Exploration and Settlement

American Immigration

How many immigrants arrived at Ellis Island?

More than 12 million people first entered the United States through Ellis Island; their descendants account for an estimated 40 percent of the nation’s current population. The majority of new arrivals were European, but immigrants also came from the West Indies, Asia, and the Middle East. More men than women arrived at the immigration depot.

Originally a three-acre landmass, the island is situated in the New York Harbor, off the southern tip of Manhattan. It was named for Samuel Ellis, a merchant and farmer who owned the island during the late 1700s. New York acquired the land, and in 1808 sold it to the federal government. The site served as a fort, and later, an arsenal. By the end of the century, record numbers of immigrants prompted the federal government to establish a bureau to process the new arrivals, the vast majority of whom entered the country at its largest port, New York City.

On January 1, 1892, the Federal Immigration Station opened on the island—in the shadows of the Statue of Liberty (dedicated 1886 on nearby Bedloe Island). The Ellis Island facility, which by 1901 consisted of 35 buildings, was the country’s chief immigration station. Its heaviest use was in processing the influx of immigrants who arrived between 1892 and 1924. The facility was closed on November 29, 1954, when immigration quotas had drastically reduced the number of incoming people and the mass-processing center was no longer needed. On May 11, 1965, Ellis Island was designated a national historic site. During the 1980s it was extensively restored so that visitors to the park and museum are afforded a glimpse of what their ancestors experienced upon arriving in this new land.

Hundreds of immigrants in the Great Hall at Ellis Island await possible entry to the United States (undated photo).

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