Ellis Island was built and opened in 1892 as an entering and processing station for immigrants coming from Europe to the United States. It remained open until 1954. 40% of all Americans have had at least one ancestor who passed through Ellis Island. Over 12 million people arrived at Ellis Island during its years of existence. Ellis Island is in New York Harbor.
On January 1, 1892, 3 ships waited in the harbor for the station to open. Over 700 people were processed that first day. Over 450,000 people arrived during that first year. By 1906 the processing station included 2 other islands. One housed the hospital facilities and one the psychiatric ward.
As people disembarked from the ships, they were put in lines and asked for papers with their names, ages and country of origin. All this information was recorded. Any immigrants who appeared weak or sickly were immediately sent off to be examined by doctors. Many were denied admission to the United States if doctors thought they were contagious. In 1907, a federal law was passed which denied admission to those persons with physical or mental disabilities.
When the United States entered WWI in 1917, feelings were very strong against immigrants. About 1800 German immigrants were seized and sent back to their country. A literacy test was introduced in this year also. If a person could read 30-40 words in his own language, he was eligible for admission. Almost all persons from Asian countries were refused admission.
In 1921, President Warren Harding signed into law the Immigration Quota Act. This act limited how many people from each country could enter the United States each year. The number from any given country could not be more than 3% of the number of people living in the country in 1910. That was the last census. The National Origins Act of 1924 set the number of immigrants allowed to enter the United States in a year to 165,000. Also, it set up certain quotas for different countries.
By the 1920's, Ellis Island was not used much and its buildings were not repaired when needed. By 1932, in the middle of the Great Depression, more immigrants left the country than arrived. After the U. S. Coast Guard took over the island, from 1950-1954, many people were detained or held there who were suspected of radical ideas or thought of as being dangerous to America. Sometimes, 1500 persons were held at a time. However, the buildings on the island were repaired and renovated.
In 1954, the buildings on the islands closed. It was classified as surplus property. However, in 1955, President Lyndon Johnson declared that Ellis Island would be under the administration of the National Park Service. It became part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. In 1965, President Johnson signed the Hart-Cellar Act which did away with the previous quotas. More people from Third World countries could be admitted. A separate quota was set up for refugees,
In 1976, the island was opened to the public for guided tours of the main reception building. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan asked the head of Chrysler Corporation to begin raising money to restore Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. The entire restoration was completed in 1990 and opened to the public. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum is in the Main Building.
In 2001, the American Family History Center opened on Ellis Island. This center allows families to search for records of family members who passed through Ellis Island upon their arrival in the United States. They can see the original manifests given to the passengers on the ships before disembarking.
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