What Countries Did Immigrants on Ellis Island Come From?

By Christie Leman

  • Overview

    During the decades that marked the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, Ellis Island was the primary entrance point to the United States for the majority of immigrants. Over 20 million people entered the U.S. through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1930, but where did these immigrants come from? While immigrants on Ellis Island came from all corners of the earth, the majority of Ellis Island immigrants came from Europe and Canada in search of a better life in the United States.
  • Time Frame

    Ellis Island opened as an immigrant processing station in 1892 and was officially closed in 1954, but the bulk of the immigrants that arrived at Ellis Island came during the first four decades of the establishment's existence. In 1907 Ellis Island saw its highest volume of immigrant traffic, with over 1 million immigrants arriving in the U.S. through its doors in that year alone. The highest single-day record for immigration at Ellis Island also occurred in 1907, when 11,747 immigrants were processed on April 17. If immigrants did not have any serious health problems and were able to appropriately answer all the questions posed to them by immigration officials, they typically spent a total of three to five hours at Ellis Island before being released into New York.
  • Significance

    The role of Ellis Island as a gateway to the United States for immigrants from around the world is unparalleled--over 40 percent of the current population of the U.S. can trace its ancestry back to an immigrant that passed through Ellis Island. Since the countries that immigrants on Ellis Island came from were predominantly European, Ellis Island helped create the "melting pot" heritage of Americans, making its legacy alive and well today.

  • Geography

    From what countries did immigrants on Ellis Island come from? Thanks to pretty accurate record-keeping, the answers are clear. The majority of immigrants on Ellis Island came from the countries of Italy, the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, the former Russian Empire, the former German Empire, Britain, Canada, Ireland and Sweden.
  • Features

    Italy was the country of origin for about 4.6 million immigrants to the U.S. between 1880 and 1930, the majority of whom came through Ellis Island. 4 million citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire immigrated to the U.S., largely through Ellis Island, during that same time period, along with 3.3 million Russians, 2.8 million Germans, 2.3 million British, 2.3 million Canadians, 1.7 million Irish and 1.1 million Swedish.
  • Considerations

    While conditions in the countries that immigrants on Ellis Island came from were not entirely similar, most immigrants from these countries felt that the life they could attain in the U.S. would be better than the one they left behind. Many immigrants came because they had heard from friends and relatives that land in the U.S. was cheap, allowing families that had labored under centuries-old near feudal existence to own land and farm for their own benefit for the first time. The U.S. also offered more job opportunities than many European countries during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a glimmer of hope for those unable to find worthy employment in their country of origin. Many immigrants also fled their countries of origin because of tyrannical governments and religious oppression. These immigrants to Ellis Island knew that in the U.S. they would find a democratic government and religious freedom.
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