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President Grover Cleveland. Louis Black served in Company A of the 150th Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. He was the first Hungarian elected to Cleveland's City Council, serving from 1881-1883. Louis also became the city's first Director of Fire during the administration of Mayor Rose. In 1881, Louis Black became President of the Bailey Company, a large department store located at Ontario and Prospect Avenue. He originated the idea of department store branches in the Cleveland area.

       In 1863, Morris Black founded the Hungarian Aid Society. It was the first such organization founded for the purpose of providing sick benefits and aid for needy Hungarian immigrants. In 1881, it was reorganized as the Hungarian Benevolent and Social Union, which commemorated its 80th year in 1961.3

B. THE STREETS WERE NOT PAVED WITH GOLD

       Around the turn-of-the-century, the flow of immigrants to the United States from Hungary increased at a phenomenal rate. According to census figures, between 1870 and 1920, approximately one million Hungarians immigrated to the United States. By 1900, the number of Hungarians in Cleveland had reached 9,558.4

       There were several reasons for the mass emigration from Hungary: the population of central Europe had increased markedly while land ownership remained in the hands of a relatively small percentage of the population. Employment opportunities were limited, industry was not yet developed and the pay received by migrant farm workers and day laborers was meagre by any standard. Other significant factors encouraging

 


 

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immigration were: letters sent by fellow countrymen already in America relating the favorable working conditions and high pay, agents sent by American companies to recruit laborers, passage could be gained for as little as $25.

       The majority of Hungarian immigrants who came at this time were agricultural workers. They came with the intention of staying only a few years to save enough money to return and purchase land in their homeland. More than half of those who arrived prior to 1914 managed to return. A large percentage of the Hungarians who came to Cleveland around the turn-of-the-century were from upper Hungary, namely from the Counties of Szepes, Sáros, Abaúj-Torna, Zemplén, Liptó, Árva, Trencsén, Ung and Bereg; from one district in particular, Bodrogköz, more than 7,000 Hungarians immigrated to the State of Ohio.5 Letters providing testimonials, in addition to a strong desire to live near friends and neighbors in America caused this "group" migration.

       The first Hungarians of this mass immigration who came to Cleveland were from the County of Abaúj-Torna, village of Buzita.6 The first arrivals came in 1879; they included: Miklós Veres, György Kupecz, András Vaskó and Mihály Timkó. They were followed the next year by István Veres and István Timkó. In 1880, from the same county, village of Csecs came József Schwab, János Kovács, György Sztrick, János Bencze, György Weizer, Pál Kiss, András Csepely, János Dobovitzky, János Weizer, András Bartkó and family, András Kertész and family, János Rick, János Makránszky and the Somossy family. From the village of Göncz came András Targiszer, the Molnár, Takács and Soltész family and from the County of

 


 

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The First Hungarian Neighborhood c. 1900 Cuyahoga County Archives Photograph

 


 

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Sopron came István Jessy, Josef Csizmadia and his brother, János.

       The residents of Cleveland were not particularly anxious to receive the new group of Hungarian immigrants. These first Hungarian families settled around the southeast edge of the city, close to the factories where they worked. The streets where they lived were unpaved and dark. According to one source, they were afraid to speak in their native language. The more established immigrant groups, such as the Irish, resented their arrival and allegedly, threw stones at the Magyars if they spoke in any other language than English in the streets.

       A distinct Hungarian neighborhood came into being during the mid-1880s. The Hungarians settled around Madison Street (now East 79th) and Woodland Avenue from East 65th Street onward.7 Streets with particularly heavy concentrations of Hungarian residents included Bismarck, Rawlings and Holton. Two of the first Hungarians who settled in this area were János Makránsky and András Kuzma.

       The neighborhood developed near several major factories on the southeast section of Cleveland. The Hungarians initially found work at the Eberhardt Manufacturing Company, Mechanical Rubber Works, National Malleable Steel Castings, Ohio Foundry, Standard Foundry, Van Dorn Iron Works, Old Glidden Varnish, Cleveland Bronze and Carlin Bronze.

       These Hungarian immigrants were in Cleveland for the purpose of saving money and returning to their homeland. They viewed their stay as temporary and the way they lived reflected this. The majority were men who were single or had left their families behind. These men lived in boarding houses, run by the few women who had immigrated with their husbands.

