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New York's Top 10 : Ellis Island Immigration Museum (part 2) - Milestones in Immigration History

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Milestones in Immigration History

  1. 1624

    First Dutch arrived in New Amsterdam, which thrived as a trading center, attracting settlers from many other nations. By 1643, the 500-strong population spoke 18 different languages.

    Arrivals to the island
  2. 1664

    The dislike of Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant and unpopular tax demands by the Dutch West India Company meant little resistance to the ousting of the Dutch by the British, who renamed the city New York.

  3. 1790

    For the first U.S. Census, New York’s population of 33,131 was the second largest in the Colonies. The make-up was mostly British and Dutch.

  4. Mid-1800s

    Ireland’s 1845–8 Great Famine and economic hardship in Germany led many to seek new lives in New York, where rapid growth as a seaport and manufacturing center opened many jobs.

  5. 1880–1910

    Thousands of Russian and Polish Jews and Italians arrived, fleeing persecution or hard economic times.

    Polish woman at Ellis Island c.1910

    Italian immigrants
  6. 1892

    When Castle Island, an immigrant depot set up in 1855, could no longer handle the inflow, Ellis Island took over. “Settlement Houses” were set up in the city to help those living in squalid tenements, and “Americanization” programs encouraged assimilation.

  7. 1924

    Nearly 40 percent of New York’s population was foreign-born. U.S. laws set national quotas on immigration; Great Britain’s Caribbean colonies benefited from the British quota and arrived in large numbers.

  8. 1965

    The Hart-Cellar Act ended discrimination based on national origin; a new wave of immigration began.

  9. 1980s

    One million mainly Asian and Latin American newcomers arrived. The Chinese population topped 300,000, Koreans became visible elements in the city, and Dominican numbers grew.

    Asian women in a garment factory in Chinatown
  10. 1990–present

    Over 1.2 million newcomers entered, swelling the foreign-born population to over 40 percent of the total population – the highest since 1910. Queens is classified as the most ethnically diverse county in the U.S.


The Restoration of Ellis Island

Laws defining immigration quotas enacted in 1924 drastically curtailed the numbers of foreigners coming into the U.S., and Ellis Island was no longer needed as an immigration depot. It became a detention and deportation center for undesirable aliens, a training center for the U.S. Coast Guard, and a hospital for wounded servicemen during World War II. In 1954 the U.S. government closed the island. It remained abandoned until 1984, when a $156 million renewal project replaced the copper roof domes, cleaned the mosaic tiles, and restored the interior, preserving any surviving original fixtures in the largest historic restoration in U.S. history.

The restoration included the establishment of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, telling the immigrant story through displays and more than 2,000 artifacts. The museum also has an oral history archive of taped interviews and an interactive children’s gallery, both available to visit by appointment. Reopened to the public in 1990, Ellis Island receives almost 2 million visitors every year.

Restoration Preservation of Ellis Island began in 1965 with the rebuilding of the seawall, but the biggest task was the restoration of the main building, which had deteriorated severely. The period of 1918–24 was chosen for reconstruction because this coincided with a peak time for immigration.

Glass canopy marking the restored main entrance to Ellis Island Top 10 Nationalities Entering Ellis Island
  1. Italy: 2,502,310

  2. Austria and Hungary: 2,275,852

  3. Russia: 1,893, 542

  4. Germany: 633,148

  5. England: 551, 969

  6. Ireland: 520, 904

  7. Sweden: 348,036

  8. Greece: 245, 058

  9. Norway: 226,278

  10. Ottoman Empire: 212, 825 (Between 1892–7, 1901–31)

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