Ellis Island celebrates its 125th anniversary as the federal immigration depot.
by Matthew Wills , R Lawrence Swanson, Donald F Squires via JSTOR Daily on January 1, 2017
On New Year’s Day, Ellis Island celebrates the 125th anniversary of its opening as the federal immigration depot. We all know its storied past as the place where our last names got mangled, but you may not know that it was: (1) not originally much an island at all; and (2) the object of extensive legal battles between New York and New Jersey.
From 1892-1954, Ellis Island was the gateway for more than 12 million immigrants. The very first was 17-year-old Annie Moore from Ireland. 1907 was the busiest year, with 1.25 million people processed. These were steerage, or Third Class, passengers. Until the 1920s, First and Second Class passengers did not have to go through the facility unless they were sick or had legal problems.
Although it wasn’t formally shut down until 1954, Ellis Island’s most active years ended in 1924. That year’s Native Origins Act, which built on earlier quotas, severely restricted immigration. The white Protestant backlash to Southern and Eastern Europeans (Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish) immigrants had succeeded in slamming the door shut.
The facility was declared part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965. It underwent a major restoration twenty years later. Today, two million people visit annually.