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More than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954—with a whopping 1,004,756 entering the United States in 1907 alone. And yet, even during these days of peak immigration, for most passengers hoping to establish new lives in the United States, the process of entering the country was over and done relatively quickly—in a matter of a few hours.
The passengers disembarking ships at the gateway station in 1907 were arriving due to a number of factors, including a strong domestic economy and pogrom outbreaks of violence against Jews in the Russian Empire, says Vincent Cannato, associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and author of American Passage: The History of Ellis Island.
“It varied from person to person, but for 80 percent, the process took a few hours, and then they were out and through,” he says. “But it could also take a couple days, a couple weeks, a couple months or, in some very rare cases, a couple of years.”
Barry Moreno, historian and librarian at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, says most Ellis Island passengers in 1907 came from Europe, with Italians comprising the largest number of immigrants. He says a passenger manifest document, written in script, was created from the point of departure, which included each passenger’s name, age, occupation, destination and other information. “This document would be crucially important when the immigrants got to New York,” he says.
The process went something like this: Before the ship was allowed to enter into New York Harbor, according to Moreno, it had to stop at a quarantine checkpoint off the coast of Staten Island where doctors would look for dangerous contagious diseases such as smallpox, yellow fever, plague, cholera and leprosy. Once the ship passed inspection, immigration officers began boarding the ship via rope ladders, before it docked.
“They had to start immigration procedures really fast because there were so many passengers—often as many as 2,000 to 3,000 passengers from all classes,” Moreno says. “You could have as many as 1,500 passengers in third class alone.”
First- and second-class passengers (billionaires, stage stars, merchants, businessmen and the like) were interviewed and allowed to disembark once the ship docked. “Now, in 1907, no passports or visas were needed to enter the United States,” he says. “In fact, no papers were required at all. This was a paperless period. All you had to do was verbally give information to the official when you boarded ship in Europe and that information was the only information used when they arrived.”
Steerage passengers, who were given manifest tags so that inspectors could find their information with ease, were then confronted by U.S. customs officers, who would quickly check bags for dutiable goods or contraband. The passengers were then put aboard small steamboats and brought to Ellis Island. “The boats would carry 700, 800, even 1,000 passengers,” Moreno says. “The passengers would be ordered to form two separate lines; one of women and children, including boys under the age of 15, and one of men, with as many as 10,000 passengers and several steam ships arriving per day.”
First up, was a medical examination performed by military surgeons, according to Moreno. “Because they were dressed as military men, it often puzzled and confused immigrants, who were mostly peasants, poor Jews or small townspeople,” he says. “They didn’t understand who these men were. They thought they were policemen or soldiers. But as these long, long endless lines formed, the doctors had to examine everyone, as quickly as possible, for eye disease, skin disorders, heart disease and more.”
The doctors also had to know a few words of instruction in many languages. “Most of the immigrants were illiterate even in their own languages,” Moreno notes. “And by 1907, the doctors had already developed a secret code system using a piece of chalk. They would mark the passenger’s clothes with a letter of the alphabet: ‘H’ indicated heart trouble suspected; ‘L’ suspected lameness; ‘X’ suspected feeble-mindedness, and so on.”
Those marked, Moreno says, were removed from the line and “taken across the room where you were locked in a pen, a cage, called the doctor’s pen” until the doctors were free to continue further examinations or questioning.
“Only about 10 percent of people were detained for this kind of questioning,” he says. “Ninety percent got through this line of questioning without any problem. Why? Partly because the doctors knew there wasn’t enough space to detain too many people.”
Next, immigrants were filtered into long lines to be interviewed by inspectors (often with the help of interpreters). “The inspector would verify the passenger manifest by rereading the information provided,” Moreno says. “If everything was OK, he would just make a little check mark by your name, but if your answers were bad, wrong or suspicious, or if secret information had arrived about you previous to your arrival, your name was marked with an ‘X’ and you were told you would be detained.”
“Detention meant you could be held overnight, and you would sleep in dormitory rooms and you would be fed three meals a day in the immigrants’ dining room,” Moreno says. “You would be forced to stay at Ellis Island until something was resolved, such as being wired money or being able to provide an address.” He says serious detention cases, which were rare, could be designated for almost any reason but usually had something to do with questions of morality (if, for example, a woman was pregnant and unmarried) or criminal accusations. “They were looking for suspected anarchists, persons who were politically dangerous and contract laborers—immigrants who were being brought in to break strikes.”
Cannato says detention all depended on the individual case. “What often caused a case to take longer would be appeals,” he says. “If the officials at Ellis Island rejected your case you could appeal it all the way to Washington, D.C., but of course that takes time and often would take a few weeks to make it through the bureaucracy before a decision was handed down.”
If you weren’t held, you were immediately released, with most immigrants passing through Ellis Island in three to five hours with no overnight stays or meals served, Moreno says. “If they wanted a meal, they could go downstairs to the lunchroom where the restaurant keeper sold boxed lunches: a large box for $1, a small box for 50 cents. In the box was a sandwich, pie and an apple. The only free food was given to detainees held forcibly overnight.”
Just 2 percent of immigrants at Ellis Island were denied entry to the United States. “The great contradiction or irony here is that you have a massive inspection process, and you have this restrictionist sentiment and all these people you want to keep out of the country and, at the end of the day, less than 2 percent are rejected,” Cannato says. “At end of day, the process was not really to keep lots of people out; the goal really was to sift out the wheat from the chaff and sift out those who were ‘undesirable.’”
And those who passed inspection were simply sent on their way with no official paperwork. “It’s a hard thing to wrap your mind around because we live in such a bureaucratic world today,” Cannato adds. “We have passports, birth certificates and all sorts of documents. There was no, ‘Welcome to America, here’s your new photo ID.’”
Ellis Island reminds us that immigrants were once welcome in America
Between 1892 and 1954, Ellis Island processed 12 million newcomers. About 40 percent of today’s Americans are descended from the men, women, and children who passed through the country’s principal immigration absorption center. If the United States is a nation of immigrants, the 27.5 acres in New York Harbor are as iconic as the Liberty Bell, Wall Street and popcorn.
