western Pennsylvania, and eastern Ohio), are likely to live close to their birth homes as adults and to marry within the Polish American community. Such families, many of which practice Roman Catholicism, tend to adhere to traditional values, with men earning most of the family's wages and women overseeing the children and the domestic chores. Polish American communities in the Midwest and other parts of the United States adhere less closely to these traditional values, but even in these communities Polish American women may be less progressive than their Polish counterparts. One example that illustrates this point is the fact that most Polish women celebrate International Women's Day (held annually on March 8), whereas most Polish American women do not.

Education Education took on additional importance throughout the twentieth century. Where a primary education was deemed sufficient for males in the early years of the twentieth century—much of it done in Catholic schools—the value of a university education for children of both sexes now mirrors the trend for American society as a whole. A 1972 study from U.S. Census statistics showed that almost 90 percent of Polish Americans between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four had graduated from high school, as compared to only 45 percent of those over age thirty-five. Additionally, a full quarter of the younger generation, those between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four, had completed at least a four-year university education. In general, as is the case in many immigrant groups, it appears that the higher the socioeconomic class of the Polish American, the more rapid the transition from Polish identity to that of the dominant culture.

In the twenty-first century, Poland has a literacy rate of 99.5 percent. Among Polish Americans, the literacy rate reflects that of the United States as a whole (99 percent). A similar pattern also holds true for educational attainment. In Poland, most females attend school for an average of sixteen years and males for an average of fifteen years. In the United States, females attend school for seventeen years and males for fifteen years. Heightened emphasis on education continues to lead to increases in the number of Polish Americans pursuing education beyond the secondary level. In 2008 the Piast Institute's Modern Polonia Survey revealed that 13.9 percent of Polonians had either a graduate or professional degree. The number with a bachelor's degree was 21.4 percent; 28.9 percent had attended college without graduating or had obtained a technical certification.

Courtship and Weddings Until the latter part of the twentieth century, Polish Americans tended to marry within the community of Poles, but this too has changed over the years, and 80 percent of Polish Americans now marry outside the Polish American community. A strong ethnic identity is maintained now not so much through shared traditions or folk culture, but through national pride. As with many European immigrant groups, male children were looked upon as the breadwinners whereas females were seen as future wives and mothers. This held true through the second wave of immigrants, but with the third wave and with second- and third-generation families, women in general took on a more important role in extra-familial life.

The Poles maintain traditions most closely in those ceremonies for which the community holds great value: weddings, christenings, and funerals. Weddings are no longer the hugely staged events of Polish heritage, but they are often long and heavy-drinking affairs, involving several of the customary seven steps: inquiry and proposal; betrothal; maiden evening and the symbolic unbraiding of the virgin's hair; baking the wedding cake; marriage ceremony; putting to bed; and removal to the groom's house. Traditional dances such as the krakowiak, oberek, mazur, and the zbo'jnicki are performed on such occasions. Almost all Polish American weddings include the polka. Although the polka originated in Bohemia, not Poland, Polonians have adopted the lively dance as their own, and the Polish American form of the polka, which was a product of the early twentieth century, was heavily influenced by American jazz. Also to be enjoyed at such gatherings are the national drink, vodka, and such traditional fare as roast pork, sausages, barszcs or beet soup, cabbage rolls, and poppy seed cakes.

Christenings generally take place within two weeks of the birth on a Sunday or holiday, and for devoutly Catholic Poles, it is a vital ceremony. The selected godparents present the baby with gifts, more commonly money now than the traditional linens or caps of rural Poland. The christening feast, once a multiday affair, has been toned down in modern times, but still involves a panoply of holiday foods. The ceremony itself may include a purification rite for the mother as well as baby, a tradition that goes back to the pre-Christian past.


