What Is the 'American Melting Pot?'

Swearing-in ceremony for U.S. citizenship

Digital Vision / Getty Images

In sociology, the "melting pot" is a concept referring to a heterogeneous society becoming more homogeneous with the different elements “melting together” into a harmonious whole with a common culture.

The melting pot concept is most commonly used to describe the assimilation of immigrants to the United States, though it can be used in any context where a new culture comes to coexist with another. In recent times, refugees from the Middle East have created melting pots throughout Europe and the Americas.

This term is often challenged, however, by those who assert that cultural differences within a society are valuable and should be preserved. An alternative metaphor, therefore, is salad bowl or mosaic, describing how different cultures mix, but still remain distinct.

The Great American Melting Pot

The United States of America was founded upon the concept of opportunity for every immigrant, and to this day this right to immigrate to the U.S. is defended in its highest courts. The term first originated in the U.S. around 1788 to describe the cultures of many European, Asian, and African nationalities merging together in the newfound culture of the ​new United States.

This idea of melting cultures together lasted through much of the 19th and 20th centuries, culminating in the 1908 play "The Melting Pot," which further perpetuated the American ideal of a homogenous society of many cultures. 

However, as the world was overtaken in global warfare in the 1910s, 1920s, and again in the 1930s and 1940s, Americans began to establish an anti-globalist approach to American values, and a large contingent of citizens started calling for banning immigrants from certain countries based on their cultures and religions.

The Great American Mosaic

Due perhaps to an overwhelming sense of patriotism among older-generation Americans, the idea of preserving the "American culture from foreign influence" has taken center stage in recent elections in the United States.

For this reason, progressives and civil rights activists arguing on behalf of allowing immigration of refugees and impoverished peoples have renamed the concept to be more of a mosaic, where the elements of different cultures sharing one new nation cohesively form a mural of all beliefs working side by side.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Crossman, Ashley. "What Is the 'American Melting Pot?'." ThoughtCo, Sep. 8, 2021, thoughtco.com/melting-pot-definition-3026408. Crossman, Ashley. (2021, September 8). What Is the 'American Melting Pot?'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/melting-pot-definition-3026408 Crossman, Ashley. "What Is the 'American Melting Pot?'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/melting-pot-definition-3026408 (accessed May 30, 2023).