1. The first mass migratory wave

From 1890, the form of emigration changed and became an increasingly stronger stream of people, mainly to the U.S.A. The following table shows the official number of emigrants for the years 1870-1899, but, of course, it doesn’t include those who emigrated illegally.

Year Annual Emigration
1870 23
1875 25
1880 23
1883 75
1887 313
1890 1105
1893 1131
1896 2175
1899 2375

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2. The reasons for the first mass emigration

During the first big migration to overseas destinations (1890-1921), the Greek population faced enormous economic difficulties because of the permanent wars, but also because of the Greek government’s policies. Therefore, it wasn’t considered essential to seek other causes for emigration in those years when the land continued to belong to a few landowners and the available properties were few and far between.

Until the outbreak of World War I, many changes took place in the eastern Mediterranean. The Greek state’s borders were extended as a result of the Balkan wars, while the Ottoman Empire lost its strength and the Great Powers competed with each other. Greece repeatedly became involved in wars (believing the Allies’ promises of territorial rewards), which climaxed with the expedition to Asia Minor. In 1919, Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos approved a giant military undertaking – for such a small country – in the course of which the Greek army conquered a large area of Asia Minor. However, in 1922, the abandonment of Greece by its allies and the counter-attack by the neo-Turks of Kemal Attaturk, resulted in 2 000 000 Greeks being killed, displaced or made refugees.

At the same time, the situation in Greece was difficult enough. Urbanisation filled the cities with people, while the countryside became depopulated. Sixty-five percent of the population practiced agriculture, but the structures had not changed so much since the Byzantine age. The state could do nothing in order to help low-income persons because the total cost just for World War I, for example, was about £130 000 000. After the war, Greece asked the Great Powers for compensation, but only received an insignificant sum. Many people were unemployed, but even those who finally found a job worked under miserable conditions.

3. The main overseas emigration to the U.S.A.

By the end of the 19th century, the above-mentioned conditions and the international trade crisis as well, contributed to a great exodus of people to overseas destinations, mainly to the U.S.A. The higher annual number of emigrants during this period is reflected by those who left in 1907 (37 391) and 1914 (37 957). From 1901 until 1921 the total number of overseas emigrants amounted to 398 767 persons and 95% of them had as destination the U.S.A. Of course, “400 000 immigrants from a population of 2 500 000, is a phenomenon that will leave permanent traces”. It must be said that in the short-term, the emigration of large numbers of people functioned as a solution to the unemployment problem in Greece; its continuation, however, seriously hampered industrial growth in the country.

The building of the Panama Canal brought to that area 3 000 Greeks. They suffered hardships and no one knows how many survived the yellow fever epidemic. Until 1920, Greeks used to go to Latin America, but not in order to stay there permanently. In Argentina in 1914, the census recorded 5 716 Greeks and of them 3 189 left in 1920. In 1911, the Greeks in Australia were approximately 2 000 and in 1921, they were 4 000. In the former Soviet Union, Greeks immigrated mainly to the Black Sea area because of the persecutions they suffered under the Turks. In Africa, the opportunities that trade opened and the spread of colonialism were the most important reasons for the first migratory wave by the end of the 19th century. Many went with minimal capital, and they bought products undervalued by 20-30% from farmers. This emigration originated mainly in the Peloponnese, Thessaly and the Aegean islands.