Early Polish immigrants were largely agrarian except for those intellectuals who fled political persecution. By and large they came to the United States hoping to find a plot of land, but instead found the frontier closed. Thus, they were forced into urban areas of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states where they worked in steel mills, coal mines, meatpacking plants, oil refineries, and the garment industry. Subsequent groups of Polish immigrants went directly to urban centers where Polish communities had been established and where factory jobs were available. The pay was low for such work: the average annual income for Polish Page 487  |  Top of Articleimmigrants in 1910 was only $325. The working day was long, averaging about ten hours a day, as was typical throughout the United States at the time. But still Polish Americans managed to save their money; and by 1910, it is estimated that these immigrants had been able to send $40 million back to their relatives and loved ones in Russian and Austrian Poland. The amount was so large, in fact, that a federal commission was set up to investigate potential damages to the U.S. economy from such a large outflow of funds.

Polonian families pulled together, with education coming second to the need for young boys to contribute to the annual income. The need for such economies began to decline after World War I, however, and by 1920 only 10 percent of Polish American families derived income from the labor of children, and two-thirds were supported by the head of family.

Over the years of the twentieth century—except for the years of the Great Depression—the economic situation of Polish Americans steadily improved, with education taking on increasing importance, creating a parallel rise in Polish Americans in the white-collar labor market. By 1970 only 4 percent were laborers, and 23 percent were craftsmen. This trend has continued over the latter part of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first. According to the 2011 American Community Survey, almost half (42.9 percent) of the 9.5 million Polish Americans living in the United States at the time were employed in the management, business, science, or arts fields. Just over 25 percent held sales or clerk positions. Overall, Polish Americans have tended to prosper economically. In 1999, for instance, the median income of Polonians was $50,887. By 2011, the median household family income had climbed to $61,846.


Though heavily concentrated in nine industrial states, Polish Americans did not, until the 1930s, begin to flex their political muscle. Language barriers played a part in this, but more important was the fact that earlier immigrants were too concerned with family and community issues to pay attention to the national political scene. Even in Chicago, where Polish Americans made up 12 percent of the population, they did not elect one of their own to the U.S. Congress until 1920. The first Polish American congressional representative was elected from Milwaukee in 1918.

Increasingly, however, Polish Americans began playing a more active role in domestic politics and have tended to vote in large numbers for the Democrats. Al Smith, a Democrat and Roman Catholic who was opposed to Prohibition, was one of the first beneficiaries of the Polish American block vote. Though he lost the election, Smith received an overwhelming majority of the Polish American vote. The Great Depression mobilized Polish Americans even more; they organized the Polish American Democratic Organization and supported the New Deal policies of Franklin D.

Sidebar: HideShow


Polish Americans played a significant role in the U.S. labor movement during the twentieth century. One of the most important figures in the history of the movement was Joseph Yablonski, a union activist in the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). Born in 1910 to Polish immigrants in Pittsburgh, Yablonski began working in the coal mines as a teenager. After unsuccessfully running against incumbent union president W. A. Boyle in 1969, Yablonski called for the Department of Labor to investigate the union for election fraud. Three weeks later he was murdered, along with his wife and daughter, by assassins contracted by Boyle. Yablonski's death initiated a number of reforms in the conduct of internal union affairs throughout the country, including legislation requiring that union elections be conducted by secret ballot.

Roosevelt. By 1944 this organization could throw large numbers of Polish American votes Roosevelt's way and was correspondingly compensated by federal patronage.

James S. Pula, one of the most noted of Polonian scholars, asserts in an October 1, 2012, interview with the Polish American Journal that the high level of assimilation among modern Polish Americans has led to a loss of interest in Polish politics beyond the establishment of the country's independence. A 2008 study of Polish American voting behavior conducted by the Piast Institute noted continued “intense involvement” with the issue of Polish independence. That same study revealed that 36.5 percent of Polonians identified themselves as Democrats, 33.2 percent as Independents, and 26.1 percent as Republicans. Somewhat surprisingly, however, 43.6 percent of Polonians identified themselves as conservative as compared to 33.2 percent, who considered themselves liberal. Some 23 percent identified themselves as moderate. The conservative orientation of Polish Americans is due in part to strong religious beliefs and alignment with the Catholic stance on abortion.

