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Pan-American Exposition of 1901

The Polish Community of Buffalo and the Pan-American Exposition


In 1901, Buffalo "Polonia" made up a large percentage of Buffalo's population. The population of Poles had grown from roughly 6.5% of the city's total population in 1881 to nearly 20% by 1904.1 The wave of immigrants arriving in the later 19th century traveled from a Poland that was not unified but instead under the rule of three neighboring powers—Prussia, Austria and Russia. That there was no consular support for this divided region is, in part, why there was no clear representation of Polish culture at the Pan-American Exposition.

Those Poles who settled in Buffalo did, however, have a clear sense of national identity. They saw themselves as Polish regardless of the political control of the regions from which they arrived. There was clear animosity towards those countries controlling their homeland, which often translated into friction between Buffalo's Polish community and those of other immigrant groups, especially the Germans. Still, Polonia developed a strong economic and cultural base in Buffalo, primarily on the East Side, where there were several newspapers, publishers, retailers, and manufacturers. Polish churches, schools, music, sports, and mutual-aid societies grew to be a central part of the Buffalo Pole's life.

See Buffalo "Polonia at the Turn of the Century" for more information on the growth of the Polish Community leading up to the Pan-American Exposition.


Franciszek (Francis) Fronczak

Franciszek (Francis) Fronczak

Franciszek (Francis) E. Fronczak. Photo credit: Unidentified. Source: Album pamiatkowe i przewodnik handlowy : osady polskiej w miescie Buffalo, z do aczeniem okolicznych miejscowósci ze stanu New York. Buffalo, N.Y. : Wydane staraniem i nak . Polskiej Spó ki Wydawniczej, 1906-1909. Courtesy of the University at Buffalo - University Libraries Polish Collection.

Most of Buffalo's Polish immigrants worked as general laborers, hired for canal digging and street building.2 It is not surprising then, that Poles worked in the construction of the Exposition and on the railroads that brought visitors to the grounds. Encouraged by community leaders, Buffalo's Poles even bought shares of Pan-American Exposition stock. Franciszek Fronczak, born in Buffalo to Polish immigrant parents, was a young and articulate doctor, who graduated both from Canisius College and the University of Buffalo Medical School. Although only in his mid-twenties, he took a leadership role in the Polish community, encouraging participation in the Pan-American Exposition, and chairing the convention of the Alliance of Polish Singers, which met in Buffalo in 1901. Fronczak is still highly respected for his varied roles as doctor, Buffalo's health commissioner (starting in 1910), journalist, and supporter of Poland's independence.

It is interesting to note that during this period, the Polish community was becoming more politically active but was still relatively isolated from the rest of Buffalo society. Partially by choice and also due to the ethnic prejudices of both the Poles and their neighbors, Buffalo Polonia was a remote and self-sufficient colony within the city. Yet many Poles were willing to participate in both the building and financial support of the Pan-American Exposition. This is certainly a testament to the influence of leaders like Fronczak.

The following letter appeared in the January 26, 1899 Buffalo Express in a section of the paper where daily lists of Exposition subscribers (those who purchased stock) were listed.

January 25, 1899

Henry W. Sprague:

Dear Sir — Enclosed please find a number of Polish subscribers whom I have seen within a few hours. We have so far subscribed here almost $4,000, and hope to be able to add enough to make $10,000 from the Polish citizens of Buffalo.
   May this mite be a token of our sincerity in the enterprise. Hoping to have the priviledge of sending another list in a few days, I am

Very truly yours
Francis E. Fronczak


The Polish Press and the Exposition

Stanislaw Slisz, with the entire staff of the Polak Amerykanski Press at 227 Lovejoy

Polak Amerykanski Press. Stanislaw Slisz (seated in the center), with staff. Photo credit: Unidentified. Source: Album pamiatkowe i przewodnik handlowy : osady polskiej w miescie Buffalo, z do aczeniem okolicznych miejscowósci ze stanu New York. Buffalo, N.Y. : Wydane staraniem i nak . Polskiej Spó ki Wydawniczej, 1906-1909. Courtesy of the University at Buffalo - University Libraries Polish Collection.

Pan-Am Exposition Company Stock ad in Polak w Ameryce.

Advertisment for Pan-American Exposition Company Stock. Source: This advertisment appeared in the March 31, 1899 issue of Polak w Ameryce. The image was digitized from a microfilm copy. Listed in the ad are the Exposition's Board of Directors.

The most popular Polish-language newspaper in 1901 was the daily Polak w Ameryce , which had circulation over 6,000 in a local population of about 75,000 Poles. The paper began publication in 1885 under the name Ojczyzna. By 1887 the name had changed to Polak w Ameryce, which translates as "The Pole in America." Stanislaw Slisz and his brother Jozef, both of whom came to Buffalo in 1885, became the publishers of Polak w Ameryce. The Slisz's Polak Amerykanski Press also published magazines and books for Polish-speaking people throughout the United States.

Other Polish newspapers at the time of the Pan-American Exposition were, Gazeta Buffaloska (Buffalo Gazette), the Echo, the Slonce (Sun), and the Warta (Guard)

The Polak w Ameryce promoted the Pan-American Exposition and urged Polish residents to buy shares. The response must have gratified the promoters: about 230 Poles bought roughly $8,300 worth of Exposition Company shares. (Overall, 11,000 investors spent $1.5 million on Pan-American shares.) At a time when hourly pay for railroad workers, for example, was 14 to 16 cents, a ten-dollar expenditure was considerable. This represented a strong commitment of Polish immigrants to their adopted city. The advertisement at right appeared in the March 31, 1899 issue of Polak w Ameryce.


