In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s there were massive waves of immigration to America. These new immigrants were largely Italians, Hungarians, Jews, Serbians, Irish, and Slovaks. Fleeing such hardships as poverty, religious persecution, and political unrest in their homelands, immigrants journeyed to the United States in search of freedom and opportunity.During their voyage from their homelands to Ellis Island, many immigrants suffered. Traveling by steamships, voyages lasted anywhere between seven days to a month. Many immigrants ate off of tin plates with only soup or bread to choose from. To alleviate themselves from the unpleasant smells on the steamships, immigrants went on deck for some fresh air. At times many of the immigrants prayed for the steamships to go under so they could relieve themselves from the fear and worry. While approaching Ellis Island, nearly all immigrants’ eyes filled with tears as they admired the beauty of the land. It was argued that if a large number of immigrants entered the United States, it would be difficult to absorb them all because of the language and cultural differences among them. This instilled fear within these immigrants. Uncertain of their future, several immigrants saw America has an adventure and a “beacon of hope.”
Upon arriving at Ellis Island immigrants underwent questioning, medical examinations, and other upsetting ordeals. Each passenger had to answer a series of about 30 questions that were recorded on lists. These questions included name, age, sex, marital status, occupation, nationality, etc. Several immigrants didn’t know how to write or spell their own names, so immigration inspectors created one for them. Passengers were inspected for contagious diseases such as small pox, yellow fever, scarlet fever, and measles. The cultural habits of immigrants were frequently targets of criticism, especially when the new arrivals came from a different background. Numerous immigration officers looked down upon these immigrants. Immigrants were told to “sit down and shut-up.” Many families were separated. If family members were with one another , their lives were considered to be tolerable. With only little food to eat, the immigrants were supplied a dining area to eat with 3,000 others joining. Americans looked at these people with hatred and disgust. They saw only the awkward clothing, the strange foods eaten, and the different languages spoken by these immigrants. At Ellis Island up to as many as 5,000 immigrants each day would be checked, questioned and sent on their way. This process took between three and five hours possibly further. For others, a longer stay meant additional testing, and for an unfortunate two – percent, exclusion and a return trip home.
Finally the doors to the immigrants had opened. Although several immigrants had money taken from them in an unorderly manner, many departed and went to cities like Boston, Chicago, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh to start their new lives. Employees at the Money Exchange would simply lie about the exchange rates and pocket the difference. While the immigrants provided industries with a cheap source of labor, Americans were both afraid of and hostile towards these new groups. If an immigrant gains employment, he does so only by displacing an American who previously held that job. For an immigrant to find an employer, he would have to offer himself at a lower wage than an American worker was earning. In addition to, if Americans were to keep their jobs, they had to match the lower wages. Although they stood alone on the doorsteps of the nation’s largest cities, immigrants overcame their fears and faced reality.
Ellis Island was the gateway for more than half of the immigrants that entered the United States. Turning back was seldom an alternative for these immigrants. Even though immigrants still have the same views on America , many immigrants say, “God’s promise had finally been fulfilled.” The vast majority of immigrants to the United States came in search of jobs and the chance to create a better life for themselves and their families.