Polish Americans continue to be active participants in the American political process: 92 percent were registered to vote in 2008, and 52.3 percent voted for Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate. In 2012, however, some Polonians grew disenchanted with President Obama, who had represented the Chicago area in Congress before becoming president, because of what they considered neglect of Polish and Polish American issues. Republican candidate Mitt Romney, on the other hand, actively courted the Polish American vote because of its importance in several key states. Despite Romney's courting of Page 488  |  Top of ArticlePolonians, Polish Americans continue to identify with the Democratic Party, and the Polish American labor movement insisted that it had not been enticed by Romney's actions.

Relations with Poland Internationally, Polish Americans have been more active politically than domestically. The Polish National Alliance, founded in 1880, was—in addition to being a mutual aid society—a fervent proponent of a free Poland. Such a goal manifested itself in very pragmatic terms: during World War I, Polish Americans not only sent their young to fight, but also sent the $250 million they subscribed in liberty bonds. Polish Americans also lobbied Washington with the objective of a free Poland in mind. The Polish American Congress (PAC) was created in 1944 to help secure independence for Poland, opposing the Yalta and Potsdam agreements, which established Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe. During this same time, Polish American socialists formed the pro-Soviet Polish American Council, but its power waned in the early years of the Cold War. PAC, however, fought on into the 1980s, supporting Solidarity, the union movement in Poland largely responsible for the downfall of the communist government. Gifts of food, clothing, and lobbying in Washington were all part of the PAC campaign for an independent Poland, and the organization has been very active in the establishment of a free market system in Poland since the fall of the communist government. Polish Americans continue to lobby for Poland's inclusion in the American Visa Waiver Program, a move that would allow Poles to spend up to ninety days in the United States without obtaining a visa.


Throughout their history, Polish Americans have influenced the nation's arts and sciences and popular culture in greater proportion than is suggested by their numbers, a reported 3.2 percent of the American population in 2008.

Academia Bronislaw Malinowski (1884–1942), a pioneer of cultural anthropology, emphasized the concept of culture in meeting humankind's basic needs; he taught at Yale University late in his life, after writing such influential books as The Sexual Life of Savages in NorthWestern Melanesia (1929) and Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1932). Linguist Alfred Korzybski (1879–1950), born in Warsaw, came to the United States in 1918; his work in linguistics focused on the power of the different value and meaning of words in different languages in an effort to reduce misunderstanding; he founded the Institute of General Semantics in 1938 in Chicago, and his research and books—including Manhood and Humanity (1921) and Science and Sanity(1933)—have been incorporated in modern psychology and philosophy curricula as well as linguistics. The work of these earlier Polish American scholars is being carried on by contemporary academicians such as James S. Pula (1946–) and John Kromkowski (1939–). In addition to authoring such works as The Polish American Encyclopedia, Pula was a professor of history at Perdue University and edited Polish American Studies. Kromkowski was a professor at Catholic University of America, where he also served as the president of the National Center for Urban and Ethnic Affairs.

Arts Korczak Ziolkowski (1909–1982), an assistant to sculptor Gutzon Borglum in the monumental Mount Rushmore project in South Dakota, continued that style with a 500-foot by 640-foot statue of Chief Crazy Horse. After his death, his family continued his work, blasting the piece out of solid rock in the Black Hills.

Broadcasting Television entertainer Martha Stewart (1941–), who is best known for her home decorating expertise and line of home furnishings as well as her various business endeavors, is the child of Polish Americans. Versatile ventriloquist and voice actor Paul Winchell (1922–2005) was the son of Jewish immigrants who came to the United States from Poland and Austria-Hungary. Pat Sajak (1946–), the host of the long-running game show Wheel of Fortune, is the son of a Polish American. Comedian Bonnie Hunt (1961–) and actress Jane Kaczmarek (1955–) are both of Polish American ancestry.

