In 1886 the statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World,” a gift from
the people of France, was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland. Set at
the entrance to New York, the statue was just in time to greet the biggest
migration in global history.
Between 1880 and World War I, about 22 million men, women, and
children entered the United States. More than a million arrived in each of
the years 1905, 1906, 1907, 1910, 1913, and 1914.
Not everyone had to travel in steerage. Passengers who could
afford the expense paid for first- or second-class quarters. Upon arrival
these immigrants were examined by courteous officials who boarded the ships
at anchor. But those in steerage were sent to a holding center for a full
physical and mental examination. The facility at Ellis Island which opened
in 1892 could process up to 5,000 people a day. On some days between 1905
and 1914 it had to process more than 10,000 immigrants a day.
Many arrivals had left their homelands to escape mobs who attacked
them because of their ethnicity, religion, or politics. The German,
Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman (Turkish) empires ruled over many
different peoples and nationalities and often cruelly mistreated them.
Until 1899, U.S. immigration officials asked arrivals which nation
they had left, not their religion or ancestry. So oppressed people were
listed under the countries from which they fled. Armenians who escaped
from Turkey were recorded as Turks, and Jews who had been beaten by mobs in
Russia were listed as Russians.
This so called “new immigration” was different in many other ways
from previous immigration. For the first time, Catholic an Jewish
immigrants outnumbered Protestants, and still other arrivals were Muslims,
Buddhists, or Greek or Russian Orthodox church members.
Until 1897, 90 percent of all overseas immigrants had come from
Protestant northern and western Europe. Many of these nations had
democratic traditions and education systems. Even among the poor, many had
spent a few years in school or had acquired some industrial skills on the
job, and more than a few spoke English. Many of these men and women
settled in agriculture regions of the Untied States. Their goal was to buy
readily available land and start small family farms.
The people of the new immigration differed from earlier arrivals on
other ways. Very few spoke English, and some could not read or write any
language. Most were Catholic, but ten percent were Jewish.
All of this was soon proved to be not true. Only one third were
actually illiterate, and 90 percent of those who could not speak English
learned to do in less than ten years after they arrived. Their stamina
helped make America an industrial giant and the world’s economic power.
The new immigrants came at a turning point in American growth.
Bosses rarely knew their workers. Class animosity often divided management
Corporations showed little interest in their workers. Instead,
these business sought to maximize profits.
To lower wages, plant managers often tried to pit one racial,
religious, or ethnic minority against another to keep the pot of hostility
boiling. A labor paper reported that employers were “keeping up a constant
war of the races.” Bosses placed spies among their employees so they could
report “troublemakers” – any who urged workers to organize unions.