Henry Roth was one of 3 million Jewish immigrants processed at Ellis Island, and the opening page of his novel “Call It Sleep” itemizes the human panoply thronging its corridors during its peak year, 1907: “Hundreds and hundreds of foreigners, natives from almost every land in the world, the jowled close-cropped Teuton, the full-bearded Russian, the scraggly-whiskered Jew, and among them Slovack peasants with docile faces, smooth-cheeked and swarthy Armenians, pimply Greeks, Danes with wrinkled eyelids.”
The scene possessed personal resonance for Roth – who passed through Ellis Island from Galicia – that it lacks for Małgorzata Szejnert, one of Poland’s leading journalists. However, her curiosity was piqued during a visit to the museum that the island has become. Back home in Warsaw, unable to find any books on the subject, she determined to write one herself. The result, translated from Polish by Sean Gasper Bye, is a vibrant addition to the sizable bibliography in English.
Szejnert begins more than four centuries ago, when the Lenni Lenape Indians gathered oysters on the island. It concludes with the reinterment of Lenape remains and the prospect of oysters thriving in a revivified New York Bay. Drawing freely on letters, diaries, photographs and oral histories, most of the book recounts what Ellis Island was like for immigrants and government employees. Some of the most poignant passages draw from hundreds of letters sent back home – when Poland was absorbed into Russia – by Polish immigrants. Many enclosed ship’s passage for relatives to join them in America, but tsarist censors confiscated the letters, and they were never received.
Each arrival – except the privileged few who had traveled in first class – underwent a six-second physical inspection. Marking them with chalk, officials singled out for further examination those who aroused suspicions of disease or criminality. A large complex of hospitals was constructed to diagnose and treat a multitude of symptoms. However, during the most xenophobic years, a hint of cholera, trachoma, psychosis or radicalism led to rejection. Ellis Island sent more than 610,000 hopefuls back to where they came from. Its morgue processed 3,500 corpses.
On January 1, 1892, when the center began operations, John Weber, its commissioner, feted the first immigrant to arrive – 15-year-old Annie Moore, from Ireland. However, there were 106 other steerage passengers on the steamship Nevada, and 77 of them, as Szejnert points out, “have come from Russia – but nearly all bear Jewish names: Isak, David, Schlome (Shome), Faige, Juda, Sara, Elias, Hersch and so on.” Weber chose the Irish lass to receive a commemorative gold coin because: “Jewish groups are not viewed as suitable godparents for a new immigration station, whose opening cannot risk offending America.”
Some of the center’s 13 commissioners – including Robert Watchorn, from England, and Edward Corsi, from Italy – were themselves immigrants, and many were sympathetic to newcomers. When he took over in 1914, Frederic Clemson Howe – recognizing that Ellis Island had become “a storehouse of sob stories for the press deportations dismembered families, unnecessary cruelties made it one of the tragic places of the world” tried to make the place more cheerful, its hundreds of employees more compassionate. Reformist commissioners cracked down on human trafficking, religious proselytizing and financial extortions. A kosher kitchen was established in 1911. But some bureaucrats valued efficiency over empathy, and some reflected the nation’s increasing hostility toward foreigners. A 1924 quota law effectively cut off immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, and by 1932, during the Depression, three times as many people abandoned this nation of immigrants as entered it.
After World War I, Ellis Island became a deportation center, from which leftists such as Emma Goldman were forced to set sail. During World War II, when the United States accepted only 250,000 refugees from Nazism, the island became an internment camp for 6,000 Germans, Japanese, and Italians. After official operations ended in 1954, it fell into disrepair until fundraisers enabled it to reopen as a museum operated by the National Park Service. Though Szejnert’s book first appeared in 2009, its translation now is a reminder that the United States need not be defined only by a border wall.
Steven G. Kellman is the author of “Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth” (Norton) and “Nimble Tongues: Studies in Literary Translingualism” (Purdue).
How it used to be: Early Italian immigrants arriving at Ellis Island by Al Bruno
More than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954 – with a peak of 1,004,756 entering the United States in 1907 alone, and most were Italians. In fact, most Italian immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in 1907 were processed in a few hours.
“It varied from person to person, but for 80 percent, the process took a few hours, and then they were out and through,” he says. “But it could also take a couple days, a couple weeks, a couple months or, in some rare cases, a couple of years,” writes Vincent Cannato In American Passage: The History of Ellis Island.
“At the end of the day, less than 2 percent are rejected. The process was not really to keep lots of people out the goal was really to sift out the wheat-from-the-chaff and sift out those who ‘undesirable.’ Those who passed inspection were simply sent on their way with no official paperwork,” writes Cannato.
“It’s hard a thing to wrap your mind around because we live in such a bureaucratic world today.”
In 1907, a passenger manifest document was created from the point of departure, which included each passenger’s name. According Barry Moreno, historian and librarian at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, the process went something like this:
“Before the ship was allowed to enter into New York Harbor, it had to stop at a quarantine checkpoint off the coast of Staten Island where doctors would look for dangerous, contagious diseases such as smallpox, yellow fever, plague, cholera and leprosy,” writes Moreno in History.Com.
“First- and second-class passengers (billionaires, stage stars, merchants, businessmen and the like) were interviewed and allowed to disembark once the ship docked. In 1907, no passports or visas were needed to enter the United no papers were required at all. This was a paperless period. All you had to do was verbally give information to the official when you boarded the ship in Europe and that information was the only information used when they arrived,” further writes Moreno.
“The passengers were put aboard small steamboats and brought to Ellis Island. First up was a medical examination by military surgeons. The doctors had to know a few words of instruction in many languages, and only 10% were detained for further examinations or questioning,” writes Moreno.
Those that were detained were fortunate to get the help from the Italian Welfare League, tracing back to its beginnings in the resettlement work of the American Red Cross’s Italian Committee at the end of the First Word War. At the time, thousands of Italians had just returned after having fought in the Italian Army during the war, Italy was an ally of the Americans in WWI.
“By the late 1920’s, a branch of the Italian Welfare League was opened on Ellis and held a unique position on the island – it had become the only aid society exclusively assisting Italians. At Ellis Island, the League helped Italians in trouble, particularly detained aliens and immigrants who were being held under warrant or deportation. America’s immigration laws and policies were laden with bureaucratic red tape which led to thousands of people temporarily detained, or worse, being held for special inquiry investigations and hearings,” writes Moreno in The Story of the Italian Welfare League.