Commerce and Industry Ruth Handler (1917–), cofounder of the Mattel toy company and creator of the Barbie doll, was born to Polish immigrant parents in Colorado. William Filene (1830–1901) was born in Posen and founded Boston's Filene's department store. Iowa's largest department store, Younker's, was founded by three Polish immigrant brothers—Samuel, Marcus, and Lipma Younker—in 1850. Polish-born Helena Rubinstein (1870–1965) was one of the giants of the cosmetic industry. The food industry in the United States has also had prominent Polish Americans among its ranks. Mrs. Paul's Fish was the creation of Polish American Edward J. Piszek (1917–). A Polish-Jewish couple, Reuben (1912–1994) and Rose (1916–2006) Mathus, established Häagen Dazs ice cream. Leo Gerstenzang (1923–), a Polish immigrant from Warsaw, invented the Q-Tip cotton swab.

Although less well known than his visionary friend Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak (1950–) was the cofounder of Apple and was involved in Apple's rise to the top of the technology industry. Since leaving Apple, Wozniak has devoted his time to developing GPS technology and to philanthropies such as the Tech Museum of Innovation and the Children's Discovery Museum, both of which are located in San Jose, California.

Literature and Journalism Jerzy Kosinski (1933–1991), the Polish-born novelist, came to the United States after World War II; his The Painted Bird (1965) relates the experiences of a small boy in Page 489  |  Top of ArticleNazi-occupied Poland and is one of the most stirring and troubling novels to come out of that time. The poet Czesław Miłosz (1911–2004), naturalized in 1970, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. Born in Lithuania of Polish parents, Miłosz studied law and served in the diplomatic corps as well as establishing a name for himself as a poet before immigrating in 1960. His poetry collections include The Light of Day (1954), City Without a Name (1969), and In Search of Homeland (1992). His best-known works in other genres are The Captive Mind (1953), a prose account of life under totalitarian rule, and The Issa Valley (1955), a novel about a boy growing up in a rural parish haunted by the ghost of a dead woman. The cartoonist Jules Feiffer (1929–), known for his offbeat and biting wit, was born to Polish immigrant parents in the United States. One of the most respected playwrights of the twentieth century, Arthur Miller (1915–2005) was the son of Polish Jewish immigrants. He is best remembered for his haunting Death of a Salesman (1948) and for his brief marriage to Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe.

Music Leopold Stokowski (1882–1977); who was born in London of Polish and Irish parents and became a naturalized US citizen in 1915, was a renowned conductor. He was best known for his work leading the Philadelphia Orchestra for many years and for popularizing classical music in the United States. His appearance in the 1940 Disney film Fantasia is an example of such popularizing efforts. The jazz drummer Gene Krupa (1909–1973), the measure for drummers long after, was also of Polish heritage; Krupa was born in Chicago and played with Benny Goodman's orchestra before forming his own band in 1943. He revolutionized the role of the drummer in a jazz band.

Contemporary Polish American musicians include rock star Pat Benatar (1953–), the winner of four Grammy Awards, who is the daughter of a Polish father and an Irish mother. Other Polish American musicians run the gamut from 1960s heartthrobs Bobby Vinton (1935–) and Gene Pitney (1940–2006) to rap artist Eminem (1972–) and shock rocker Marilyn Manson (1969–). Falling somewhere in between are rocker Steven Tyler (1943–) and adult contemporary artist Neil Diamond (1941–).

Politics and Government A number of Polish Americans have made names for themselves in the field of politics and government. Leon Jaworski (1905–1982) was the prosecutor in the 1973 Watergate investigation of then President Richard Nixon, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, born in Warsaw in 1928 and naturalized in 1958, was an important adviser on the National Security Council to President Carter from 1977 to 1980. Democrat Barbara Mikulski (1936–) has represented Maryland in the U.S. Senate since 1986. She previously represented Maryland's Third District in the House of Representatives. John M. Shalikashvili (1936–) headed the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1993 to 1996. Alan Greenspan (1926–) is one of the most respected economists in American history. He was chair of the Federal Reserve Board from 1987 to 2006, serving under both Democratic and Republican presidents. Illinois Democrats Dan Rostenkowski (1928–2010) and Roman Pucinski (1919–2002) as well as Maine Democrat Edmund Muskie (1914–1996) also came from Polish American heritage.

