Why Did People Come to Ellis Island?

Turkish Armenians
From 1890-1914, 64,000 Turkish Armenians fled to America to escape death. These immigrants’ dangerous journeys started long before they got to the ships that would carry them to the United States.

Ellis Island is located at the mouth of the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. It opened as an immigration station on January 1, 1892. Millions of immigrants came to the United States through Ellis Island.

Why did they come? Immigrants left—or escaped from—their countries in Europe for many reasons. Some came to escape poverty and religious persecution. Others experienced drought and famine in their countries. Some immigrants came to the United States to escape war. These immigrants looked to the United States as a place where they were free to practice their religion without fear. They thought there were economic opportunities in America. The years 1900 to 1914 were the busiest period on Ellis Island. An average of 1,900 people passed through the immigration station every day.

After a long voyage by sea, immigrants waited in long lines for medical inspections. They answered questions about their fitness to work and proved they had some money to help them settle into their new homes. Starting in 1918, immigrants over the age of 16 had to prove that they could read 30 to 40 test words in their native language. While many immigrants stayed in New York, others traveled to railroad stations so they could travel to different parts of the country and start their new lives. Some estimate that 40% of the people who live in the United States have ancestors who came to the country through Ellis Island.

In 1921 and 1924, the United States government passed laws that limited the number and nationality of immigrants that came into the country. Between 1925 and 1954, only 2.3 million immigrants arrived through Ellis Island. Although it closed in 1954, Ellis Island opened its doors to visitors in 1976. You can visit a museum there to learn more about its history.

What Do You Think? What were some of the reasons that immigrants came to the United States from Europe? Why do you think that people want to immigrate to the United States today?

Photo Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, American National Red Cross Collection, [LC-DIG-anrc-03496]