“From the 1920’s through the 1940’s, the League also stretched out a helping hand to alien nationals who have lived in the United States for a while but had fallen on dark days and were no facing deportation for having violated one or more of the immigration laws,” writes Moreno.
“Some were being expelled because they have been convicted of having committed a crime, some for having fallen into a life of pauperism and beggary, others for not having a valid Italian passport and having entered the United States illegally, and still others for having committed one of the crimes of moral turpitude, such as white slavery prostitution, or giving birth to illegitimate children. The League provided advice, winter coats, clean clothing, and sympathy,” writes Moreno.
The Italian Welfare League permeated into the community through immigrants who had succeeded in making a successful transition into American life as advocates and translators for those Italian immigrants just arriving from Italy, a commendable model of Italians-helping-Italians out of necessity, it worked, remarkably.
High school educated, first-generation, young Italian males with service and union jobs became a resource and advisor to Italian families: a cultural and collegial sharing, creating valuable and lasting relationships in the community. The post, World War II spirit to become helpful and honorable sons was embraced and adopted by progressive-minded, Italian families.
Likewise for example, first-generation, Italian sporting greats like Joe DiMaggio, Lawrence “Yogi” Berra, Rocky Marciano, and Vince Lombardi all refused to follow their fathers’ footsteps into their respective trades. DiMaggio did not want to become a fisherman Berra did not want to become a bricklayer Marciano did not want to become a shoemaker and Lombardi did not want to become a butcher and meat distributor.
Marciano’s father, Peirino, would repeatedly urge his oldest son, Rocco, fueling him emotionally to do something “special” and ridding himself of oppressive factory work and imminent poverty.
What Marciano feared most was poverty for his parents, especially, and he felt, as the oldest and good son, compelled to lift his family out of poverty forever he wanted to make his immigrant parents, Peirino and Pasqualina, proud, family first: the most important Italian mantra.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s, Lombardi worked with his father, Enrico, in the butchering and meat distribution business in Brooklyn, NY. Enrico worked tirelessly and Vince followed, knowing full well that hauling around 200 lb. slabs-of-beef, in-and-out of walk-in coolers routinely, was not kind of work he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
At first, these first-generation Italian greats obeyed and followed their fathers into the trades, working side-by-side with them and realizing this was not the end game and success they wanted for themselves and parents. Their fathers led the way with exemplary work habits, modeling vocational readiness and applications while striving for perfection no short cuts were allowed.
“You don’t do things right once-in-a-while. You do them right all-the-time,” Papa Ernie Lombardi would shout at a young, aspiring Vincent. This was a commonplace mantra articulated in most Italian households during that time.
Obediently, these Italian sons did those grueling jobs while their fathers imparted the intangible qualities that would eventually translate into their great athletic efforts on the playing fields and arena, as they would later fortunately experience in life: DiMaggio hated cleaning his father’s fishing boat Marciano hated the oppressive conditions of factory work and Lombardi had a huge disdain for hauling around 200 lb. slabs of beef, but they accepted the grind and did the work, commendably.
“Italian sons were supposed to suffer shame and guilt for not following their father’s ways,” relevantly writes Andrew Rolle in his book, The Italian Americans: Troubled Roots. For Italian sons, following papa was often the only right thing to do, or they would face ‘enstrangement’ from the family forever.
These first-generation Italian sons were very special in their efforts and determination, overcame the odds against them, and were encouraged to be trailblazers in competitive, physically-demanding sports like football, baseball, boxing, wrestling, and even weightlifting: They intuitively knew they possessed the physical skills for sports but lacked the academic abilities needed to go farther in the white-collar professions.
These Italian sons very much wanted to forge their own distinct identity, helping their families see, experience, and benefit from the “American dream.” They succeeded in unimaginable ways for all to appreciate, emulate, and retell for years to come.
The Immigrant Experience at Angel Island, The Ellis Island of the American West
In 1935, a brilliant 18-year-old student named I.M. Pei left China to study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. On the last night of his 18-day ocean voyage aboard the SS President Coolidge, Pei was so excited to see the nation many of his fellow countrymen called “Gum Saan” (Gold Mountain) that he could not sleep. “I was on the deck watching, watching for the San Francisco Bay. And when it appeared, it’s a moment, I tell you, I have never experienced again, a moment of great joy, expectation and excitement,” he recalled. But instead of the San Francisco mainland, Pei and his fellow passengers were taken to a small mountainous island just off the coast, called Angel Island, to be processed and deemed worthy of admittance to America.
“It could have been the ‘Devil’s Island’ and my reaction would have been the same,” Pei recounted. “A sense of joy was unbelievable and difficult to describe.” Due to his student visa and wealthy background, Pei was held at Angel Island for only a day, a blip on his way to becoming one of the most celebrated architects of the modern era. But for many thousands of others, Angel Island would be a disheartening -- at times devastating -- introduction to the land of the free.
The Angel Island Immigration Station opened on January 21, 1910. It was to serve as the Pacific gateway to the American Dream for the next thirty years. The compound would grow to include a men’s barracks, a hospital, and other buildings -- but the main hub of the station was the imposing Administration Building. According to Erika Lee and Judy Yung, authors of the informative and insightful "Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America:"
After an oftentimes invasive medical exam, detainees were questioned, and then either processed or held for varying lengths of time. A day after the station’s official opening, a wealthy, young Chinese merchant named Wong Chung Hong became the “first person admitted into the country after being interviewed and detained on Angel Island.” By February 3 rd , there were around 566 aliens, mostly Chinese, detained on the island.
Although Angel Island was often called “The Ellis Island of the West,” Yung and Lee explain that most ethnicities entering through Angel Island had vastly different experiences than their European counterparts at Ellis Island. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 had essentially banned all non-wealthy Chinese people from migrating to America, and the 1907 “Gentleman’s Agreement” did the same with the Japanese. “Most European immigrants processed through Ellis Island spent only a few hours or at most a few days there,” Yung and Lee write, “while the processing time for Asian, especially Chinese, immigrants on Angel Island was measured in days or weeks.” As historian Maria Sakovich wrote, “penniless Russians at this time were acceptable penniless Asians or Indians were not.”
Asian detainees often had to undergo weeks of brutal, ridiculously detailed interrogations about their life and family by an assortment of interpreters and government officials. "They asked me where did I live, and then they have a diagram of the house," recalled Don Lee, who arrived in 1939. "Who's the closest neighbor? Who are your relatives? It's designed to trip you up. The whole aim of the immigration system there was to reject. Instead of Ellis Island, which was to welcome you, it was really designed to discourage you."
