More than a hundred millions American can claim ancestors who came through Ellis Island. « There were probably as many reasons for coming to America » wrote President JohnF. Kennedy in A nation of immigrants, « as there were people who came ». Religious persecution, Political strife, unemployment, family connections, the lure of adventure: these were the circumstancesof the greatest migration in modern history, when shipload after shipload of people, mostly Europeans, came to the United States. Beginning in 1892, the majority-some 12 millions-took their first steptoward becoming Americans at Ellis Island. Today Ellis Island is a memorial to all who have made this nation their adopted home. Here we can see where the Old World met the new.
In the dacade after the American Revolution, about 5, 000 people immigrated to the United State every year. By the early 1900s, that many arrived at Ellis Island each day, with a record 11,747 on April 17, 1907. All told, some 12 millions immigrants came through Ellis Island.
The immigration station at Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892. Ferries and barges brought « steerage »passengers out to Ellis from Steamship. Doctor watch as immigrants entered the building and climb the stairs; a limp, labored breathing, or other suspected troubles warranted further medical exams. In theRegistry Room, inspectors questioned each individual. Included among the 29 questions were name, home town, occupation, destination, and amount of money they carried. Those allowed to pass continueddownstairs, exchanged money, bought provisions and perhaps rail tickets. A third stayed in New York City; other headed elsewhere. Only one to two percent were denied entry.
After the inspectionprocess was transferred to U. S. consulates in the 1920s, only a small number of detained immigrants passed through Ellis Island. In 1954 it closed completely. Buildings deteriorated until restoration...