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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Last modified: Thursday, January 17, 2013

Journal of American History examines surprising savings of Irish immigrants

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Jan. 17, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Irish immigrants who fled famine in their home country in the mid-1800s and settled in New York managed to save remarkable amounts of money, often in a very short period of time, Tyler Anbinder writes in the most recent issue of the Journal of American History.

Relying on newly available records from New York's Emigrant Savings Bank, the George Washington University professor of history finds that nearly 40 percent of Irish immigrants were able to save the equivalent of $10,000 in today's money, often in 10 years or less.

The quarterly Journal of American History is published by the Organization of American Historians, based at Indiana University Bloomington.

Anbinder's article, "Irish Immigrants' Surprising Savings Accounts," also contests the idea that the immigrant experience was a "rags to riches" story associated with novelist Horatio Alger. Few immigrants started out in rags, and few became rich. But many succeeded nonetheless.

He writes that Irish immigrants, including the mid-1800s wave that fled the famine, were not a "floating proletariat," condemned to squalor and the lowest rungs of society. And he argues that some historians have misunderstood immigrant success because they focused on factors like occupational status and home ownership, which were not important to urban immigrants, rather than savings.

"Immigrants in that era could save because the rapidly expanding American economy presented white Americans, native-born and immigrant alike, with opportunities for economic advancement that are difficult to imagine today," he writes.

Also in the December 2012 issue of the journal:

In the current JAH Podcast, journal editor Ed Linenthal speaks with Anbinder about Irish immigrants and their surprising success in acquiring capital.

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