In 1867 Austria and Hungary united under the leadership of Emperor Franz Josef. Over 51 million people lived in the 675,000 square kilometres of the empire. The two largest ethnic groups were Germans (10 million) and Hungarians (9 million). There were also Poles, Croats, Bosnians, Serbians, Italians, Czechs, Ruthenes, Slovenes, Slovaks and Romanians. Overall, fifteen different languages were spoken in the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The government decided to allow those not happy with this arrangement to emigrate to the United States. This was especially true of those who were not members of the Roman Catholic faith as their sects were suppressed by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.
Large numbers of Czechs from Bohemia decided to take advantage of this decision. By the end of the century there were significent sized colonies in Chicago, New York, St. Louis and Cleveland. Others became farmers in states such as Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Texas. Attempts were made to preserve their language and culture. There were towns in Nebraska and Texas called Prague. In these places very little English was spoken. These colonies published Czech-language newspapers and had Bohemian orchestras. In Nebraska alone there were Bohemian churches in 44 towns and villages.
Slovaks from the north-eastern corner of Hungary were another group that emigrated to the United States in large numbers. Many went to America to escape the policy of Magyarization imposed by the Hungarian government. Other came to improve their economic circumstances while some young men emigrated in order to avoid military service. About 30 per cent of Slovaks who arrived in the United States were illiterate and most were forced to accept unskilled work in America's coal and steel towns.
After 1870 large numbers of Poles decided to leave the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The main reason for this was economic with primitive agricultural methods unable to provide enough food for a fast growing population. Between 1870 and 1890 over 270,000 Poles arrived in the United States. This continued to increase until it reached a peak in 1912-13 when over 174,300 people entered the country. Most were unskilled with only one in sixteen having a trade.
Large numbers of Poles went to Wisconsin and the first Polish newspaper, the Przysci Ludn, appeared in 1878. The Kuryer Polski, established in Milwaukee in 1888, became the community's most important newspaper. After 1891 all state laws in Wisconsin had to be printed in Polish.
Most of the Poles who arrived in the United States were Roman Catholics. Only about 7 per cent were Protestants. The Polish Roman Catholic Church was established in Polania in 1863 and two years later the first Polish church was opened in Milwaukee.
The majority of Hungarians in the United States are also Roman Catholics. They mainly settled in New York, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit. However, there are small Hungarian communities in rural areas, such as Budapest (California) New Buda (Iowa) and Koussuthville (Florida).
An investigation carried out in 1978 revealled that since 1820 over 4,315,000 people emigrated to the United States from Austria-Hungary. This amounted to 8.9 per cent of the total foreign immigration. Important figures who moved to the United States include Louis Kossuth, Joseph Pulitzer, Harry Houdini, Felix Frankfurter, Luise Rainer, Victor Berger, Rosika Schwimmer, Walter Trier, Joseph Bromberg, Antonin Dvorak, Poli Negri and Paul Muni.