A Look at Immigration

Arriving at Ellis Island

Original content by: Dr. Paul Goodwin

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

This stereograph image from 1910 shows newly arrived immigrants at Ellis Island in New York Harbor, waiting for an examination to determine if they will be officially admitted to the United States. The law at the time required ship owners to provide a "manifest," containing the name of every immigrant on their vessel. Each immigrant (or if traveling together, head of the family), was given a ticket which designated which manifest sheet their name appeared on.

Once entering Ellis Island, the immigrants would undergo an initial health screening to identify anyone with serious health issues. Contagious diseases, such as tuberculosis, were the greatest concern, and would usually result in immediate disqualification for admission. Once past the health screening, a government inspector would begin to ask for more information. This would usually include the immigrant's name, age, occupation, if he or she had friends in the US (and if so, where they lived). The immigrants were also expected to have enough money to be self-sufficient.

If the examiners were satisfied with the answers, the immigrants were allowed entry. However, if the inspector had any doubt, it was their duty to hold the immigrant for more questioning in front of a board which was appointed specifically for this purpose. These boards made the decision to deport the immigrant, to hold them temporarily, or to allow them to enter the country. Of the 1,218,480 immigrants who passed through Ellis Island in 1914, 33,041 of them were denied admission.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. If immigration was such a difficult process, why did immigrants leave their home countries to begin with?
  2. How does an examiner's question about an immigrant's friends living in the United States help us to understand "stage migration"? Did friends or family from an immigrant's home country arrive in the United States earlier?
  3. In this picture, does it look like these people were carrying a lot of luggage with them? What do you think the most important things to bring were?