Immigration to the United States
Where did immigrants come from?
• Before 1890 most
immigrants came from
northern and western
Europe (old
• After 1900, more
southern and eastern
Europeans came (new
Why do immigrants come to America?
• Religious, racial or
political persecution
• Lack of economic
• Famine
• Contract labor
• Railroad companies
advertised free or
cheap farmland
How did they get to America?
• They came by steam
ship and sailing ships.
How much did it cost?
• First Class (parlor suite)
£870/$4,350 ($69,600
• First Class (berth) £30/$150
($2400 today)
• Second Class £12/$60 ($960
• Third Class £3 to £8/$40
($172 to $640 today)
What did they bring with them?
• They brought what their
family could carry in
their hands.
• Often times immigrants
sold many belongings to
buy their tickets
What was steerage on a ship like?
• Passengers had to bring their own
• Some ships required them to
cook their own food
• a berth was 18 inches wide by 6
feet long. They were often in tiers
up to four rows high
• There was on average one toilet
for every hundred passengers
• passengers often suffered from
illnesses like trench mouth, body
ulcers, and lice
• Immigrant ships were recognized
by the smell
How long was the journey?
• Average trip for:
Sailing ship: 8 weeks
Steam ship: 6 weeks
Where did most European immigrants
enter the United States?
• Ellis Island in New York
City Harbor
Where did most Asian immigrants
enter the United States?
• Angel Island in San
Francisco Bay
What did they first see in New York
City Harbor?
• Statute of Liberty
Ellis Island
Arrival at Ellis Island
• New arrivals were taken
by ferry to the main
building at Ellis Island
opened in 1892,
• The first immigrant to
arrive was a 15-year-old
girl from Ireland named
Annie Moore to join her
parents in New York City.
• Not everyone arriving in
New York had to go to Ellis
Island. Immigrants in firstand second-class were
processed aboard their
ships soon after docking on
the mainland. Onboard
exams were shorter than
those on the island, since
inspectors were more
accepting of anyone who
could afford the higher fare.
• The single busiest day in
Ellis Island history came
on April 17, 1907, when
11,747 immigrants were
processed for admission
into the United States.
Some of them had been
waiting days just to get
on to the island.
• After 1907, children
under 16 had to be
accompanied by their
parents or else they
would be sent back.
Baggage Room
• Immigrants entered the
main building through its
ground floor baggage room.
They left their trunks,
suitcases and baskets here
until they were finished.
Immigrants with only a few
belongings carried their
things as they climbed the
stairs to the Great Hall for
medical and legal
Stairways to the Great Hall
• The first test the immigrants had
to pass became known as the "six
second medical exam." As the
immigrants climbed the stairs to
the Great Hall, doctors stood at
the top and watched. They were
looking for anyone having
difficulty coming up the steps. If a
medical problem or disability was
suspected, one of seventeen
different chalk marks was put on
the person's clothing. They were
then sent for a full physical
examination. If they weren't
marked, they went on to wait in
the Great Hall.
Medical Exam
• By 1917, complete medical
exams were required for
every immigrant. The main
purpose of these exams was
to find persons with
contagious diseases or
conditions that would make
them unable to work. If
their problem was curable,
immigrants were sent to the
island's hospital. If it was
not, the steamship company
that brought them would
have to pay to send them
Medical Exam
• The 15 medical
buildings of Ellis Island
stood across the ferry
slip from the main
building, and included
hospital wards,
operating rooms, an Xray plant, and even a
Medical Exams
• The dreaded "eye man" was
the name immigrants gave
to the doctor who inspected
them for trachoma, a highly
contagious disease that
caused blindness. Using a
hooked tool or his fingers,
he would pinch a person's
eyelid, turn it over, and look
for any signs of the disease.
Medical Exams
• Any immigrant chalkmarked with an "X"
underwent mental exams
that tested their
intelligence. Often these
exams were wooden
puzzles of the human
face. If a person didn't
pass, they would be sent
Medical Exam
• Parents were allowed to
carry their small children
through Ellis Island. But
during the medical exam,
all children two years or
older were required to
show doctors that they
could walk on their own.
