The first known Croatian to arrive in North America was a Jesuit named Ivan Ratkaj, who in 1683 established a mission in northwest New Spain, a territory that included much of North America. In 1746, another Croatian Jesuit, Ferdinand Konšak, drew the first dependable map of Baja California. Beginning in 1783, Joseph Kundek, a Croat missionary, helped to develop several Midwestern towns.
Many early Croatian immigrants settled in New Orleans and were employed as traders, artisans and fishermen. By the 1860s, there were around six hundred Croat families in New Orleans.
Significant emigration from Croatia dates from the late 1890s all the way Into the 1930s, when many Croatians, suffering from economic hardship, began emigrating to the United States.
Like other immigrants of that period, Croatians migrated to the United States to find employment. Many settled in small towns in Pennsylvania and New York as coal miners or steelworkers. Others settled in factory towns and farming areas in Midwestern states such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, and Illinois.
In San Pedro, during the first half of the 20th Century, a large mass of Croatian immigrants, mostly from the Dalmatian coast, began arriving to find jobs as fisherman or cannery workers in the booming seafood industry at the Port of Los Angeles. Other immigrants took jobs as dockworkers in the port.
A new wave of Croatian immigrants began to arrive to North America after World War II. These were mostly political refugees, escaping economic hardship and political persecution under communism in the Former Yugoslavia. This wave of immigration lasted into the mid 1970s and some of these Croat immigrants were the original founders of the Croatian-American Club in San Pedro.
The massive Croatian immigration to San Pedro resulted in the development of one of the world’s largest settlements of Croatians. It is estimated that currently over 30,000 people of Croatian heritage reside in the San Pedro area.