On 26 July 1914, just two days before the declaration of the First World War, Sava Popov was born in the village of Arablar. He was the first child in the family. In May of the previous year, the Balkan War had ended; Bulgaria was among the victors, but at the same time it, sacrificed the most people (over 80,000). Immediately afterwards, in June 1913, the ill-fated Second Balkan War began, which for Bulgaria ended with tens of thousands of dead, a quarter of a million asylum-seeking refugees from Macedonia, Dobrudja, and Western (Aegean) Thrace, and the so-called First National Catastrophe. Sometime around then, in the intermission between the Second Balkan War and the First World War, Yordan Popov left for America. We don’t know if he waited for the birth of his son, but on March 26, 1916, Sava’s mother Bozhura sent this photograph to the town of Lebanon, Ohio, where the father’s first address was.
On the back she writes: “Dancho! I am sending you this portrait as a keepsake of our heir, your son Savva Yur. Popov.” During the first six years of his life, Sava Popov saw his father only in photographs.
The men in most Bulgarian families were absent during these years. They were either at the front or had emigrated. When the soldiers returned, many of them were sick or had become invalids. In the villages and towns of Bulgaria, the women and children were destitute.
The processes of emigration began as early as the end of the 19th century. Before 1893 – the year of the world’s fair Chicago – the number of Bulgarians in America was around 50. After that, people started talking about the wealth of the New World, and new immigrants came – by 1903, there were already 300. The most massive immigration wave was in 1907, when every transoceanic steamer brought 200-300 people. The leading role in these in these group migrations was played by the steamship agencies. They were intermediaries in the supply of labor for large American companies. Agents set out into the villages of Bulgaria to attract emigrants. Bulgarians wrote to their relatives, which helped as a living advertisement. The desire to go to America was like a gold rush. After their return, many set up farms and factories, and some of those who did not have families in Bulgaria stayed there, invested their money in the New World, and became wealthy. At the end of the Balkan Wars, many Bulgarians emigrated as well. By 1916, their number in America had reached 70,000.