When not being questioned, detainees, who usually numbered in the hundreds, were split into barracks, segregated by race and sex. The barracks were utilitarian, sparse, and crowded. According to Yung and Lee:
“I had never seen such a prison-like place as Angel Island,” recalled Kamechiyo Takahashi, who came from Japan as a young bride in 1917. She remembered asking herself “why I had to be kept in a prison?”
For those kept more than a few days, the uncertainty and boredom were crushing. “Day in day out, eat and sleep,” former detainee Lee Puey recalled. “Many people cried. I must have cried a bowlful of tears at Angel Island.” Many also scratched poems on the walls. The 200 or so which survive today are a living testament to the shattered dreams of many once hopeful immigrants:
Imprisoned in the wooden building day after day.
My freedom withheld how can I bear to talk about it?
I look to see who is happy but they only sit quietly.
I am anxious and depressed and cannot fall asleep.
The days are long, and the bottle constantly empty my sad mood,
Even so, is not dispelled.
Nights are long and the pillow cold who can pity my loneliness?
After experiencing such loneliness and sorrow.
Why not just return home and learn to plow the fields?
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There was some relief. Men set up poetry clubs, gambled, and organized events. Women were allowed to walk the grounds, sew, and often set up makeshift classrooms to learn English and other subjects. Missionaries like Katharine Maurer, the “angel of Ellis Island”, attempted to ease detainees’ suffering. Although separated, there were always “different sounds of voices from the next room “Chinese, Russian, Mexican, Greek and Italian” to inspire. And, of course, children were always breaking barriers, running through the hallways, laughing and playing. “It was a beautiful island with beautiful scenery,” a one-time detainee named Mr. Wong recalled.” Most of us kids had a good time and were not a bit scared. Even the food tasted good to me because I had never tasted such things before. It was just the way they confined you, like in a prison, that made us feel deranged.”
According to Yung and Lee, it is estimated that over its thirty-year history, Angel Island processed half a million people either arriving or leaving the country. Although the longest stay on the island was close to two years, a great majority of those applying for entry were eventually let into America. We do not know the exact figures, because the records were lost in a devastating fire that destroyed the Administration Building on August 12, 1940.
The fire signaled the end of Angel Island. The Immigration Station was relocated on a base in San Francisco. After years of neglect, the remaining restored buildings of the Angel Island Immigration Station are now part of the Angel Island State Park. Visitors can tour the cold, gray men’s detention barracks, and see the poems on the walls that detainees left behind, which are being restored by ongoing preservation efforts. In June, the new California budget was signed, and it includes 2.95 million to finish the renovation of the stations hospital.
Leaving Angel Island, one gets a sense of the relief Li Keng Wong recalled experiencing upon her departure in 1933. “I'm so happy to leave this jail,” she remembered telling her mother. “Angel Island is terrible. It is no place to put newcomers to Gum Saan (Gold Mountain)."
Restored footage shows immigrants arriving in New York City through Ellis Island on July 24, 1903
Between 1903 and 1914, an average of one million immigrants per year arrived in the United States. Immigration officials reviewed about 5,000 immigrants per day during peak times at Ellis Island.
Two-thirds of those individuals emigrated from eastern, southern and central Europe. The peak year for immigration at Ellis Island was 1907, with 1,004,756 immigrants processed. The all-time daily high occurred on April 17, 1907, when 11,747 immigrants arrived.
After the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed, which greatly restricted immigration and allowed processing at overseas embassies, the only immigrants to pass through the station were those who had problems with their immigration paperwork, displaced persons, and war refugees. Today, over 100 million Americans — about one third of the population—can trace their ancestry to the immigrants who first arrived in America at Ellis Island before dispersing to places all over the country.
Generally, those immigrants who were approved spent from two to five hours at Ellis Island. Arrivals were asked 29 questions including name, occupation, and the amount of money carried. It was important to the American government that the new arrivals could support themselves and have money to get started. The average the government wanted the immigrants to have was between 18 and 25 dollars.
Those with visible health problems or diseases were sent home or held in the island’s hospital facilities for long periods of time. More than three thousand would-be immigrants died on Ellis Island while being held in the hospital facilities. Some unskilled workers were rejected because they were considered “likely to become a public charge.” About 2 percent were denied admission to the U.S. and sent back to their countries of origin for reasons such as having a chronic contagious disease, criminal background, or insanity.
Ellis Island was sometimes known as “The Island of Tears” or “Heartbreak Island” because of those 2% who were not admitted after the long transatlantic voyage. The Kissing Post is a wooden column outside the Registry Room, where new arrivals were greeted by their relatives and friends, typically with tears, hugs and kisses.
How Ellis Island shepherded millions of immigrants into America
Entrance through this New York immigration epicenter usually took only a few hours—no passports or visas required.
Sixty-five years ago, on November 12, 1954, a Norwegian merchant seaman named Arne Peterssen became the last immigrant to pass through Ellis Island. Later that month, the ferry Ellis Island made its final stop at the island in New York Harbor and the immigration facility closed for good, ending its run as a gateway to the United States for generations of immigrants.
These days Ellis Island is a national symbol remembered in sepia tones, but while it was in active service the station reflected the country’s complicated relationship with immigration—one that evolved from casual openness to rigid restriction. “It was not a great welcoming place for immigrants, but it was not a place of horrors either,” says Vincent Cannato, author of American Passage: The History of Ellis Island.
Until the end of the 19th century, individual states handled immigration with rules varying by jurisdiction. But then immigration soared. “From 1880 to 1889 [it] was just massive,” says Barry Moreno, librarian and historian at the Statue of Liberty National Monument and author of the Encyclopedia of Ellis Island. “Never before had the country ever received such numbers.” In light of the influx, the federal government decided in 1891 that it had to take charge.
New York was immigration’s epicenter. Some 75 percent of the country’s steamship traffic came through New York Harbor—and so did 75 percent of the nation’s immigrants, according to Cannato. New York state ran an immigration facility called Castle Gardens at the tip of Manhattan, but the new federal Office of Immigration wanted an intake and inspection station in a more controlled location. It selected Ellis Island, a three-acre spot of land in the harbor between New York and New Jersey, but before it could open the island had to be doubled in size with landfill.
