From Italy to California
The early Italian settlement of the Mother Lode mining counties of northern California was part of the larger settlement of California by Italian people from the region of Liguria.
During the mid-19th century, Italian immigrants from the region of Liguria in Italy settled in the major cities of the United States and established Italian communities in places like New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and New York. The arrival of these "Genovesi" in California, beginning in the 1850's, coincided with the early development of the state. As a result, the Italians played a vital role in the creation of California.
It wasn't long before Italian fishermen had established themselves in fishing villages from Eureka to Benicia, Martinez, Pittsburg, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, San Diego and Monterey.
By the 1880's, California had become a leading fishery and its coastal waters were dominated by Italian fishermen and their graceful sailing "felucca's"
Across the state, the Italians also settled the states farmlands and played a prominent role in developing today's fruit, vegetable, and dairy industries. By the 1880's, Italians dominated the fruit and vegetable industry in the great Central Valleys of California. Italian immigrants also left their mark on the California food processing industry. Marco Fontana arrived in the United States in 1859 and along with another Ligurian, Antonio Cerruti, established a chain of canneries under the "Del Monte" label. Most of their workers were Italian and their cannery soon became the largest in the world.
Another enterprising Italian was Domenico Ghiradelli, who traveled through the gold mines in the 1850's, selling chocolates, and hard candies. He settled in San Francisco after the Gold Rush and founded the Ghiradelli chocolate empire, with Italian immigrant labor, at the site of the present Ghiradelli Square.
The California wine industry also owes much to the Italian founders of the industry. Italians have been planting vineyards and making wine in America since the early colonial days when Filippo Mazzei, planted vineyards with Thomas Jefferson. The founding of the Italian Swiss Colony, at Asti in 1881 as a cooperative of Italian immigrants from the wine growing regions of Italy promoted the widespread participation and success of the Italians in the California wine industry and the vineyards of the Napa, and Sonoma valleys.
One of the most inspiring of California's Italians was Amadeo Pietro Giannini who was born 1870 to immigrant Italian parents from Genoa. He started the first statewide system of branch banks in the nation by opening branches of his Bank of Italy, in the Italian neighborhoods, across the state. He later changed the name of his bank to Bank of America which became the largest bank in the world.
More than most people realize, the Italian Americans helped shape the cultural landscape of California and the modern West. The enterprise and success of these Italian pioneers is a unique legacy – one shared by all of us.