Why Did Immigrants Come to Ellis Island?

By Dee Dee Donato

  • Overview

    Ellis Island, also known as the Island of Tears, was the first stop for immigrants from countries all over the world, coming to America. After long ferry rides in crowded conditions, they endured long lines in the Great Hall of Ellis Island for sometimes 4 to 5 hours. They were questioned on everything from their past, details on their families, their health, finances and more. It was sometimes grueling, but worth it. After their time at Ellis Island, they were free to go out into the land of America and start their hopeful future, a dream for millions.
  • Function

    Ellis Island was set up as a federal immigration station by President Benjamin Harrison in 1890 as a place to accept immigrants coming by ferry from countries across the world. It was a stopping ground for them to have their paperwork processed and to be examined themselves before being set free in the land of the free to start their lives.
  • History

    Located in New York Harbor just off the New Jersey coast, Ellis Island welcomed over 12 million immigrants to the United States. In operation from 1892 to 1954, this small island was the gateway to a foreigner's dreams. It was here on January 2, 1892, that Annie Moore, a 15-year-old Irish girl, was the first immigrant to be processed. While most immigrants came through New York Harbor when entering the United States, many more affluent people sailed to ports in Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Miami and other places around the country. According to the government at that time, these upper-scale immigrants were less likely to be a problem for the states both medically and legally, because they could afford a more expensive ticket to America. Those less fortunate or those with medical conditions or legal troubles were sent to Ellis Island for thorough inspection. While at Ellis Island, the soon-to-be American would endure a rigorous processing phase that included questioning, review of his paperwork, and a medical inspection.


  • Size of Ellis Island

    Originally just 3.3 acres, Ellis Island was increased in size to 27.5 acres obtained through landfill from ship balast and possibly excess construction from the New York City subway system. Thirty buildings made up Ellis Island, including the Great Hall where most activity took place in processing the immigrants, a baggage and dormitory building, a hospital, a dining room and more.
  • Attraction to Ellis Island for the Immigrants

    In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many foreign countries were suffering great economic lows. Work was scarce, and opportunities were few. With little money, many immigrants made it their ambition to journey to the United States with dreams of grandeur and hope. It was their hope that they would experience a better lives, with a better-paying job and chance for their family to advance. Ellis Island was the immigrant's connection to that new world.
  • Attraction to Ellis Island for Today's Americans

    As part of the Statue of Liberty National Park, Ellis Island is home to about 2 million visitors every year. As an American, this is a trip well worth taking to see where much of America's past began--and for some, where their family got their first taste of the U.S.A. A short ferry ride to the island provides a distant view of the Statue of Libery and Ellis Island itself. Upon arrival, visitors can meander through the museum and see artificats, photographs, prints, oral histories and more--all depicting the lives of those who made their way through these four walls. Outside, the American Immigrant Wall of Honor sports more than 700,000 immigrants who made their way to America. Visitors can find their own name on the wall and pose for a picture. Other highlights of the island include a theater with actors who depict the life of the immigrants that came to Ellis Island, a tour of the Statue of Liberty, and the American Family Immigration History Center--where visitors can obtain records of passengers and crew members, and details of their journey.
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