Among the earliest non-English peoples to settle in the United States, the Swiss have always constituted a comparatively small immigrant group who have settled throughout the United States. Despite their relatively small numbers, they have made significant contributions to American industry, politics, science, religion and other fields.
Although the Swiss were among the first non-English peoples to enter what is now the United States, they have never constituted a large immigrant group. Indeed, they have seldom accounted for more than 1 to 2 percent of all incoming immigrants. Nevertheless, their impact as a group has been noticeable–from midwestern agricultural landscapes to the denominational landscaping of American Christianity. Moreover, they have also contributed more than their numerical share of distinguished public figures, such as the Jeffersonian politician and diplomat
Swiss-born politician Albert Gallatin served in the U.S. Senate and was secretary of the treasury under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
The majority of Swiss immigrants to the United States have been German speakers, but members of Switzerland’s French- and Italian-speaking minorities have also come in substantial numbers. Speakers of Romansh, a tiny minority within Switzerland, have, however, never immigrated to the United States in significant numbers.
Swiss immigration to British North America began before the eighteenth century on a very small scale. The first Swiss person known to have visited the continent was the Bernese
The eighteenth century witnessed a surge in Swiss immigration to America, with 25,000 immigrants coming to British America before 1776. Religious persecution, social unrest, and the frail economic position of an early modern society with a paucity of arable land and few natural resources were major push factors that helped prompt their emigration from Switzerland. Reports circulated by colonial promoters and returning Swiss immigrants of the fertile soils, low taxes, and boundless opportunities in the New World helped attract new immigrants.
Swiss immigrants settled in a number of British colonies, but
While Swiss immigrants continued to trickle into the new United States during the last decades of the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth century, the next great surge of Swiss immigration came after 1820. Between that year and 1900, about 200,000 Swiss came to the country. The main cause of this immigration wave was the contrast between the severely contracted economic opportunities in Switzerland and the reportedly abundant opportunities in America.
About 60 percent of Swiss immigrants settled in rural areas–-especially in the Midwest, where the first significant Swiss settlement of the century, Nouevelle Vevey, was established in
Immigration was often encouraged by letters from immigrants in America to family and friends back in Switzerland, and it was maintained by the social and economic support networks created by
Nineteenth century Swiss immigrants were religiously diverse, with both Roman Catholics
Swiss immigration followed similar patterns during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Although the peak decade of the 1880’s, during which more than 80,000 Swiss arrived in the United States, would never be repeated, the numbers were still substantial. Between 1901 and 1920, more than 58,000 Swiss immigrated to the United States. However, the rate of immigration gradually diminished after the
Commetti, Elizabeth. “Swiss Immigration to West Virginia, 1864-1884.” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 47 (1960): 66-87. Interesting account of Swiss settlement in Appalachia during the peak years of their immigration. Grueningen, J. P. von. The Swiss in the United States. Madison, Wis.: Swiss-American Historical Society, 1940. Older but still indispensable starting point for any study of Swiss immigration. Based on extensive use of U.S. Census data. Hale, Frederick. Swiss in Wisconsin. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2007. Brief examination of the Swiss experience in one of the most popular nineteenth century destinations for German-speaking immigrants. Haller, Charles R. Across the Atlantic and Beyond: German and Swiss Immigrants to America. Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 1993. Intended as a sourcebook for genealogists, this volume also contains much useful information for students and historians, including bibliographies. Schelbert, Leo, ed. America Experienced: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Accounts of Swiss Immigrants. Camden, Maine: Picton Press, 1996. Excellent collection of primary documents on Swiss immigration to the United States.
Religions of immigrants