Science The biochemist Casimir Funk (1884–1967) was, in 1912, the first to discover and use the term “vitamin”; his so-called vitamin hypothesis postulated that certain diseases such as scurvy and pellagra resulted from lack of crucial substances in the body; Funk also went on to do research in sex hormones and cancer. He lived in the United States from 1939 until his death. Stanley Dudrick developed the important new method of vein feeding, termed IHV—intravenous hyperalimentation. Stephanie Kwolek (1923–) invented Kevlar, the material that is used in making bulletproof vests.

Sports Many notable Polish Americans have made their names household words in baseball as well as in other sports. Included among baseball's most noted names are pitcher Stan Coveleski (1888–1984), whose seventeen-year career from 1912 to 1928 earned him a place in the Hall of Fame in 1969; Stan Musial (1920–2013), right field, another member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, who played for St. Louis from 1941 to 1963; Carl Yastrzemski (1939–), left fielder for the Boston Red Sox, who was voted to the Hall of Fame in 1989; and Al Simmons (1902–1956), born Aloysius Harry Szymanski, who played center field for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1924 to 1944. Both Phil (1939–) and Joe Niekro (1944–2006), brothers known for their prodigious skill with knuckle balls, became legends in American baseball history.

In football there have been numerous outstanding Polish American players and coaches. Among them Chicago's Mike Ditka (1939–) was a standout, playing as a tight end for the Bears from 1961 to 1972 and later coaching the team to a Super Bowl championship in 1985. A Hall of Fame player, Ditka also worked as a television sports commentator. Dan Marino (1961–) had an illustrious career as quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, and Tony Romo (1980–) played in that position with the Dallas Cowboys.

Female athletes of Polish American descent have also played a major role in American sports. Tara Lipinski (1982–) became the youngest gold medal winner for individual performance by an ice-skater during the 1998 Olympics. Janet Lynn, another figure skater, carried home a bronze medal at the 1972 Olympics. Other Polish American female athletes include basketball player Carol Blazejowski (1956–), golfer Betsy King (1955–), and tennis player Jane Bartkowicz (1949–).

Stage and Screen Hollywood has had its fair share of Polish-born men and women who have Page 490  |  Top of Articlehelped to shape that industry, including Harry Warner (1881–1958) and Jack Warner (1892–1978) of Warner Bros. Entertainers and actors such as Sophie Tucker and Pola Negri also managed to hide their ethnic roots by changing their names. The pianist and performer Liberace (1919–1987), half-Polish and half-Italian, was born Władziu Valentino Liberace. More recently, the Polish-born Hollywood and international cinematographer Hubert Taczanowski (1960–) made outstanding contributions. David Geffen (1943–) was a well-known film producer and music industry executive. Actress Christine Baranski (1952–) was a triple threat, making her mark on television as a sidekick to Cybill Shepherd on Cybill in the 1990s, in movies such as Mamma Mia! (2008), and on Broadway in such productions as The Real Thing (1984), for which she won a Tony Award as the Best Featured Actress.


Full Text: 


Full Text: 

Glos Polek/Polish Women's Voice

Published four times a year by the Polish Women's Alliance of America.

Virginia Sikora, Managing Editor
6643 North Northwest Highway
2nd Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60631
Phone: (847) 384-1200
Fax: (847) 384-1494
Email: editor@pwaa.org
URL: www.pwaa.org

Gwiazda Polarna (Northern Star)

Published weekly in Polish, it provides national and international news for the Polish American community as well as information about Polish activities and organizations domestically.

Jacek Milgier, Publisher and Editor in Chief
2804 Post Road
Stevens Point, Wisconsin 54481-6452
Phone: (715) 345-0744
Fax: (715) 345-1913
Email: pointpub@sbcglobal.net

Polish American Journal

Published monthly since 1911, this newspaper covers national, international, and regional news of interest to Polish Americans.

Mark Kohan, Editor in Chief
P.O. Box 328
1275 Harlem Road
Buffalo, New York 14025-0328
Phone: (716) 312-8088
Email: info@polamjournal.com
URL: www.polamjournal.com

Polish American Studies

A journal of the Polish American Historical Association devoted to Polish American history and culture.