The Polish Singers' Alliance

From August 19 to 22, 1901 Polish singers came to Buffalo and the Pan-American Exposition from all over the United States. Several local singing societies, including the Lutnia ("lute") and Chopin choral societies, took part in the Polish Singers' Alliance competition and concerts, which were very well attended and favorably reviewed in the English, Polish and German presses.


Polish Singing Societies of Buffalo

Chopin Society

Chopin Choral Society. Photo credit: Unidentified. Source: Album pamiatkowe i przewodnik handlowy : osady polskiej w miescie Buffalo, z do aczeniem okolicznych miejscowósci ze stanu New York. Buffalo, N.Y. : Wydane staraniem i nak . Polskiej Spó ki Wydawniczej, 1906-1909. Courtesy of the University at Buffalo - University Libraries Polish Collection.

Kalina Society

Kalina Choral Society. Photo credit: Unidentified. Source: Album pamiatkowe i przewodnik handlowy : osady polskiej w miescie Buffalo, z do aczeniem okolicznych miejscowósci ze stanu New York. Buffalo, N.Y. : Wydane staraniem i nak . Polskiej Spó ki Wydawniczej, 1906-1909. Courtesy of the University at Buffalo - University Libraries Polish Collection.

Lutnia Society

Lutnia Choral Society. Photo credit: Unidentified. Source: Album pamiatkowe i przewodnik handlowy : osady polskiej w miescie Buffalo, z do aczeniem okolicznych miejscowósci ze stanu New York. Buffalo, N.Y. : Wydane staraniem i nak . Polskiej Spó ki Wydawniczej, 1906-1909. Courtesy of the University at Buffalo - University Libraries Polish Collection.

Wanda Society

Wanda Choral Society. Photo credit: Unidentified. Source: Album pamiatkowe i przewodnik handlowy : osady polskiej w miescie Buffalo, z do aczeniem okolicznych miejscowósci ze stanu New York. Buffalo, N.Y. : Wydane staraniem i nak . Polskiej Spó ki Wydawniczej, 1906-1909. Courtesy of the University at Buffalo - University Libraries Polish Collection.



Assassination and the Polish Community

Assassination headline of Gazeta Buffaloska

In 1901, workers were still agitating for union-organizing rights and for the eight-hour day, but strikes and worker demonstrations were commonly crushed by private troops (e.g., the Pinkertons) and government forces (police, National Guard). Wages for laborers were low, workdays were 10 or more hours, six days a week, and most children went to work at age 13 or 14. Like most other immigrants groups, the Poles, generally thought of as industrous workers, were caught in this difficult situation, and only the educated few were able to rise above it. One who did not manage to rise above it was Leon Czolgosz, an unemployed laborer who came to Buffalo and the Exposition intending to shoot President William McKinley. He did just that on September 6, 1901 and on September 14, the President died.

The fact that he was the American-born son of a Polish immigrant was a source of shame and anger for Poles in Buffalo. The planned parade and celebration of Polish Day at the Pan-American Exposition were canceled by community leaders, despite months of preparation. The Polish-language press was apparently shocked and disgusted at the assassination. Police arrested a number of Polish residents, some of whom were held for questioning, as well as a number of Italians. However, no conspiracy was discovered—Czolgosz had acted independently.

Indeed, the assassination of President McKinley was a setback to Buffalo's Polish community. However, despite this and the many prejudices and barriers faced, Buffalo's Polish Americans would grow to achieve success in the professions, business and politics of subsequent years, while still maintaining their sense of ethnic pride.


References:

  1. Eugene Edward Obidinski. Ethnic to status group : a study of Polish Americans in Buffalo. Unpublished dissertation --State University of New York at Buffalo, 1968; quoted in Stanislawa Tillson, Transformation of the Polish Sub-Community in Western New York : the Case of Buffalo. Unpublished dissertation -- Uniwersytet Warszawski, 1976, p. 10.
  2. Tillson, p. 9.

Additional Resources:

  • Ann T. Skulicz. Rise of the Buffalo "Polonia", 1887-1900. Unpublished thesis-University of Buffalo, 1951.
  • Ksiega Pamiatkowa, Zlotego Jubileuszu Osady Polskiej i Parafji Sw. Stanislawa, B. i M. w Buffalo, New York, 1873-1923. [Buffalo, N.Y.] Nakladem Komitetu Wydawniczego [1923].
  • Album pamiatkowe i przewodnik handlowy : osady polskiej w miescie Buffalo, z do aczeniem okolicznych miejscowósci ze stanu New York. Buffalo, N.Y. : Wydane staraniem i nak . Polskiej Spó ki Wydawniczej, 1906-1909.

    For information on the meatpacking industry of Buffalo's East Side, see Fred Jablonski's East Buffalo 1846-1976 at http://geocities.com/richslon/eastbuf.html. There is a "Pan-Am" section as well as a "Gallery," which discusses the East Side stockyards, meatpackers and purveyors, most of whom were leaders in the German or Polish communities. Update Sept. 2009: Unfortunately, as of 2008, the link is no longer valid. Try using the Wayback Web to access the archived pages at http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://geocities.com/richslon/eastbuf.html