The demographics of immigration had changed drastically in the decades before Ellis Island opened. Where once most immigrants came from western and northern Europe and were predominantly Protestant, after the Civil War they began to come from Russia, Eastern Europe, and Italy—and they were Jewish and Catholic, fleeing pogroms and poverty. (See 200 years of U.S. immigration visualized.)
Some Americans wondered how the influx would affect the country’s character, says Moreno. “These were strange countries to many people,”
Even so, during the early decades of federal control there were few restrictions on who could enter the country (except for Chinese immigrants, who were effectively banned by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882). The U.S. government made it clear that they would not welcome anarchists, polygamists, criminals, or anyone who was sick, had loose morals, or couldn’t support themselves. At the same time, however, neither visas, passports, nor any other documentation were required, and there weren’t limits on how many people could enter the country. (Here's the history of the U.S. passport.)
The immigrants who eventually passed through Ellis Island started their journey by buying passage on a steamship, usually sailing from Europe. The steamship companies were encouraged to thoroughly screen passengers to ensure health, good character, and financial solvency: If they didn’t, they’d be fined $100 for every person who was refused entry into the U.S. and have to pay for the rejected immigrant’s return voyage.
Ships steaming into New York Harbor would be met by a small boat from Ellis Island carrying immigration inspectors, who would board to quickly examine the first and second-class passengers, many of whom were not immigrants. Passengers free of obvious diseases and whose answers matched the information on the ship manifest would be allowed to disembark when the ship docked at one of the city’s piers.
All third-class and steerage passengers, on the other hand, were put on a ferry to Ellis Island, where women and children were separated in one line and men in the other. The lines would snake through the Great Hall as the new arrivals proceeded through an assembly line of cursory medical examinations conducted by uniformed doctors.
“Most had no problem with the medical examination,” says Moreno, “even though they were frightened.” Many of the immigrants had never been to a doctor before.
If a medical condition was discovered, the person’s clothing would be marked with a chalk letter and they’d be ushered into what was called the “doctor’s pen” where they would be confined until they could be more thoroughly examined.
Once that gauntlet was passed, immigrants proceeded upstairs where a line of inspectors awaited, each with a section of the ship’s manifest. Immigrants wore tags with the name of the ship they’d sailed on and the page number where they appeared on the manifest. Inspectors would quiz immigrants to make sure the information on the manifest—including their race, as defined then, and how much money they carried—matched their answers. If it did, they were free to go. (Will climate change swamp the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island?)
Between 1892 and 1924, 12 million people successfully traversed this highly efficient conveyor-belt immigration system. Most immigrants were processed through Ellis Island in a few hours, and only 2 percent that arrived on the island were prevented from entering the United States.
What "Lady Liberty" and Ellis Island Mean Today
But this era of mass immigration came to an end with the passage in 1921 and 1924 of new laws that severely limited immigration by establishing quotas for individual countries and requiring immigrants to obtain visas from American consulates. Quotas were designed to reflect ethnic diversities recorded in earlier U.S. censuses, as way to restrict the numbers of people of southern and eastern Europe. People “forget the intense prejudice and discrimination that immigrants from Europe faced,” says Nancy Foner, a sociologist who serves on Ellis Island’s history advisory committee.
Since most official immigration screening now happened at U.S. consulates abroad, Ellis Island became increasingly irrelevant. The facility, which had once teemed with thousands of hopeful immigrants, transformed into “a major center for deportation and for holding enemy alien spies,” says Moreno. “It was like night and day.” President Eisenhower quietly closed Ellis Island in 1954.
Today many immigrants arrive by airplane with a visa already stamped in their passport. Meanwhile, the descendants of the people who arrived at Ellis Island account for nearly half of all American citizens alive today, according to one estimate. (Read more about the some 55 million Europeans who sought new lives in the U.S. and South America.)
“It took a couple of generations for people to move up and become accepted,” says Foner. “In a sense, it’s a hopeful story.”
This rare footage shows immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in 1906
From 1892 to 1954, Ellis Island in Upper New York Bay was the arrival point for many immigrants coming to the United States.
It was known as the busiest immigration port and inspection station in the nation. The footage shows a flood of people coming off the ships onto the island before being moved onto the ferry that would have then taken the new American citizens across to the mainland. The short but informative footage shows a grainy but interesting snapshot of the people coming to a new life in America.
Radicals awaiting deportation, 1920
Immigrants being inspected, 1904
Over the years of 1892 t0 1934, the island was expanded by land reclamation projects. It is estimated that between the years of 1905 and 1914 an average of one million people arrived to join the growing country of America. E
llis Island was able to process 5,000 immigrants per day at its peak. In 1907, Ellis Island hit its largest number of immigrants processed in a year, reported to be 1,004,756 men, women, and children.
In 1924, the Immigration Act was passed – the start of the restriction of immigration into America. At this point, embassies around the world were able to process immigration applications, so the only people who went through the Ellis Island station were those who had problems with their paperwork, war refugees, and displaced persons. In the United States today, over 100 million people can trace their ancestry back to the immigrants who first stepped foot on American soil by coming through Ellis Island station.
When the immigrants arrived at Ellis Island, tired from the long sea journey, they were often on the island for no more than five hours if their application was approved. The newcomers were asked a total of 29 questions that included name, the quantity of money they were carrying, and occupation. It was important to the American government at the time that immigrants were skilled workers who had enough money to get themselves started in their chosen employment.
Dormitory room for detained immigrants
They were required to have 18 to 25 dollars, on average, with them. If they had health issues or diseases, they were either held in the Island’s hospital facilities or sent home.
Three thousand immigrants died in the hospital facilities while waiting to be approved or sent home. An unskilled immigrant was more likely to be sent home than a skilled one, due to the fear that they would become a public nuisance. Only 2% of immigrants were thought to have been sent back home due to criminal history, illness, or insanity.
Ellis Island History & Immigration Facts
Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega searches old newspapers to learn more about Ellis Island and its history as an immigrant inspection station for 62 years. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “ From the Family Kitchen. ”
Did your ancestor enter the United States of America through Ellis Island? Located on a small island in New York Harbor, the Ellis Island immigration station was in operation for 62 years and processed over 12 million immigrants. It’s believed that 40% of United States citizens can trace their family tree to someone who arrived at Ellis Island. But how much do you really know about this busy port? Discover some of the top Ellis Island Immigration Facts below.