 


 

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       A study of the Immigration Commission of Cleveland completed around 1914, revealed that Magyars had the highest proportion of families of any "race" whose wives add to their income by going out to work or keeping boarders: 71 percent of the wives of Magyar families reviewed earned wages or kept boarders.8

       Before the outbreak of the First World War, managing a boarding house was the most effective way a woman could earn money. It was, however, the most grueling work imaginable. Usually, fifteen to twenty boarders shared a house. The men worked in shifts, which meant that the managing woman had to be "on call" at all hours of the day and night to serve the meals. In addition to the cooking, the woman prepared the lodgings, laundered and mended the soiled clothes and cleaned the house. For all this, each boarder paid $3 a month.

       The incidents recounted by the Hungarian women who ran the boarding houses are interesting and informative accounts which play a crucial part in the reconstruction of immigrant history. Many of these interviews were conducted by Theodore Andrica, one-time writer for The Cleveland Press. One boarding house keeper never went to bed on Monday night. Monday was designated washday and in order to keep up with the rest of the weeks work, all the wash had to be completed by Tuesday morning. One example of many: Mrs. Mary Csupp raised six children singlehandedly by managing a boarding house; her husband died suddenly after working fourteen years in a steel mill, without so much as a week's vacation.

       The boarding house keepers witnessed the countless personal tragedies which befell the immigrants. One man was fatally burned in a steel mill

 


 

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Boarding houses provided food, shelter and a "home" for many transient immigrant workers.

 

Hungarian immigrant men on an outing - 1900's

 


 

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accident only a month after his arrival in the United States. Friends collected money for his burial. His mother in Hungary lost her mind upon hearing of her son's tragic death. Another, who had already saved enough to send for his wife and children, was killed while crossing the railroad tracks to go to work.

       These women were the only source of female companionship for many of their boarders. They were subjected to daily struggles with these lonely and unhappy men. Often, they were even humiliated and taken advantage of.

       The Hungarian immigrants quickly realized that dollars were not earned easily in America. Handicapped by language barriers, they were forced to take any available job. In Cleveland, they found jobs in the steel mills, iron works and foundries. The work was back-breaking and dangerous; industrial accidents and fatalities on the job were common-place occurrences.

       Hungarians in Cleveland earned a reputation as hard working and tolerant and according to some sources, employers sought them out when hiring. Hungarian immigrants worked diligently because, for the most part, they had no other choice. It was not out of any great affinity for grueling factory work. They were determined to establish themselves financially in America in order to return to their homeland.

       The immigrants suffered an incalculable amount of loneliness, frustration and alienation during their first few years in this country. The first Hungarian Roman Catholic priest in Cleveland, Reverend Charles Boehm, wrote about some of the "problems" within the community in the Hírnök, the parish bulletin of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church. Boehm was a dynamic strong willed individual who accomplished a great deal with

 


 

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what limited assistance his parishioners could provide. One charter member of the church recounted: "I remember well when Father Boehm waded in mud with his rubber boots on to visit every Hungarian home. Even better, I remember how he used to go to saloons and by sheer force of argument take the Hungarians out."9

       The Hírnök contains many writings of Boehm through which various impressions of the early Hungarian community were conveyed. In one passage, the immigrant priest wrote the following: "Why is it that for months in advance the Hungarian House dance hall is rented out on every payday? Even during Lent, the Hungarian neighborhood is abound with twenty-five cent admission fee events. Yet, during these same weeks, there is hardly an individual who donates a nickel to the church collection basket."10

       Boehm regularly expounded on the evils of drinking alcohol and once wrote the following:

 

As soon as one or two Hungarians move into a street, the English residents leave because of the way the newcomers behave, and who can blame them? Who could tolerate the yelling, screaming and gallivanting about which goes on into the small hours of the morning?11

 

Through the Hírnök, Reverend Boehm provided his parishioners with moral and religious guidance, as well as assistance in adjusting to life in America. He often wrote about the many sufferings endured by the Hungarian immigrants and referred to America as "the land which not only gives bread, but gravestones as well."

 

*  *  *  *  *  *

 

       The original Hungarian neighborhood around Bismarck and Rawlings Streets in the southeast section of Cleveland was not the only area which attracted the immigrants. Several hundred immigrants from the village of Metzenzefen settled on the west side of the city around the marketplace-

 


 

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National Malleable Steel Castings-One of the foundries where many Hungarian immigrants initially found work on the east side (Cleveland Public Library)

 

The Massive Hungarian Hall, erected by Kundtz and the west side Hungarian community on Clark Ave. in 1890 (Cleveland Public Library)

 


 

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between Lorain Avenue and Abbey Avenue. A fellow villager, Theodore Kundtz, founded the Kundtz Manufacturing Company some years earlier and employed many cabinetmakers from that district in Hungary. The west side Hungarians were mainly from upper Hungary, in particular, from the counties of Szepes and Abaúj.

