According to PBS, Italians originally immigrated to American as refugees from war during the Risorgimento, or Italian Revolution. Many other Italians came later to escape the extreme poverty that caused malnutrition and disease at home. There were not many opportunities for landless peasants in Southern Italy. Even those who owned land found it hard to grow enough food in the poor soil.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Risorgimento ended in 1861, when the Kingdom of Italy was established. Around 25,000 Italian Immigrants reached America by 1870. Many of these immigrants were from Northern Italy and fled to America during the wars that led to the Risorgimento. Beginning 1890, the massive wave of immigrants began entering America from Europe. This wave of immigrants, which was the largest wave American had experienced up to that time, was known as the "New Immigration." Many of these immigrants were from Southern Italy. Actually, they were the largest group of immigrants from 1900 to 1915. During this time more than 3 million Italians entered America. The majority of these immigrants were poor agricultural laborers, but around 20 percent of them were skilled craftsmen. Today, Italian Americans make up the fifth largest ethnic group in the United States.