Throughout most of its history, Slovenia was governed by the Germanic Austrians or the Serb-dominated state of Yugoslavia. In 1991, Slovenia won its independence, making it one of the newest countries in the world. According to the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 176,691 Americans and 28,910 Canadians claimed Slovenian descent. Cleveland, Ohio, became the center for Slovenian settlement in the United States, with significant concentrations throughout the industrial Midwest. More than two-thirds of Slovenian Canadians live in Ontario.
Slovenia occupies 7,800 square miles in southeast Europe. It is bordered by Italy to the west; Austria and Hungary to the north; and Croatia to the southeast. In 2002, the population was estimated at 1,930,132. Always the most ethnically homogenous region of Yugoslavia, 91 percent of its population is Slovene and about 3 percent Croat. The chief religion is Roman Catholicism. Originally from the modern regions of Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, the Slovenes settled in their current territory between the sixth and eighth centuries. They began to fall under German domination as early as the ninth century and for a thousand years were generally under the rule of German princes. Around 1848, Slovenes scattered among several Austrian provinces began their struggle for political and national unification (see Austro-Hungarian immigration; revolutions of 1848). In 1918, most Slovenes became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, later renamed Yugoslavia (see Yugoslav immigration). Slovenia declared its independence on June 25, 1991, and joined the United Nations on May 22, 1992. With few Serbs living there, the Yugoslav army put up minimal resistance to Slovenian withdrawal from Yugoslavia, and Slovenia was largely spared the war and violence that plagued Bosnia and Kosovo throughout the 1990s. Linked by trade with the European Union, Slovenia applied for full membership in 1996.
Most Slovenes immigrated to the United States as a part of the new immigration between 1880 and 1923, with a smaller group coming after World War II (1939–45) between 1949 and 1956. Numbers are unreliable, as Slovenes were often grouped by immigration officials with Croats or listed as Austrians, Yugoslavs, or Germans. A reasonable total estimate for the two migrations is about 300,000. The earliest organized Slovene immigration to the United States was composed of Roman Catholic priests who in 1831 came as missionaries to the American Indian tribes of Michigan, Minnesota, and the Dakota Territory; dozens followed. Most arrivals before and just after World War I (1914–18) were of poor peasant farmers escaping overcrowded conditions. They usually came in small groups, often as single men, who then later sent for their families. By the 1880s, they were established in mining communities of Michigan and Minnesota. In the 1890s, an increasing number were settling in Cleveland and Chicago. During the early 20th century, Cleveland became the largest Slovenian city outside Slovenia, with a population of more than 30,000 Slovenians in 1920. With a relatively stable economy and political system, there has not been great pressure for Slovenians to emigrate. Between 1992 and 2002, average annual immigration to the United States was only about 70.
Significant Slovene immigration to Canada started in the 1920s, following the United States’ restrictive Emergency Quota Act (1921) and Johnson-Reed Act (1924). Groups of young, healthy Slovenes were recruited by travel agents as contract laborers under the Railway Agreement of 1925. After working on farms or railroads in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, or British Columbia, many migrated to western mining towns. About 2,500 Slovenians refugees were accepted between 1947 and 1951 and often spent a year under contract before seeking city jobs. Some 6,000 Slovenians came between 1951 and 1970, mainly joining family members who had arrived during the previous periods. Of the 9,250 Slovenian immigrants in Canada in 2001, half came before 1961. Only 545 came between 1991 and 2001.