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Ellis Island is a small island located in Upper New York Bay in the Port of New York and New Jersey. The island is own by the Federal Government. It served as a gateway for millions of emigrants for more than 60 years. President Benjamin Harrison opened the country’s first Federal immigration station at Ellis Island in 1892, right after the government took control of immigration in the United States. The station processed almost 450,000 immigrants throughout the course of its first year, and over 12 million during the time of its operation (1892 until 1954). In the 1890's a shift in immigration to the United States started, more immigrants coming from Eastern and Southern Europe. Between 1899-1915 almost 1/2 million Slovak's immigrated to the United States through Ellis Island. Immigrants had to go through a process of medical exams and literacy tests before being allowed into the country. Not all who arrived at Ellis Island were allowed to enter the country. Ellis Island was proclaimed a part of Statue of Liberty National Monument On October 15, 1965 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. The Island opened to the public in 1976. The museum opened on September 10, 1990, in the restored Main Building. Today, visitors can tour the Ellis Island Immigration and trace their ancestors through millions of immigrant arrival records made available to the public since 2001. It has been estimated that close to 40 percent of all current U.S. citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors to Ellis Island.

  • Main Building of the Federal immigration station which now houses the Immigration Museum, since September 10, 1990.
  • The Great Hall where immigrants were processed. The flags feature 46 stars and were used for four years (July 4, 1908 – July 3, 1912). The flags are still hanging in the museum.
  • Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, 1902.
  • First Ellis Island Immigrant Station, opened on January 1, 1892. Built of wood, it was completely destroyed by fire on June 15, 1897.
  • Second Ellis Island Immigration Station, opened on December 17, 1900, as seen in 1905.
  • Immigrants being inspected, 1904

Ellis Island located in the upper New York Bay, was the gateway for millions of immigrants to the United States. It was the nation's busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954. From 1892 to 1954, over twelve million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island. From its original 3.3 acres, in the time when Ellis Island was Fort Gibson, the island enlarged to 27.5 acres. This was done by landfill obtained from the ballast of ships, excess earth from the construction of the New York City subway system and elsewhere. Before Ellis Island opened, immigrants were processed by New York State officials before being admitted into America. In 1892, right after the government took control of immigration, President Benjamin Harrison opened the country’s first Federal immigration station at Ellis Island. While the construction to build the station was being done, the processing was done at a barge office in the nearby Battery.

The station processed almost 450,000 immigrants throughout the course of its first year. They processed them in many different ways from medical exams including eye tests, and literacy tests to see if they could survive in America. If deemed to be unfit, they were sent back to wherever they came from. On June 15, 1897 the building caught fire and burned to the ground. Edward Lippincott Tilton and William A. Boring won the 1897 competition to build the first phase of the new station. They built the Main Building, the Kitchen and Laundry Building, the Main Powerhouse, and the Main Hospital Building.

When the station reopened on December 17, 1900 the government estimated that there would be 5,000 immigrants a day processed on Ellis Island. The island proved that it was unable to do so when a large flood of immigrants came pouring in before World War I. The island processed more than 12 million immigrants from January 1, 1892, to November 12, 1954 so the government and carpenters were constantly struggling to enlarge and build new facilities to accommodate this greater than anticipated influx of new immigrants. This was an instrumental part of the nation’s history. The immigrants usually spent 2 to 5 hours being processed and were generally asked 29 background questions.  

After World War I, the United States began to emerge as a potential world power and established embassies all over the world. The prospective immigrants now applied for their visas at American consulates in their countries of origin. After 1924, Ellis Island was no longer primarily an inspection station but rather a detention facility. During the World War II the island served a multitude of purposes, primarily as a detention center during World War II, for alien enemies, those considered to be inadmissible and others. After the last detainee, a Norwegian merchant seaman named Arne Peterssen was released in November 1954, the Ellis Island officially closed.

The island fell onto hard times after it was close as the buildings went to waste for years until finally it was made a part of the Statue Of Liberty Monument and added to the National Register of Historic Landmarks 12 years after its closing. The museum opened on September 10, 1990, in the restored Main Building. There are many different exhibits you can visit while in the museum as well as films you can see while there. Ellis Island is a great place to visit and see one of our nation’s most historic landmarks.

Before the island became an official home to the First Federal immigration station, due the island’s rich history many different names were attached to it. The local Indian tribes called it “Kioshk,” or Gull Island, during the Dutch and English colonial periods it was known as Oyster Island, in the time when Samuel Ellis became the island's private owner in the 1770s, the island had been called Kioshk, Oyster, Dyre, Bucking and Anderson's Island. In 1760 some pirates were executed at the island and it became known as Gibbet Island. In the late 1700s Fortifications to protect the harbor in case of war were built at Ellis Island. In 1808 the Federal government officially purchased Ellis Island from New York State in 1808. During the War of 1812, the island had a battery, a powder magazine and a barracks (the powder magazine remained until 1890), and was called Fort Gibson in honor of an officer who was killed in the war. Fort Gibson served many purposes during the early 1800s. Before it was used as a military post by the Army and the Navy during the Civil War, the island served as a military solely for munitions storage.