The Great Hall
The Great Hall was the large
waiting room of Ellis Island.
Immigrants waited here for their
interviews with legal inspectors
after finishing their medical
exams. At best, the entire process
through Ellis Island took three to
five hours. But sometimes
problems came up, like family
members waiting for a relative to
be treated in the hospital ward.
Some families stayed for days on
Ellis Island, others for weeks, and
still others for months.
The Great Hall
• Many reforms to improve
Ellis Island began under
President Theodore
Roosevelt. One simple
improvement came in
1903 — benches were
added for immigrants to
sit on while waiting in the
Great Hall.
The Great Hall
• The dining hall for
detainees could seat up
to 1,200. The menu
featured beef stew or
baked beans, and extra
crackers and milk were
provided at each meal
for women and
Great Hall
• Over the years, private
charitable societies
provided classes for
children of detainees on
Ellis Island. Volunteers
also operated a library
and offered cultural
events like music
performances to
familiarize immigrants
with their new country.
Legal Inspection
• After passing the medical
exams, immigrants had to prove
they could legally come into
America. They had to prove
their country of origin and
where they expected to live and
work once they entered the
country. Inspectors rejected any
immigrant with a criminal
record or those suspected of
being indentured servants. By
1921, immigrants had to pass a
literacy test and show a
passport and visa.
Legal Inspection
• Inspectors spoke an
average of three
languages to help those
immigrants who didn't
speak English. There were
also interpreters who
spoke over six languages
• Indentured servants had
their travel costs paid by
an employer to whom
they would be indebted
for years to come. This
practice was illegal and
immigrants had to prove
to inspectors that they
themselves or a family
member — and not some
stranger — had paid for
their crossing
Legal Inspections
• After 1917, immigrants
over 16 years old had to
pass a literacy test in the
language of their home
country. Inspectors
presented them with test
cards featuring familiar
passages from the Bible,
which immigrants would
then have to read aloud.
Failing the literacy test
could mean deportation
Money Exchange
• In the money exchange area
immigrants exchanged the
money of their homeland
for dollars, and purchased
any train tickets they
needed. Laws passed in
1909 required each
immigrant to have at least
20 dollars before they were
allowed to enter America.
Money Exchange
• Immigrants continuing by
train to points beyond
New York could buy food
for their journey at a
concession stand. A box
lunch of sandwiches,
fruit, and pie sold for 50
cents — that's well over
ten dollars by today's
Money Exchange
• Often immigrants arrived to
the United States dressed in
the exotic clothing of their
homeland. This made them
easy targets for anyone
looking to take advantage of
a recent arrival. To aid their
transition, charitable
societies offered immigrants
free American-style clothing
before they left Ellis Island.
Money Exchange
• Women traveling alone
were not allowed to leave
Ellis Island until
immigration officers felt
they were in safe hands.
In some cases, concerned
officers took it upon
themselves to escort a
woman to a connecting
train or proper lodgings in
New York City.
The Journey’s End
• Just beyond the money exchange
was the exit from Ellis Island.
Staff members referred to this
spot as the kissing post because
of all the emotional reunions that
were witnessed there. Two thirds
of the new Americans then
boarded a ferry to New Jersey,
where the next leg of their
American journey would begin.
The remaining third took the
ferryboat to Manhattan to begin
their new life in New York City,
only one mile away.
The Journey’s End
• By 1950, Europeans
counted for only half of
all immigrants — and
they usually came by
airplane, not steamship.
More and more, the new
arrivals came from
Mexico and Latin
America, or from Asian
countries. Ellis Island had
outlived its use as a
processing center.
• By 1954, only a few dozen
immigrants paced the
nearly empty floor of the
Great Hall. When Ellis
Island closed its doors to
immigrants on November
12, 1954, its last detainee
was a Norwegian sailor
named Arne Peterssen.
He was waiting, ironically,
for the next ship back to

Immigration to the United States