1820—1924: A Century of Immigration

This chapter would cover those who came from throughout the world during the great century of immigration, 1820 to 1924. This century, characterized by industrialization and urbanization and punctuated by the Civil War, saw 36 million immigrants flow to the United States.

About two-thirds, 22.4 million, came between 1881 and 1920, and the decade 1901 to 1910 alone saw 8.8 million immigrants, almost a million every year. While it was generally older stock European immigrants who settled the western frontiers, newer immigrants tended to stake their fortunes in the new urban and industrial frontiers.

From 1820 to 1914, 30 million came from Europe, including 5 million Germans, 4.5 million Irish, 4.5 million Italians, 2.6 million Poles, 2.6 million English and 2 million Jews (at first mostly from Germany and then from Poland and Russia).

In addition, 2.2 million crossed over from Canada, 900,000 crossed from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, 370,000 were Chinese and 275,000 were Japanese. Others included Scandinavians, Greeks, Arabs, Armenians, Turks, Hungarians, Russians, Austrians and others from Eastern Europe.

The stories of each of these and other immigrant groups, and the change in immigration patterns over time of these groups would be told in this segment of the Museum. And the further geographical expansion of the nation to include ever more peoples would be covered.

This period ends with a series of restrictive immigration laws including the Chinese Exclusion laws of the 1880s and the Immigration Act of 1924.

This chapter reports the story of Ellis Island. From 1892, when it opened, until it stopped functioning as a reception center in 1932, some 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island. While these stories are told in countless ethnic museums as well as site-specific museums, with Ellis Island being the most prominent, nowhere is the full story of this period told in a full and comprehensive manner.

NOTE: The material herein is based largely on two books that tell part of this story, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann, and Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life by Roger Daniels. Ideas and material from both authors are presented here to give readers a sense of the story. Leading scholars would be expected to develop a detailed outline of the Museum’s story following the establishment of the Museum.