“Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free”
On January 1, 1892, a fifteen-year old Irish girl named Annie Moore became the first of the more than twelve million immigrants who would pass through the doors of the Ellis Island Immigration Station in its sixty-two years of operation. This small island off the New Jersey coast in the New York Harbor lies in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. Together, these two landmarks have welcomed millions of immigrants to America.
The film opens with a view of the steam ferryboat William Myers laden with passengers approaching a dock at the Ellis Island Immigration Station. The vessel is docked, the gangway is placed, and the immigrant passengers are seen coming up the gangway and onto the dock where they cross in front of the camera.
Immigrants who had just completed their journeys across the Atlantic Ocean would dock at Ellis Island, where they disembarked. The passengers were screened by doctors for obvious physical ailments and by officers who reviewed their legal documents. If they were in reasonably good health and their papers were in order, immigrants were allowed into the United States within a few hours of their arrival.
“At seven o’clock our boat lifted anchor and we glided up the still waters of the harbour. The whole prow was a black mass of passengers staring at the ferry-boats, the distant factories, and sky-scrapers. Every point of vantage was seized, and some scores of emigrants were clinging to the rigging. At length we came into sight of the green-grey statue of Liberty, far away and diminutive at first, but later on, a celestial figure in a blaze of sunlight. An American waved a starry flag in greeting, and some emigrants were disposed to cheer, some shed silent tears. Many, however, did not know what the statue was. I heard one Russian telling another that it was the tombstone of Columbus.
We carried our luggage out at eight, and in a pushing crowd prepared to disembark…. At a quarter to ten we steamed for Ellis Island. We were then marched to another ferry-boat, and expected to be transported somewhere else, but this second vessel was simply a floating waiting-room. We were crushed and almost suffocated upon it. A hot sun beat upon its wooden roof; the windows in the sides were fixed; we could not move an inch from the places where we were awkwardly standing, for the boxes and baskets were so thick about our feet; babies kept crying sadly, and irritated emigrants swore at the sound of them. All were thinking–“Shall I get through?”
With Poor Immigrants to America, by Stephen Graham. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1914. p. 42-43. American Notes: Travels in America, 1750 to 1920. General Collections
- Search the following Library of Congress resources on the phrase Ellis Island and the word immigrant:
- View the digitized pamphlet, Our Immigrants at Ellis Island, by Mrs. Francis E. Clark. Boston, Chicago: United Society of Christian Endeavor, c1912.
- Explore Topics in Chronicling America: Ellis Island to view related historical newspaper articles and to learn how to search the Library’s collection, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers for more.
- Search the collection American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940 on Immigration, or names of national groups such as Swiss, German, Italian, Cuban, Norwegian, to find many firsthand accounts of immigrants’ experiences.
- View the feature presentation Immigration and Relocation in U.S. History from the Teachers Page.
- Consult the guide to print sources on immigrant arrivals from the Library’s Local History and Genealogy Reading Room: “Immigrant Arrivals: A Guide To Published Sources.”