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Give Me Your Tired Graphic

"Give Me Your Tired . . .
Images of Immigration from the Museum of the City of New York"

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,

Immigrants in America on America
Produced by The Crosswalks Television Network, 1997
New York City Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications

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