In an attempt to survive the economic chaos in Greece at the turn of the century, many Greek families sent their sons to the United States. These youths, some as young as fourteen, were expected to work hard in America and then return to Greece, purchase Greek land for their families, and provide dowries for their sisters. In Greece the vast majority of these immigrants had been rural farmers, but in America they tended to settle in cities such as New York, Chicago, and Baltimore. Many of them initially found jobs as dishwashers, laborers, shoe shiners, or street peddlers. Other Greeks, however, went west, to Nevada, Utah, and California to work in the mines and on the railroads. Still others went to Florida where they fished and dove for sponges.
Due to the strength of their allegiance to Greece, when the Balkan Wars between Greece and Turkey erupted in 1912 forty-five thousand Greek American immigrants returned home to fight on behalf of Greece. After the war, however, the vast majority of these young men abandoned their intentions to invest their hard earned American dollars in Greek land and instead returned to America to establish their own small businesses, such as diners, grocery stores, and confectioneries. In addition to inspiring many more immigrants, this shift in intentions initiated the immigration of Greek women who brought with them Greek cultural and social traditions and began to help to establish Greek Communities, Greek Orthodox Churches, and family life in America.
During World War I, approximately seventy thousand Greeks fought on behalf of the United States. However, these immigrants continued to feel strong political allegiances to Greece and organized several attempts to affect American foreign policy in Greece's favor. Meanwhile, the Greek controversy between King Constantine I and Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos complicated the immigrants' loyalties and in some cases even disrupted Greek American community life. It was also during this decade that Greek immigrants established two nation-wide fraternal organizations, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) and the Greek American Progressive Association (GAPA). While both of these organizations were intended for Greeks who had chosen to settle permanently in the United States, they each advocated different approaches to Greek life in America. The AHEPA stressed Americanization while the GAPA stressed retention of the Greek language and traditional customs.
While early immigrants and their families worked hard to establish themselves and create Greek American communities, the number of Greeks who immigrated to America dramatically decreased in the 1920's due to a shift in American immigration laws. Those immigrants who did arrive during these years tended to be more highly skilled and professionally educated as compared to their earlier counterparts.
In 1965 the number of Greek immigrants began to increase, as a result of the 1965 Immigration Act which ended the national-quota system and gave preference to family members wishing to be reunited with those already in America. Between 1965 and 1975 alone, more than 142,000 people came to the United States from Greece. Regardless of this increase, however,the number of Greek immigrants has never equaled the high reached during the first two decades of the 20th century. The majority of these most recent immigrants have settled in the New York City area.