Photo: first Ellis Island Immigration Station in New York Harbor. Opened 2 January 1892. Completely destroyed by fire on 15 June 1897. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Also Known As: Oyster Island?
Two years after the 1890 closing of Castle Garden — America’s first official immigration center – Ellis Island opened its doors.
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 21 April 1890, page 4
Throughout its history, Ellis Island has been known by many different names. According to the National Park Service, the Algonquian-speaking Native American tribes were the first to visit the island because of its numerous oyster beds. “As a result the Dutch referred to the island as one of the three ‘Oyster Islands’ in New York harbor.”*
Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, California), 16 July 1943, page 22
Welcome to America
On the day of Ellis Island’s opening, 1 January 1892, three ships with a total of 700 immigrants arrived. Over the course of that first year 450,000 immigrants were processed.**
Photo: immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, 1902. Credit: U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
The pre-World War I years were some of the busiest in Ellis Island’s history. The year 1907 broke the record for arrivals, with over 1 million immigrants, and included the day when the most immigrants were processed: April 17 (11, 747).*** After World War I, restrictive immigration laws decreased the number of those arriving at the port.
What Was It Like for Immigrants Arriving at Ellis Island?
While the view of land may have been a welcome site for newly-arriving immigrants, the experience of leaving the ship and walking into the unknown was probably a bit scary as well.
According to an article from the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, “Medical Examination of Immigrants at Ellis Island,” a Public Health Service Officer examined the new arrivals for signs they would not make a good citizen. They inspected immigrants for “loathsome and contagious diseases” as well as “diseases or conditions that would render an immigrant likely to become a public charge.”
First- and second-class passengers were inspected on board the arriving ship, but third-class and steerage were transferred by barge to Ellis Island for their inspection. Immigrants stood in long lines and filed pass the Public Health Officers who started with visual inspections, believing that most diseases would be apparent by just looking at the person. Those who were suspected of a disease or serious health condition received a chalk mark on their clothing and were sent for further medical examination. About 15-20% of arrivals received a chalk mark, requiring further examination. Around 80,000 immigrants who arrived between the years 1891-1930 were barred from entering the United States of America.****
Ellis Island Wasn’t Always Just an Immigrant Station
While we think of Ellis Island as the place where immigrants started their new life in America, it wasn’t always just an immigrant inspection center. It’s probably no surprise that Ellis Island was used for other purposes during its lifetime. During World War II, the facility was repurposed as a detention center for “enemy aliens” and German American, Italian American, and Japanese American individuals and families were held on the island.
Ellis Island also served as a hospital for military personnel. The Daughters of the American Revolution’s history includes service provided at Ellis Island, such as distributing citizenship manuals to the newly arrived. During World War II, they continued their service by assisting recovering servicemen hospitalized there.
Advocate (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), 11 January 1944, page 6
The End of an Era
Ellis Island closed on 15 November 1954. As newspapers marked the occasion, one article summed up the history of this American gateway the best. The Omaha World-Herald said of those who arrived at the port:
…Irish fleeing the potato famine, Germans avoiding conscription, Jews seeking refuge from pogroms, Poles seeking political freedom, Scandinavians in search of better land than they had at home, Italians looking for a chance to prosper as they could not in their overcrowded country, and so on. These people, and their descendants, to a considerable extent made America.
Researching Ellis Island Genealogy Records
Today genealogists can verify family stories of arriving at Ellis Island with a simple Internet search. In 2001 an online database debuted, offering a way to search on the names of more than 22 million immigrants, spanning the years 1892-1924. Volunteers in the United States and Canada spent an estimated 5.6 million hours examining and extracting records of immigrant arrivals to New York.*****
The Ellis Island database is available at The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation website.
Did your ancestor pass through Ellis Island? Some famous people, like Rudolph Valentino, Bela Lugosi, Lucky Luciano, and Claudette Colbert all passed through Ellis Island on their way to a new life filled with promise. What was your ancestor’s experience? Browse our newspaper archives and passenger lists to trace your Ellis Island genealogy today.
Ellis Island Immigration Resources
Books, brochures, articles, and other ephemera provided photographs and Illustrations of the conditions and experiences of immigrants who chose to enter the United States via Ellis Island in New York from the late 1800s through World War I.
Ellis Island, the modern Castle Garden of New York, is undoubtedly during the height of the emigration season the most cosmopolitan centre in the wide world. First Hand Account, Immigrant Processing, Photographs
Ellis Island is but a tiny bit of land, but it has a history all its own. It was here that the Dutch, and afterwards the early English governors, stored the town's ammunition. First Hand Account, Immigrant Processing, Immigration Agencies
Among the many problems which the rapid and restless progress of civilized mankind has created in the nineteenth century, the problem of immigration is not the least interesting. Immigration History, Statistics, Migration and Emigration Information
The finest station of this kind in the possession of the government is the national successor to Castle Garden, which is located on Ellis Island, New York harbor. Immigration Process, History of Immigration, Steerage
Ellis Island had to consider planning a fire-proof structure which would keep immigrants free from all outside interference until discharged, while affording conveniences to resident relatives or friends to communicate with them at the proper time. Immigration Process, Ellis Island Descriptive Information, Photographs
Its "steamship day" at the Barge Office, that turreted building of gray stone On the Battery's outer wall. Up the bay a few hours before an ocean liner has been crawling in from some of the cities of far-distant Europe.
For the great country which welcomes wanderers does not forget to give them cordial greeting when Christmas sees them first upon its shores.
From 16 June 1897, until Ellis Island reopened in December 1900, immigrants landed at the Barge Office in New York. During the rebuilding of Ellis Island after the fire of 1897, immigrants were processed at the Barge Office. A ship, The "Narragansett," was employed to house immigrants that were temporarily detained. This article documents the time immigrants were processed at the Barge Office.
SHE'S left ould Ireland, ashtore,
She's sailed across the sea—
This day I'll see her step ashore,
Oh, happy day for me.
Today the new buildings which are in use, although not entirely 'completed, afford ample accommodation for the throngs of foreigners who enter our country through the Port of New York.
Engravings showing the care of immigrants at the New York quarantine station on Ellis Island, in all its phases from the arrival on shipboard to the departure by rail for the far west.
