Today In History: Ellis Island Shutters

Today In History |

November 12, 1954

Time Magazine

Today in 1954, Ellis Island closed. The Island, the primary point of disembarkation for over 12 million immigrants to the United States, had been open since 1892. The Island was so heavily trafficked by immigrants during its time that around 40% of all Americans have a relative who was processed there.

It was the first ever federal immigration center. It was explicitly class-based, only processing passengers who were third-class or below. First- and second-class passengers were permitted to disembark at open piers, and then go through customs. Third-class passengers, however, were forced to endure lengthy, often humiliating medical examinations and interviews. However, 98% of the immigrants processed at the island were granted entry to the country.

Zocalo Public Square

The Island was eventually enlarged to accommodate an uptick in immigrants between 1892 and 1924. The Island's busiest year was 1907. It is estimated that over a million people passed through the Island that year alone.

WWI saw Ellis Island partially repurposed to be a detention center. It remained so throughout the twenties. The Island, in the late twenties, was mostly used as a deportation center and WWII hospital.

Ellis Island is today the site of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. The renovation cost $160 million.

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Matt lives in Southern California. He is interested in politics, history, literature and the natural world.