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Industrial growth drew immigrants

The year was 1910. The Modern Tool factory was building cars. The mayor, Democrat Michael Liebel Jr., made an annual salary of $2,500. The city's YMCA opened on State Street. Postage stamps cost 2 cents. And Erie was a city of immigrants. Of the 66,000 people who lived in Erie at that time, a quarter was foreign-born, said Andrew Adamus, director of education and outreach at the Erie County Historical Society. The Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century brought industry to the lakeside city. Adamus said 12,000 people worked in factories in 1910. Forty percent of them labored in foundries. The abundance of positions proved attractive to immigrant populations from Germany, Poland, Ireland, Italy and Russia. Germans were the first immigrant group to settle in Erie. By 1910, they controlled the city politics and owned the majority of the city's businesses, said Adamus. Polish and Italian laborers worked in the factories, Russian immigrants were involved in the fishing industry, and the Irish mostly held unskilled labor positions, said Adamus. Work not only brought immigrants to Erie but also shaped their experience of the city. Ethnic enclaves began to transform Erie's geography, bringing new foods, activities and religions. "Immigrants lived close to where they worked because there wasn't easy transportation," said Adamus. "Ethnic groups station themselves together, such as (in) Little Pologna and Little Italy. It's human nature." The city had a thriving industrial port, and the influx of immigrants helped it grow, said Adamus. "When one-fourth of your population is foreign-born, you're always going to be growing and changing" said Adamus. "You're not stagnant. You're not stuck in ruts. You're evolving." Adamus said he believes the early 20th century was the high point of Erie history. The city boasted 32 to 35 different manufacturers, close to 50 fishing groups and more than 34,800 names in the business directory, he said. But as the immigrant populations became established in the community, they moved out to the suburbs, said Adamus. Twenty-seven percent of the Erie population reported German ancestry in the 2010 U.S. Census. Seventeen percent said they were Irish, 15.5 percent Italian and 12.7 percent Polish. Russian ancestry was reported by 1.3 percent of the Erie population. "By the second generation, the culture of the people who are born here dissipates a little bit," said Deb Pazmino, director of immigration and interpretation services at the Multicultural Resource Center. "The Little Italy and German and Polish populations are being replaced by the newer immigrants and refugees. Erie is now one of the largest resettlement destinations in Pennsylvania." From its history of immigration to its current sanctuary status, the population of Erie continues to evolve. Source: Catherine Cloutier, Erie Times News Link: http://www.goerie.com/article/20120902/NEWS02/309029934/Industrial-growth-drew-immigrants

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