Nearly 150,000 of the peasantries of Europe have already this year landed in America, so that 1902 promises to hold a record for foreign immigration. There seems to be no limit to the capacity of the United States to absorb the European thousands. In January 18,375 immigrants arrived at Ellis Island, New York.
The Government assumes jurisdiction over the aliens as soon as their steamer has been passed at quarantine. Inspectors go aboard from the revenue cutters down the bay and obtain the manifests of alien passengers.
And the hopelessly bewildered are there, often enough exasperated at the restraint, which they cannot understand. The law of kindness is put to a severe strain here by ignorance and stubbornness.
Upon arriving at the landing place, the immigrants are led along the wharf, as seen in the illustration, and carrying their hand baggage they file up to the first floor in the main building.
The report of the Commissioner General of Immigration has been issued for the year, ending June 30th, 1903, and it shows that all previous records have been broken in the number of aliens that have come to the United States during the twelve months included in the report. Illustrated.
Assimilation is a mutual process it depends for success not only on what the foreign body will do to be absorbed into the greater body, but upon what the greater body will do to attract it.
Photographs were published in the Norwegian Book, Blandt Udvandrede Nordmænd: Vore Landsmænds Liv og Vilkaar i Den Nye Verden - Det Norske Amerika af Thoralv Klaveness. Immigrants to North America.
The writer has roughly described the immigrant inspection in 1905 at New York, but the same attention to detail and strict enforcement of laws and regulations can be said to exist at all our ports.
The system by which the United States government examines and sends on their way as many as 12,000 immigrants in a single day—as easily, as methodically and smoothly as though they were so many sacks of grain.
Commissioner Watchorn said he would not pass upon more than approximately 5.000 immigrants in one day. This number of arrivals far exceeds the highest previous number awaiting examination in one day, 11.000, about a month ago.
One of the most noteworthy features of the industrial system in the United States is the question of labor supply. The efficiency of American labor has been the subject of an endless amount of discussion among students of industrial affairs. Immigrant Processing, Statistics, Photographs
Stockholm is far away, and little Augusta, holding her doll close to her wonders a great deal at what she secs. Her eyes are deep blue and health glows in her chubby pink cheeks and crimson lips. She is bound for Minnesota to join her father and four stalwart brothers.
Ellis Island on a sparkling April afternoon. A fresh salt breeze is sweeping in from the ocean. In the harbor, life is throbbing! Bustling tugs and huge steamers, scows laden with freight-cars, ferry-boats crowded with people, tall, clumsy two-decked barges packed with immigrants from ocean liners.
The great landing station for steerage passengers is Ellis Island, New York harbor. Here, almost daily, may be seen thousands from every land, gathered like anxious children at a mother's hem.
When a ship arrives in New York harbor, telegraphic notice of its entrance is sent ahead, and the vessel is boarded by the State quarantine inspectors, and by the immigration inspectors and surgeons.
We cannot have too much of the right kind of immigration we cannot have too little of the wrong kind. We are seeing to It that we get the right kind -- and we are getting the right kind, of that I am certain. Includes tables of facts of Admitted, Rejected and Debarred immigrants.
Loquacity is relief in time of trouble. The foreigner shut in to herself by the strangeness of her tongue, suffers more than do those of English speech who can more readily relate their sufferings to sympathetic ears and hearts.
The immigrants were photographed immediately after disembarking, and are here shown just as they landed, most of them being still clad in their native costume, which will be discarded, however, within a few hours.
In spite of the clamor for immigrants which has been coming with increasing appeal from the thinly populated regions of the country, over seven-tenths of the aliens who passed through the immigrant stations last year said they were going to settle in already thickly populated centers.
The Duchess showed great Interest In the operation of finding out the qualifications of the Immigrants to be admitted into the country, and she went before an Inspector and answered, smilingly, a number of questions, Just to "see how it was."
They had gone down from the Battery to Ellis Island—these thirty-five girls from an eastern college—on the little vessel that carries into the United States more aliens than any other afloat.
There are few places where the social viewpoint is more concretely and widely expressed than at Ellis Island. Changes in process will affect the comfort of a new million of people each year. Commissioner Watchorn is an official who is adequate to an immense situation.
Christmas Eve found sixteen hundred immigrants detained at Ellis Island. Some were waiting for friends who had not appeared, some were penniless, some were ill, families had been separated because of the measles, which, like an evil spirit, had taken possession on shipboard.
At Ellis Island the subject is viewed from the standpoint of physical inability to work, and the certainty that, too often, the doors of honest labor will be closed in the face of the applicant. The husband must be able to provide for his wife and child the lover must be made to go through the marriage ceremony and to be able to care for the family, or the department of deportation is put in charge of the case.
You may think you can gain some idea about the arrivals at Ellis Island and of the Immigrant, but you never can. You must get a permit, as we did, from the authorities and see for yourself the "human stream that pours from the steerage of every steamship that docks there, into that huge reservoir, Ellis Island."
IT SEEMS to me we all feel a little puckery and as if we had bitten a green persimmon when we think of Ellis Island. There came over last year one million one hundred thousand, and one million the year before—always increasing.
THE greatest employment agency in the world has been newly established at Washington. It is conducted by the government, and its business will be to find work for everybody. Jobs for over a million immigrants from foreign lands have to be obtained somehow every year, and Uncle Sam proposes to take general charge of this enormous task.
In the Loves of Ellis Island you may find a theme to answer the eternal question of existence. You shall see the immigrants laugh and cry. Nothing more matters much.
A translation of a clipping from a newspaper printed in the Netherlands. It shows that the work of Mr. Sydney Zandstra, our missionary at Ellis Island, is known and appreciated.
The two women went out into the new land with their burdens, but side by side, and seldom letting out of eye-shot a venturing, wayward boy, who trudged on a little ahead, alive with the immortal hunger of youth.
For the Jewesses, coming from the many lands where they have been victims of persecution and inhumanity, the hopelessness is still more deepened by the torments of memory. For them the sum of possible human misery seems, indeed, complete.
The best place in town to observe the activities of the Immigrants at Ellis Island. The Battery: A Place To While Away An Hour. One of New York's Interesting Places. Well Worth a Trip of Exploration.
