"Give Me Your Tired . . .
Images of Immigration from the Museum of the City of New
Ellis Island, in Upper New York Bay, opened as a federal immigration
center on January 1, 1892. From that year until 1924, the island
served as the point of entry for 16 million immigrants. In order
to accommodate the influx of immigrants, the Island was enlarged
with landfill and new buildings were added. The large registration
room was the heart of the processing center. In 1924, with the passage
of new laws curtailing immigration, Ellis Island's activity began
to wane. The island was subsequently used primarily to detain deportees.
In 1954, the Immigration and Naturalization Service moved its offices
to Manhattan and Ellis Island was declared surplus property. The
languished facility fell into disrepair. However, after a successful
campaign to restore the site, Ellis Island was reopened to the public
in 1990 as a museum of American immigration. Most recently, Ellis
Island has been the subject of a state territory dispute between
New York and New Jersey.
Born in Ribe, Denmark, in 1849, Jacob A. Riis arrived in New York
in 1870. For a time, he became one of the thousands of poor immigrants
who sought refuge in police-station lodging houses, the shelters
of last resort in late-nineteenth-century New York. By 1887, Riis
had found steady employment as a police reporter for local newspapers.
In that same year, he began to experiment with flash photography,
documenting the horrors of slum life-both on his own and with the
assistance of other amateur and professional photographers-and using
his visual evidence to crusade on behalf of the working poor.
For ten years, Riis wrote, lectured on and photographed the squalid
conditions of tenement life to which immigrants were often subjected.
Riis photographed the horrors of the slums specifically to shift
prevailing public opinion from passive acceptance to a realization
that such living conditions must be improved. Through his lectures
and his publications, such as How the Other Half Lives, Riis' reputation
as a reformer grew nationally. He was a major influence in launching
tenement housing reform, improving sanitary conditions, creating
public parks and playgrounds and documenting the needs for more
schools. All of his efforts to document, publicize, and combat these
conditions helped to create a better living situation for the continual
influx of new immigrants to New York.
On October 28, 1886, a cold and misty day, the Statue of Liberty
was unveiled on Bedloe's Island in New York Harbor and dedicated
amid great public celebration. New York City declared a general
holiday, and Brooklyn closed its schools. As crowds cheered, horns
blared, ships' bells rang out, and fireworks filled the air, President
Grover Cleveland formally accepted the gift from the people of France
to the people of the United States. More than a century later, the
copper-clad statue of a crowned woman remains the best-known symbol
of freedom in the world.
S.S. Patricia, Hamburg-American Line, Leaving
Boulogne, France for New York, 1902
Photograph by the Byron Co.
Museum of the City of New York
The Byron Collection, 184.108.40.20628
Immigrants in America on America
Produced by The Crosswalks Television Network, 1997
New York City Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications