Featured News 2018 Ellis Island: The Historic Immigration Station

Ellis Island: The Historic Immigration Station

New York Harbor was once the dream destination for millions of men and women from foreign countries for more than 60 years—and has been a symbol of America's promise for more than a century.

Ellis Island eventually became a world-famous landmark, serving as the entrance to America for millions of immigrants from 1892 until 1954. Guarded by the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island gave hope to foreigners that anticipated starting a new life in the land of the free.

Today, Ellis Island is a part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and contains a museum of immigration.

Historical Background

Ellis Island became an immigration center in 1890 when Congress financed $75,000 towards building the arrival station. In 1892, the Ellis Island immigration building was completed and processed 700 immigrant applications and inspections the first day. Within the first year, about 450,000 underwent an inspection process on Ellis Island.

Five years after opening, a devastating fire devastated the wooden immigration building and destroyed all records dating back to 1855. It led to the loss of 1.5 million immigration records.

The United States set about creating a new building immediately. Authorities anticipated that the new center would facilitate 5,000 inspections per day. However, with the start of World War I, immigration officials were not prepared for the onslaught of refugees fleeing the terrors of war. Even with a dining room that could hold 1,000 people, men and women were kept waiting for days and slept in the halls, dreaming of their new life in America.

Ellis Island: Isle of Dreams

When at the Ellis Island immigration center, new arrivals were asked 29 pre-written questions, including their name and occupation. Each immigrant was also tested at a hospital for diseases. The United States Department of Health set up this large marine medical center where uniformed military surgeons performed inspections.

Immigrants were specifically inspected for eye diseases like glaucoma and given a thorough check-up. They also had to prove that they had a good work ethic and would not simply become a "public expense" for taxpayers.

As the years went on, the immigration offices became more and more efficient. Additional rooms and buildings on Ellis Island helped to manage the crowds, and by 1954 the U.S. Bureau of Immigration states that they had approved 10.5 million immigrants. The US government added a landfill to the island to accommodate more room for more immigrants.

Near one entrance to the building, there is a pole that is affectionately known as the "kissing post." Traditionally, this is where people would embrace their family members when reuniting in America.

Unfortunately, not every man and woman who traveled across the ocean was allowed to start a new life in the States—many people were sent back to the countries they just left. These devastating rejections merited Ellis Island nicknames such as "Heartbreak Island" or "The Island of Tears."

Yet many others still regard this small patch of land as the "Isle of Dreams" and the gateway to their new life. Ellis Island is now a tourist attraction and a monument to history, but even today, about 100 million Americans can trace their heritage back to a man or woman who first set foot in the US on Ellis Island.

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