What Country Did Most of the Immigrants Through Ellis Island Come From?

By Christie Leman

  • Overview

    During the decades that marked the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth 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 what country did most of the immigrants through Ellis Island come from? Most immigrants that passed through Ellis Island were arriving on ships from Europe, and the country that supplied the most immigrants during Ellis Island's busiest years was Italy.
  • 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, including millions of Italians, came during the first four decades of the establishment's existence. In 1907 Ellis Island saw its highest number of immigrant traffic, with over one million immigrants arriving in the U.S. The highest single day record for immigration at Ellis Island also occurred in 1907, when 11,747 immigrants were processed on a single day on April 17. If immigrants did not have any serious health questions and were able to appropriately answer all the questions posed to them by immigration officials, they typically spent a total of 3 to 5 hours at Ellis Island before being released into New York.
  • Geography

    Thanks to accurate record-keeping, Italy was the country of origin of the most immigrants that passed through Ellis Island. This was followed closely by immigrants from 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. Most of the first wave of Italian immigrants to the U.S. were males between the ages of 24 and 45. Typically these men left families behind in Italy because they could not afford to secure passage for their entire families and were uncertain about what type of conditions would await them in the U.S. Most of these Italian men sent money home to their families, and in time, many of their families left Italy to join their loved ones in the U.S.
  • Considerations

    The reason why Italy supplied most of the immigrants through Ellis Island is quite simple; conditions in Italy were not ideal for prosperity during the late nineteenth and twentieth century, while industry and farming were booming in the U.S. In Italy, taxes were high, the unemployment rate was up, poor crops, starvation, and epidemic disease were commonplace, especially in the southern region of the country. For the poor and middling classes there was little hope of ever improving their social standing in Italy, while the U.S. offered the chance for social mobility, gainful employment, and freedom.
  • Benefits

    American culture has undoubtedly benefited from the millions of Italians that immigrated through Ellis Island beginning over a century ago. A significant portion of the U.S. population, over 6 percent, identifies themselves as Italian-Americans, with most able to trace their ancestry back to an immigrant that came through Ellis Island. Italian culture, including its adherence to the Roman Catholic religion and the emphasis on family, Italian food, and the Italian language have all played a major role in American society and have helped to define American culture.
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