116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Piece of History: Lebanese started as peddlers in Iowa
It was an excellent way for immigrants to earn money, practice their English, starting in the 1890s
By Tara Templeman, - The History Center
Mar. 22, 2022 6:00 am
When the first Lebanese immigrants settled in Linn County around 1890, what is now Lebanon was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.
Young people came to the United States, and specifically Linn County, seeking to escape conscription into the Turkish Army and improve their lot.
Peddling was a common occupation among those early immigrants because it provided a steady income and an opportunity to practice English daily.
Peddlers typically started by carrying a backpack — filled with up to 200 pounds of household items and dry goods like clothing and fabric, needles, thread, lace and small notions — to show rural women on their rounds.
The peddlers walked up to 10 miles a day and spent their nights in barns, churches, schools or, occasionally, the homes of their customers.
As their earnings increased, peddlers bought horses and buggies and expanded their offerings. They began buying items from farmers and selling them in grocery stores in the cities.
By the 1950s, more than 50 grocery and dry good stores in Cedar Rapids were owned and operated by people of Lebanese descent.
Interested in learning more about early Lebanese immigrants and their experience starting businesses in Linn County? The History Center’s newest exhibit, “An American Dream: The Lebanese Immigrant,” explores these stories. It can be viewed through Aug. 13.
Tara Templeman is curator at The History Center. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org