Stephanie R - AP Human Geography


An Overview

Ellis Island's history journeys much farther back than most think; back before opening of Ellis's immigration screening station, and even before the first documented immigrants entered the country. In the 1600's, Ellis Island, at the time known as Gull Island by the Mohegan tribe, was a mere two to three acres. During high tide, the island could scarcely been seen above the rising waters. After being discovered for its rich oyster beds in 1628, Dutch settlers renamed it Oyster Island. Following the hanging of Anderson the Pirate in 1765, the island was again renamed, this time known as Gibbet Island after the instrument used to hang him. Finally on January 20, 1785, Samuel Ellis purchased the property and gave it his name, which remains the name of the island till today.

Welcome to the Island!

From 1892 to 1924, Ellis Island was America's largest and most active immigration station, where over 12 million immigrants were processed. On average, the inspection process took approximately 3-7 hours. For the vast majority of immigrants, Ellis Island truly was an "Island of Hope" - the first stop on their way to new opportunities and experiences in America. For the rest, it became the "Island of Tears" - a place where families were separated and individuals were denied entry into this country.
Immigration Through Ellis Island - Award Winning Documentary Video Film

Regulations & Laws

In 1862, the first measure restricting immigration enacted by Congress was a law forbidding American vessels to transport Chinese immigrants to the U.S. 20 years later in 1882, Congress upped the constraint, passing the Chinese Exclusion Act restricting all Chinese immigrants entry into the U.S. At about the same time, acts passed by Congress in 1875, 1882, and 1892 provided for the examination of immigrants and for the exclusion from the U.S. of convicts, polygamists, prostitutes, person suffering from loathsome or contagious, diseases, and persons liable to become public charges. Also passed were the Aline Contract Labor Laws of 1885, 1887, 1888, and 1891, prohibiting the immigration to the U.S. of persons entering the country to work under contracts made before their arrival.

The People

The Workers

On a typical day at the Ellis Island Immigration Station, immigrants came face to face with inspectors, interpreters, nurses, doctors, social workers, and many others. As a large federal facility employing approximately five hundred employees at a time, Ellis Island was a well-organized workforce.

The complex work of processing thousands of immigrants a year required a full complement of staff. Some names are known; others remain anonymous, but all of them contributed to the primary function of the Immigration Station on Ellis Island to make sure that newcomers to the United States were legally and medically fit to enter the country.

Learn about the types of work performed on Ellis Island and some of the individual employees who worked in these jobs.

The Immigrants

Read a few Immigrant Stories HERE.

Notable Immigrants

Ellis Island immigrants attaining their place as Famous Immigrants in America include: Charles Atlas (Italian Bodybuilder), Irving Berlin (Russian Composer), Frank Capra (Italian Director), Albert Einstein (German Physicist), Al Jolson (Lithuanian Actor), Bela Lugosi (Hungarian Actor), Knute Rockne (Norwegian Athlete), Rudolph Valentino (Italian Actor)