One-hundred and twenty-three years ago, on April 17, 1892, the Ellis Island Immigrant Station in New York Harbor opened for the first time, and it did not close until November 12, 1954, after processing over 20 million immigrants into the United States.
Every day in the early 20th century, some 5,000 newcomers, mostly from southern and eastern Europe, paid the ten-dollar steerage fare and landed at Ellis Island, hoping for new employment opportunities and a better life in America.
But they often found discrimination and intolerance. “There is no danger in having too many immigrants of the right kind,” President Theodore Roosevelt said, as about 100 newcomers were processed at the huge facility every hour.
“I want to implant in the minds of our fellow Americans of foreign ancestry or birth the knowledge that they have just the same rights and opportunities as anyone else in this country.”
The year 1907 was the peak for immigration at Ellis Island, which was originally owned by Samuel Ellis, a merchant from Wales, with about a million new arrivals processed. The daily record was also set that year, on April 17, with a total of 11,747 newcomers.
All immigrants were asked 29 questions, such as their name, occupation, and how much money they had. Those approved for entry into America spent from two to five hours on the island. Approximately two percent of all immigrants were denied admission and sent back to their native country due to criminal background, contagious disease, or insanity.
The mass processing of immigrants at Ellis Island came to an end in 1924, when the Immigration Act severely limited immigration. By then, 20 percent of Americans were newcomers from foreign lands, as 25 million immigrants arrived in the United States in the previous 50 years.
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson made the site a national monument, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places the next year. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation began a restoration effort in the 1980s, and the Ellis Island Museum now attracts almost two million visitors a year.
Ellis Island admitted more than 20 million people to the United States from overseas. Today, over 100 million Americans, or 40 percent of the total population, can trace their ancestry to those brave souls who arrived through the famous gateway in New York Harbor.