James S. Pula, Editor
Purdue University North Central
1401 South U.S. Highway 421
Westville, Indiana 46391-9542
Email: jpula@pnc.edu
URL: www.polishamericanstudies.org

Polish Heritage

A biannual review of the American Council for Polish Culture.

David Motak, Editor
381 Mansfield Avenue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15220-2751
Email: dmotak@polishfalcons.org

Polonia Today

Established in 2011, this monthly newsmagazine is the most widely read Polish American publication in the world.

T. Ron Jisinski-Herbert, Editor
6348 West Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60646
Email: editor@poloniatoday.com
URL: www.poloniatoday.com

Super Express USA

Founded in 1996, this is the most widely circulated Polish American newspaper in the United States.

Adam Michejda, Editor
11 John Street, Floor 28
New York, New York 10038
Phone: (212) 227-5800
URL: www.seusa.info


Since Polish Americans have 24/7 access to online radio stations, the number of traditional radio stations serving the community has declined significantly.

Full Text: 

WBRK-AM (1340 AM) and Star 101.7

Offers Polish American programming.

Willard “Chip” Hodgkins, President
100 North Street
Pittsfield, Massachusetts 01201
Phone: (413) 442-1553
Fax: (413) 445-5294
Email: chip@wbrc.com
URL: www.wbrc.com


Just as with radio, most Polish American television stations are now available online 24/7 through stations such as Polvision and TV4U. However, access to more traditional broadcasts continues via cable and satellite. That access includes such Polish channels as Polsat 2 International and TVP Polonia, which target Polonians around the world, and TVN International, which offers programming ranging from documentaries to Polish soap operas.

Page 491  |  Top of Article


Full Text: 

American Council for Polish Culture (ACPC)

National federation of groups devoted to fostering and preserving Polish ethnic heritage in the United States.

Richard M. Wiermanski, President
35 Fernridge Road
West Hartford, Connecticut 06107
Phone: (410) 798-7512
Email: Rwierman@aol.com
URL: www.polishcultureacpc.org

American Institute of Polish Culture

Established in 1972 to promote Polish culture through publications, films, lectures, exhibitions, and events.

Blanka Rosenstiel, Founder and President
1440 79th Street Causeway
Suite 117
Miami, Florida 33141
Phone: (305) 864-2349
Fax: (305) 865-5150
Email: info@ampolinstitute.org
URL: www.ampolinstitute.org

Polish American Congress (PAC)

Umbrella organization for local and national Polish organizations in the United States with more than 3 million combined members. Promotes improved quality of life for Poles and Polish Americans.

Frank J. Spula, President
5711 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60646-6215
Phone: (773) 763-9944
Fax: (773) 763-7114
Email: pacchgo@pac1944.org
URL: www.pac1944.org/index.html

Polish Falcons of America

Founded in 1887, the Polish Falcons have a membership of 31,000 in 143 groups or “nests.” Established as a fraternal benefit insurance society for people of Polish or Slavic descent, the Falcons also took on a strong nationalist sentiment, demanding a free Poland. The society promotes athletic and educational events and provides a scholarship fund for those majoring in physical education. The Falcons also publish a bimonthly publication in Polish, Sokol Polski.

Timothy L. Kuzma, President and CEO
381 Mansfield Avenue
Suite 200
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15220
Phone: (412) 922-2244 or (800) 535-2071
Fax: (412) 922-5029
Email: info@polishfalcons.org
URL: www.polishfalcons.org

Polish National Alliance of the United States (PNA)

Founded in 1880, the PNA has a membership of 286,000 made up of nearly 1,000 regional groups. Originally founded as a fraternal life insurance society, PNA continues this original role while also sponsoring education and cultural affairs. It maintains a library of 14,000 volumes.

6100 North Cicero
Chicago, Illinois 60646-4385
Phone: (773) 286-0500 or (800) 621-3723
Fax: (773) 286-0842
Email: pna-znp.org
URL: www.pna-znp.org/

Polish Roman Catholic Union of America

Founded in 1873, the Roman Catholic Union has a membership of 90,000 in 529 groups. Founded as a fraternal benefit life insurance society, the union sponsors sports and youth activities, and conducts language school as well as dance and children's programs. It also has a library of 25,000 volumes.