       Hungarians living on the west side did not experience the initial animosity of more established ethnic groups because the majority spoke at least one other language (usually German) in addition to Hungarian. Moreover, they did not settle in separate streets or districts, but scattered throughout the near west side. The west side Hungarians considered themselves superior to the Hungarians living on the east side. This was because the majority of the west siders were skilled cabinet-makers, whereas the east siders were generally unskilled laborers working in heavy industry.

 

*  *  *  *  *  *

 

       The initial hardships were gradually overcome. Many Hungarians saved up enough capital, left the factories and started their own businesses. The economic status of the community improved considerably with each generation. The first saloon owner was Imre Schwab who opened a tavern around the area of Bismarck Street in 1888. Joseph L. Szepessy opened the first foreign exchange and real estate office on Buckeye Road in 1890. In 1901, he was named the first Hungarian member to the Board of Directors of the Woodland Avenue Savings and Trust Company. Szepessy wrote of this appointment: "despite twelve 'Americans' all vying for the

 


 

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post, they still chose me."12 The first clothing store on Buckeye Road was owned by John Weizer in 1895. Weizer later opened a foreign exchange and steamship ticket office at the same site.

       The wealthiest Hungarian families on Buckeye Road: the Weizer, Szepessy, Gedeon and Apáthy families started by opening steamship ticket and currency exchange offices. This business was made lucrative by the hundreds of thousands of immigrants going back and forth between the homeland and America. "Migrating birds" they were called; they went home to Hungary for harvest time and returned during the winter months to work in a factory or steel mill. After 1924, when immigration laws were stiffened, these "first" families expanded their businesses into real estate.

       One of the most successful industrialists in Cleveland's history was Theodore Kundtz, who arrived in 1873 at the age of 21 with a total capital of $10. Kundtz was from the village of Metzenzefen, County of Abauj. As a skilled cabinetmaker, he was hired by the Whitworth Company to make sewing machine cabinets. In 1876, Kundtz bought out the shop and through much hard work and good business sense, built the Kundtz Manufacturing Company, which supplied the wooden cabinet parts for the White Sewing Machine Company. By 1900, Kundtz Manufacturing employed some 2,500 skilled workers, most of whom were Hungarian immigrants. Theodore Kundtz was often quoted as saying: "You're crazy to work for me. Work for yourselves, start your own businesses, that's the only real way to make money." The company expanded into manufacturing church and school supplies and made truck bodies for the Allies during the War. Later, the Kundtz Manufacturing Company merged with White Sewing Machine, becoming

 


 

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The Kundtz mansion in Edgewater Drive in Lakewood(demolished: 1960's)(Cleveland Public Library)

 

Industrialist Theodore Kundtz and his wife. Kundtz arrived in this country in 1873 as a penniless immigrant and later became one of Cleveland's wealthiest businessman. (Cleveland Public Library)

 


 

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the White Consolidated Company, today a billion dollar conglomerate corporation.

       There were other success stories as well. By 1905, the flow of skilled tradesmen from Hungary increased: butchers, shoemakers, tailors, carpenters, machinists, mechanics, etc. The advertisements found in the 20th Anniversary issue of Szabadság are indicative of the multitude of Hungarians in these trades. The issue contains over ten Hungarian-owned grocery and butcher shops, six clothing outlets, six real estate agents and numerous hardware stores, bakeries, pharmacies, taverns and barber shops. The biographical sketches of the owners contain valuable insight into the lives of these first Hungarian businessmen in Cleveland. Many prided themselves on admitting that when they first came to America, they worked in factories. The White Cross Pharmacy at West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue, "served its customers only in Hungarian." The Szabo brothers, owners of a meat processing plant, were known as the "Kolbasz Kings". Greszingh Louis, a Hungarian photographer on West 25th Street, boasted of having the "largest store in Cleveland." Steven Jakab was initially a tavern owner; after saving enough capital, he opened Cleveland's first Hungarian-owned funeral parlor on Buckeye Road. The slogan of the Red Cross Pharmacy at Buckeye and East 89th Street read: "100,000 Hungarians regained their health by coming to our pharmacy."

       That was in 1911. It is interesting to note the advances made by the business and professional community by 1940 when examining the 50th Anniversary yearbook of the same newspaper. Biographical sketches are given of some twenty grocers and twenty-five restaurateurs. Significant, however, were the increased number of Hungarian professionals: lawyers,

 


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