The History of Ellis Island


Ellis Island is located in the upper portion of New York Bay, southwest of the island of Manhattan. It is a small island that has an area of 27 acres. It was once used as a fort and an arsenal, but it served its greatest purpose as one of the main immigration stations in the US. It is presently a popular tourist attraction in New York City.

Between the years 1892 and 1954, the American government opened its doors to welcome immigrants from Europe and other parts of the world. Most of these immigrants traveled across the Atlantic Ocean from the United Kingdom, Italy, France, Germany, Hungary, and other European countries, in the hope that they would have a better life in America, which was then known as the “Land of Dreams”. Some of them sold all their possessions to get the necessary travel papers and pay for their passages.

Most of the passenger ships that transported immigrants to the US were slow and overcrowded. The wealthy passengers might have a pleasant journey staying in first-class cabins, but those who were not able to afford a comfortable passage had to sleep in the lower deck, which was dirty, dark, and cold. Many moved to the upper deck to escape the unsanitary conditions in the lower deck, but it was just as uncomfortable because of overcrowding. Due to the poor food and unhealthful conditions on the ships, most of the passengers fell ill, and the journey became more and more unbearable for them. The journey across the Atlantic took about 3 weeks at that time, and some passengers did not survive the passage. There were also a number of ships that sank during wild storms while they were on their ways to Ellis Island.

Upon arrival in Ellis Island, the immigrants were led to a large room where they were individually inspected. They had to produce their travel documents for reviewing, and then, go through a number of tests, including the eye test, the physical ability test, and the mental ability test. Those who failed these tests were marked with the letters “E”, “L”, and “X” respectively. Immigrants who had medical problems such as measles, tuberculosis, or favus were sent to the second floor to be examined by physicians from the US Public Health Service. After the health inspection, the immigrants had to answer a few more questions, and they might be released or detained, depending on the decisions of the immigration officers. Those who were detained were usually people who had criminal records in their countries, contract workers, or extremely poor people.

After the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed, the mass immigration era in the US came to an end. The act set a limit on the number of immigrants entering the US, and it also specifically restricted the immigration of people from certain countries. From the time the act was passed to the year 1954, when the Ellis Island immigration station was closed, more than 2 million immigrants were admitted into the US.

In 1976, Ellis Island was opened to the public as a place of interest. Today, it is regarded as one of the major attractions in New York City, and it receives more than 3 million visitors every year. Those who are visiting Ellis Island can do searches of their ancestors at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Around 40% of US citizens today are descendants of immigrants who entered the country through Ellis Island.