On this day: Ellis Island closes

November 12 1954: America’s main immigration point shuts after 62 years


Ellis Island, sold by New York State to the US government for the princely sum of £5,500 at the beginning of the 19th century, was the main entry point to the US for more than six decades. At its peak some 5,000 people passed through it for inspection each day.

From 1892, when the control centre opened its doors, around 15 million immigrants passed through this island a few miles from Manhattan’s southern tip.

More than two million of them were Jewish, fleeing the pogroms Russia and around Eastern Europe and in search of a better life in the New World.

Many remained in New York, moving to the tenements of Brooklyn and the Bronx. Others went further afield, along the eastern seaboard or out west.

Jewish immigration to America actually began on a large scale in the 1820s, but came to an abrupt halt when quotas came into force with the passing of the Immigration Act in 1924.

What the JC said: The Jewish immigration to the USA 100 years ago amounted to a multi-layered revolution. The golden medina attracted some Jews as a refuge from a Europe ravaged by ethnic and religious hatreds. Others saw economic opportunities; still others were lured by the prospect not so much of economic opportunity or religious freedom, but of sheer anonymity. While Zionists preached the gospel of ethnic separatism, many Jews wished for nothing better than to lose their Jewish identities in the world’s greatest melting pot.

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Last updated: 10:05am, November 12 2010