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How Did Ellis Island Become The Gateway to America?

Updated on October 25, 2011

The Gateway To America

The American Promise (A Compact History)

How Did Ellis Island Become The Gateway To America?

From 1892 to 1954 over 12 million people immigrated to our United States of America through the doors of Ellis Island. It was an island that was 3.3 acres, which because of all the people had to be upgraded to 27 acres. It was designated as an immigration site by President Benjamin Harrison. Before they designated it however, the local Indians used to call it “Kioshk” or Gull Island. For many centuries it was known as Gull Island. It became the island of a private owner named Samuel Ellis in the 1770’s. It developed from an island to a hangout for pirates to a harbor fort of ammunition and ordinance depot named Fort Gibson and finally an immigration station.

There people who came into the island were registered, given new names because half the time the registrar’s couldn’t make out their original names. For instance my husband’s great grandfather‘s last name was Mutzliac.. they shortened it to Matsil. That’s how I know that one, almost first hand.

The United States was a baby, just being born. There was so much work that went into this country and the money was there. People all over the world heard of what a great country it was. People came here because they were desperate in their own lands. People from Italy came here, people from Russia, from Poland from Ireland, china, Japan, Germany. That’s why it is called the melting pot. They all thought they were going to find a better life; instead what the majority of them found was misery and starvation and sickness, bad working conditions and unsanitary living conditions. They were just trying to make a better stand for their families and they had brought them to a worse situation.

People would have nothing but the clothes on their backs and not a dime in their pocket and they would show up on the shores of America with all the hope in their heart of starting a new life.

1892 we had the first inflow of the first immigrants to come to America. They were the Italians. These people would come be sorted through Ellis Island, which included checking them physically for the ability to work and mental ability and eyesight. They had to pass all these exams or they could be sent back to Italy. So they would have to endure all these checks and be starving and still have to find a place to be and wanted to get to work as fast as they could to support their family.

Most of them ended up in hard labor jobs that they worked most of the day and had little time to spend with their families. Also the Germans were early settlers to come to America too.

Albert Einstein the great scientist was among them.

The Irish people were another immigrant who looked at this land for a new start. They thought that they had a promise of farm land and religious freedom. Our President Andrew Jackson can trace his roots to the Irish.

Japan got into the mix also, leaving a restrictive way of life for the unknown, hardships they would have to endure in this place. They had to go through a period where they were shunned by society, nobody wanted them here. They were too different for everyone else, but Japanese and Chinese built our railroads and worked very hard and endured so many travesties, too much to fill these pages. It also opened up a world for the Japanese Nation to start to modernize and they were basically forced to open up a trade with the United States. From the experience they wanted to become more modernized just like we were.

The Chinese that came here were coaxed here because they thought there was gold to be found; instead they found a life that was difficult to survive. They were very ingenious and brought so much substance to this place. People didn’t realize it back then, but in reality without the ingenuity of the Asian people, I don’t think our railroads would have gone up so quickly.

Ellis Island was the place where they all came through and were sorted and told where to go and whether they could stay.

When people voyaged from their country of origin to Ellis Island they were packed very tightly in a barge with no room to move around. They carried very little luggage. Sometimes none. When the ship arrived at Ellis Island the gang plank went down and there was usually a footman at the base yelling directions to them like, “Women over here, Men over here, luggage over here”. The women would be in one line to get examined by the male doctor. Of course in those days there were no woman doctors. The women were not used to being touched by a male other than their own husband, so soon they had to assign a matron there to be present under examination. If they were found with a disease like trachoma, (a very infectious disease which can cause blindness), they were sent back to their port of origin and sent home.

There was certain sickness that they looked for. The doctors of the day compared to today have a limited knowledge of sickness, but they did have a system none the less.

Definite signs of mental illness, conjunctivitis, trachoma, looked at the eyes, face, feet, looked for goiter, listened to the heart, It is not clear to me if they understood the sounds but they listened… they looked for hernia, they looked at the neck, they looked for lameness of the legs. They listened to the lungs, they checked for pregnancy in women and fungus in the scalp. These were among the things that they looked for.

The inspections went very quickly, the doctors examined them in 10 seconds. They had so many people to go through that they had no choice.

One woman wrote about her experience upon entering Ellis Island: The time I spent on Ellis Island seemed like the longest waiting period for me because of the regimen. Naturally there had to be a regimen, it was the only way that they could handle that many people. I realize that now in retrospect. But at the time it was a nightmare… they weren’t unkind, but you had no communication with the people who took care of you… and you had no communication with the other people that were there because everybody was so full of fright. Barbara Barondess, a Russian Jewish immigrant in 1921, interviewed in 1995.

After passing medical examinations, immigrants then had to file upstairs to an inspector’s desk and asked an array of questions to determine the social, economic, moral fitness questions. The officers were very often cruel and judgmental and just inhumane to them.

Ellis island was the gateway to the United States, but soon immigration laws were starting to take place and the need for this port way was a means no more. Ellis island became used in World War II as enemy merchant seamen were detained in the baggage and dormitory building. The United States Coast Guard used it as a training camp. In November of 1954 they had one last detainee; a Norwegian merchant seaman named Arne Peterssen and was released. Ellis Island was finally closed.

Ellis Island was refurbished in 1992 and is now a museum and has a great big wall with so many names in graved of who passed through there. The Statue of Liberty stands over it. Make your way over there and look at it. Enjoy the view and look up relatives names on the walls. I bet a large portion of us has a relative that passed through Ellis Island. I found mine.


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    • primpo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York

      Thank you just history, this is the first time I'm writing about something in History, it was for class, I just published it.. didn't even hand it in yet, due on tuesday.. thought I would get a point of view.. lol thanks..

    • Just History profile image

      Just History 

      7 years ago from England

      An interesting hub- you may want to look at the way you have loaded your pictures as there are links on the hub that spoil the content. Voted up- I guess I would not have got in as i have a goiter!


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