Located in these centers are steamship ticket agents, who sell not only the rail ticket to New York, but wherever possible, the steamship ticket which is good for passage when stamped at the general office or dock of the line over which it is sold. Some of these agents also sell, or lead the alien to believe he has paid for, his lodging, 'baggage transfer and guide service to the hotel and dock in New York City.
It is a busy island. Yet in all the rushing hurry and seeming confusion of a full day, in all the babel of language, the excitement and fright and wonder of the thousands of newly-landed, and in all the manifold and endless details that make up the immigration plant, there is system, silent, watchful, swift, efficient.
Passing quarantine and the customs officials as the ship comes up the bay, it is warped into its dock, and when the last cabin passenger has gone ashore the steerage people are put into barges and towed away to Ellis Island, where final judgment awaits them.
The immigrant and the scenes incidental to his admission are said to be picturesque—picturesque, that is, to the onlooker. The immigrant himself, overcome by doubt and uncertainty, finds little to admire in his surroundings, while to those associated with the work the kaleidoscopic scene has long since lost its powers of fascination.
Whether arriving in or leaving the country, it is usually necessary to stop here, often for a day or more. While making arrangements for transportation, or while locating friends in the city, if his home is to be in New York, the new arrival is in 'great need of advice and assistance. Alone and in a strange land, ignorant of the language, he is indeed helpless.
THE Thimble Theatre went a traveling last week. The entire ensemble of last Saturday night followed an invitation of chief clerk, Augustus Sherman, of Ellis Island, and repeated the performance for the benefit of the immigrants detained at present on Ellis Island.
Mr. Howe's recommendations were that the contract, involving the expenditure of one-half million dollars a year, in time of normal immigration, and being very profitable, should not be renewed, and that, instead. the authorities at Ellis Island should purchase the food and prepare and supply it to the immigrants at cost.
Never in the history of the American people has Congress passed a measure as often and vetoed by the President as many times as the immigration bill recently enacted into law.
The immigrant first comes under the official control of the United States government when he arrives at the port of destination. There are a number of seaports on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts designated by the Bureau as ports of entry for immigrants. Entry at any other ports is illegal.
The quota of nurses from Base Hospital 33 celebrated Washington's Birthday by entraining at different points for mobilization at Ellis Island, New York. About twenty came from Albany, others from Schenectady, Troy, and some from cantonments where they had been in Army service, while waiting for mobilization. Those of on from Albany were given a very pleasant ovation at the depot by the Red Cross and by our many friends who gathered there to wish us the best of luck. We were generously supplied with bon bons, fruit and flowers and everything our friends could think of to cheer us on our way.
The library was moved about a month ago from a little room about twelve feet square to a ward at the extreme end of Third Island. This is a bit remote for some of the patients to reach, but they are cared for in other ways, and the room itself is such a nice one that we are only too grateful to the hospital authorities for moving us.
By showing them the best brand of United States courtesy and recognizing their need for individual consideration Commissioner Wallace hopes to make the incoming "foreigners" feel an interest and responsibility in America at the very start.
The rising wave of immigration swamped Ellis Island completely today. Although every available inch of space at the immigration station is utilized and for night after night this week aliens have been sleeping on the branches in the concourse.
Read this story of what women and children endure at Ellis Island, where many immigrants gel their first taste of America. Then, while you are still boiling with the sense of injustice and outraged decency, write your congressman that conditions must be changed.
As approximately 70 percent of the Nation's immigration is handled on Ellis Island, it is clear that the above title may fittingly be applied to this entrance to the New World.
The general report of this Committee on the subject of immigration adopted by your Board on November 19, 1920, contained a recommendation concerning the improvement and enlargement of facilities for handling immigrants at Ellis Island and the necessity for Congressional appropriations for this purpose.
This is the sort of work that is being done every day by the recently organized Association Immigrant Guide Service that is helping Commissioner of Immigration Frederick A. Wallis to solve some of the complex problems that have followed the daily inundation of Ellis Island by thousands of immigrants.
The United States Bureau of Immigration Volunteer Advisory Committee on Immigrant Welfare, in cooperation with Commissioner Robert E. Tod, has practically completed a thorough survey of Ellis Island with the result that conditions under which immigrants are received and detained at that station, will be largely revolutionized.
The only way to get the real atmosphere and “feeling” of Ellis Island, the great gateway to the United States, is to imagine yourself an immigrant, entering that gate for the first-time. As you come across in the ferryboat and view the dignified, imposing red administration building, you can well imagine, especially if it is your first visit, as it was mine, the impresson the Island makes on the thousands of newcomers each year.
In the decade after Ellis Island opened, 3,047,130 immigrants arrived at the port of New York. At the same time, only 640,434 came through all other ports of entry. Immigration reached its peak during the first decade of the 20th century when 8,795,386 arrived nationwide. 6,853,756 (78%) in New York.
Thirteen Facts About the Ellis Island Immigrant Station in New York from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). How many of these facts were you aware of?
Some of the alien cabin passengers were visitors, some were in transit to Canada, but most of them, at least until well into the 1920s, were immigrants, just as were the steerage aliens who were automatically sent to Ellis Island, and were counted in the statistics of immigrants received.
This is America
Once settlers passed the Ellis Island inspection, they were allowed to enter the country but they weren’t given any documents to denote their new status as Americans. Cannato declared that “It’s a hard thing to wrap your mind around because we live in such a bureaucratic world today. We have passports, birth certificates and all sorts of documents. There was no, ‘Welcome to America, here’s your new photo ID.”
By the year 1924, Ellis Island was still operating in full swing. The haven for immigration also served multiple purposes. When World War II hit, it was used to house rival sailors in its baggage claim and its residence hall. It was also utilized by the U.S. Coast Guard to train approximately 60,000 military men. At the end of 1954, the final refugee was released and the immigration gateway closed its prestigious doors.
President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Ellis Island as a branch of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965. It was actually open to the public for the first time from 1974 to 1984. By that time, it was time for the migrant portal to undergo a major facelift. Its renovation was literally the biggest historic remodeling in American history. It took $160 million to complete the project, which was paid for by donations to The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. in collaboration with the National Park Service.
On September 10, 1990, its main building was reintroduced to the general public and was renamed the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. By May 20, 2015, the construction of the Peopling of America Center was complete and the museum’s name was changed to Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. Now, two million visitors make the pilgrimage to the museum every year to learn about America’s rich history.