Ellis Island

Welcome to the Land of Opportunity


Ellis Island is an island located east of the Statue of Liberty in the Upper New York Bay.  Part of the island falls into Jersey City, New Jersey and a small part of the island falls into the territory of New York City.  The island has grown over the years by nearly 25 acres.  As need for larger facilitates grew, the island was added to. The island is owned by the U.S. federal government and operated by the National Park Service.  

Early History

Ellis Island in 1905

Early records show that New York State officials processed over eight million immigrants before Ellis Island opened.

The first immigrant inspection station built on the island was a giant Georgia pine building with several outbuildings.  Three large ships christened the inspection station on January 1, 1892.  The first year processed almost 450,000 immigrants.  A fire five years later burned the entire building to the ground.  No lives were lost, but nearly all of the immigration records were destroyed.

The current main structure was opened in December of 1900.  

Island in Action

Immigration "pens" for processing

The average immigrant spent two to five hours on Ellis Island answering questions and being examined.  The United States government wanted to be sure that the people entering our country would be healthy and successful.  Officials inquired about occupation, finances and health. Two percent of immigrants were rejected for various reasons, requiring them to return to their country of origin.  Ellis Island has been coined "The Island of Tears" or "Heartbreak Island" because of the denials.  Some immigrants were detained at the Ellis Island Immigration Hospital due to health screenings.  Patients were admitted for further observation before determining if they were healthy enough to enter the United States or if they should be sent back to their home country.  

Once an immigrant was processed many were reunited with friends or family at a location deemed "The Kissing Post."   

Immigration Museum

The Wall of Honor

The immigration buildings closed in 1954 and were abandoned.  Until the island was added as part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument it was difficult to revive the island.  The island was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. A restoration budget of $150 million was set soon after.  The island reopened on September 10, 1990.  Not all buildings and rooms are open for the public to view, but exhibits include Hearing Room, Peak Immigration years, Peopling of America, Restoring a Landmark, Silent Voices, Treasures from Home, and Ellis Island Chronicles.  The south side of the island (sometimes called the 'sad side') includes the Immigration hospital and remains unopened to the public.  Restoration fundraising continues for that project.  

The Wall of Honor (pictured above) lists many of the immigrants that were processed on the island.  To be included on the list, one can donate to support the efforts to restore and keep the facility open.  In 2008, the museum opened the Bob Hope Memorial Library.  

Additional Resources

Comment Stream