Wallace Michael Ozog, President
984 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60642-4101
Phone: (773) 782-2600 or (800) 772-8632
Email: info@prcua.org
URL: www.prcua.org

Polish Women's Alliance of America

Founded in 1898, the Polish Women's Alliance has a membership of 65,000 in 775 groups or chapters. It is a fraternal benefit life insurance society administered by women and maintains a library of 7,500 volumes on Polish and American culture and history.

Delphine Huneycutt, National President
6643 North Northwest Highway
Chicago, Illinois 60631
Phone: (847) 384-1200 or (888) 522-1898
Email: padowski@pwaa.org
URL: www.pwaa.org


Full Text: 

American Institute for Polish Culture

Founded in 1972 to promote the appreciation for history, culture, science, and art of Poland, the American Institute for Polish Culture sponsors exhibits, lectures, and research; maintains a 1,200-volume library; and publishes books on history and biography.

Blanka A. Rosenstiel, President
1440 79th Street
Suite 117
Miami, Florida 33141
Phone: (305) 864-2349
Fax: (305) 865-5150
Email: info@ampolinstitute.org
URL: www.ampolinstitute.org

Kosciuszko Foundation

Founded in 1925, the Kosciuszko Foundation is named after the Polish nobleman who fought in the American revolution. The foundation is a clearinghouse for information on Polish and American cultural affairs. Also known as the American Center for Polish Culture, the foundation Page 492  |  Top of Articlehas a reference library and arranges educational exchanges as well as administers scholarships and stipends.

Alex Storozynski, President and Executive Director
15 East 65th Street
New York, New York 10065
Phone: (212) 734-2130
Fax: (212) 628-4552
Email: alex@thekf.org
URL: www.thekg.org

Polish American Historical Association (PAHA)

Concerned with Polish Americana and the history of Poles in the United States.

Neal Pease, President
984 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60622
Phone: (773) 384-3352
Fax: (773) 384-3799
Email: pease@uwm.edu
URL: www.polishamericanstudies.org

Polish Museum of America

Founded in 1937 and sponsored by the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, the Polish Museum preserves artifacts of the Polish American experience and mounts displays of costumes, religious artifacts, and Polish art. It also maintains a 25,000-volume library for researchers and the Polish American Historical Association, which is concerned with the history of Poles in America.

Maria Ciesla, President
984 North Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60622-4101
Phone: (773) 384-3352
Fax: (773) 384-3799
Email: PMA@PolishMuseumofAmerica.org
URL: www.polishmuseumofamerica.org

Polish Museum of Winona in Minnesota

Founded in 1890 by the Laird-Norton Lumber Company, the museum operates in association with the Polish Cultural Institute.

Lorraine Walski, President
102 Liberty Street
Winona, Minnesota 55987
Phone: (507) 454-3431
Fax: (507) 452-5570
URL: www.polishmuseumwinona.org


Biskupski, Mieczyslaw B. Hollywood's War with Poland, 1939–1945. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2010.

Bukowczyk, John. And My Children Did Not Know Me: A History of the Polish-Americans. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Bukowczyk, John J., ed. Polish Americans and Their History: Community, Culture, and Politics. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996.

Jaroszyźska-Kirchmann, Anna D. The Exile Mission: The Polish Political Diaspora and Political America, 1939–1956. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2004.

Johannsen, Lars, and Karin Hilmer Pedersen, eds. Pathways: A Study of Six-Post Communist Countries. Oakville, CT: Oxbow Books, 2009.

Majewski, Karen. Traitors and True Poles: Narrating a Polish-American Identity, 1880–1939. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003.

Pula, James S. Polish America: American Ethnic Community. New York: Twayne, 1995.

Pula, James S. Polish American Encyclopedia. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.

Renkiewicz, Frank. The Poles in America, 1608–1972: A Chronology and Fact Book. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, Inc., 1973.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300144