24 Remarkable Photos of Immigrants from Around 1900 Show a Time Like No Other

This unique time in our nation’s history was unlike any other.

More than a century ago, Ellis Island in the east and Angel Island in the west have processed millions of immigrants, all of whom came to the U.S. looking for a better life, or at least a new start. The photographs taken during this time tell of the Old World, as people disembarked from their steamer ships wearing the traditional dress of their countries, belongings in fabric bundles, sometimes with a smile for the camera and sometimes not. Here are 24 stunning photos of immigration at the turn of the century that give us a glimpse of what these immigrants were experiencing upon their arrival to America.

Via/ Library of Congress
Romani family photographed at Ellis Island around 1905. Via/ NYPL
U.S. inspectors examining eyes of immigrants, Ellis Island,1913. Via/ Library of Congress
Examining passengers aboard ships, vessel is the Shimyo Maru, Angel Island, California, 1931. Via/ Flickr
Two children on Ellis Island. The numbers attached to their clothing probably relate to the their passenger listings. Via/ Library of Congress
Slovakian woman photographed on Ellis Island in 1905. Via/ NYPL
Dining hall at Ellis Island, early 1900s.

Via/ NYPL

Algerian man at Ellis Island, early 1900s. Via/ NYPL
Laplander children from Sweden on Ellis Island, early 1900s.

Via/ NYPL

Immigrants at Ellis Island, 1917. Via/ Library of Congress
Immigrants on Ellis Island, 1900. Via/ Flickr
Italian immigrant photographed on Ellis Island, early 1900s. Via/ NYPL
Moroccan immigrants on Ellis Island, early 1900s. Via/ NYPL

Immigrants endured long lines, separation from their families, and were sometimes even quarantined or detained for weeks or months. They were given medical inspections and were subject to rigorous questioning. Weary-eyed and tired, those that did finally make it past the immigration stations could start a new life.

Ready for travel and going north, south and west. Immigrants with baggage lined up at teller’s windows marked money exchange, early 1900s. Via/ NYPL
Immigrants carrying luggage on Ellis Island, 1900. Via/ Library of Congress
Immigrants unloading their bags in Battery Park,1900. Via/ Library of Congress
Quarantine station on Hoffman Island, 1901. Via/ Library of Congress

Some immigrants were detained for long periods or were held indefinitely as in the case of Angel Island near San Fransisco, where the Chinese Exclusion Act made immigration for Chinese an extremely arduous process that could leave immigrants cooped up in cells for years.

U.S. Immigration station main building examination room Angel Island, early 1900s. Via/ Wiki Commons

Once they finally got settled, immigrants often lived somewhat separate lives from the larger community, usually living near other immigrants. Tenement housing in New York City became notorious for poor living conditions and overcrowded spaces. But, these apartments were the only thing that most immigrants could afford.

Home of Italian ragpicker and family, 1907. Via/ Library of Congress
Laundry lines outside NYC tenement buildings, 1900. Via/ Library of Congress
Family in tenement kitchen, 1911. Notice the crib and the laundry packed into this space. Via/ Library of Congress
Family in tenement room, 1912. Via/ Library of Congress

So-called “steamer classes” taught through object identification and signing to help immigrant children learn English. These classes were often mixed-age.

Steamer class, 1909. Via/ Library of Congress
Immigrant children at school in Boston, 1909. Via/ Library of Congress

The boom in immigration around the turn of the century meant that extraordinary numbers of people from all over the world flooded Ellis Island and major cities across the country. It wasn’t easy, but they made the best of the situation, making friends and money as they could and carving out new lives in this unfamiliar new land.

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