Ellis Island, 1892. Originally published in The Illustrated American, July 23, 1892.

Close to the mouth of the Hudson River in New York harbor is an island of two and a half acres in extent, whereon land in the United States some of the citizens of the future.

Formerly known as Oyster Island, now called Ellis Island, it was in 1808 acquired for $10,000 by the State of New York when Daniel D. Tompkins was Governor. For a long time it was use for the storage of Naval materials, and some time in the "sixties" a newspaper reporter, in search of a sensation, discovered that if the powder magazine on the island blew up, millions of New York property would go to glory a few moments later. Congress made a note of the matter; the newspaper which had agitated the subject informed the public, in big head lines, that through its enterprise the national legislature was about to take steps to save New York from destruction. Then Congress dropped the whole thing; the civil War broke out, and the enterprising newspaper discovered new sensations. It forgot about Ellis Island, and New York managed to escape being blown up.

In 1880 Ellis Island, together with the islands known as Governor's, Bedloe's (on which stands the Statue of Liberty), and David's; Forts Lafayette, Hamilton, Wadsworth, and Schuyler were granted by the State of New York to the United States. When "Uncle Sam" wisely decided to look after his future nephews and nieces himself, and to stop the many abuses which occurred when the introduction of immigrants into this country was made under the supervision of certain states having great ports --- notably New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Louisiana --- he selected Ellis Island as the dumping ground for those who came to the Empire City.

Castle Garden, which Jenny Lind made historic with her marvelous warbling, had been for many years the landing place of our political magnates. All sorts of conditions of men, women, and children were allowed to gain a foothold in New York through its gates. The Board of Immigration --- a State board --- charged the United States Government fifty cents for every Tom, Dick, and Harry, good or bad, who fled from tyranny or justice from the old world to the new, and there are a good many pickings to be found in a couple of hundred thousand fifty-cent pieces.

So abuses grew worse and worse, and at last what is known as the Owen law was passed. It restricted the indiscriminate introduction of paupers into this country. But man is vile, especially in T-----y H--l {Tammany Hall - the then New York City political machine. - Lou Alfano}, and the late Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Windom, decided that the United States Government had better look after immigration itself.

Castle Garden became a thing of the past as far as immigrants were concerned. For a short time immigrants were landed at the Barge Office, but now they are looked after by United States officers at Ellis Island, in a manner which contrasts strongly in favor of the federal government.

No official record was made of the influx of foreigners into this country till 1820, but the immigration from the close of the Revolutionary way to that time is estimated at 225,000.

From 1820 to 1890 the number of immigrants had reached 15,641,688.

The following figures give the number of citizens of foreign countries who reached these shores between the same seventy years:

Germany, - 4,551,719
Ireland, - 3,501,683
England, - 2,460,034
British North American Possessions, - 1, 029,083
Norway and Sweden, - 943,330
Austria-Hungary, - 464,435
Italy, - 414,513
France, - 370,162
Russia and Poland, - 356,353
Scotland, - 329, 192
China, - 292,578
Switzerland, - 174,333
Denmark, - 146,237
All other countries, - 606,006

The only leading countries from which immigration has fallen off of late years are France and China.

Curiously enough, the Chinese immigration began to fall off some years before the Blair Chinese Exclusion Bill was passed.

It will be noticed that in the above tables --- which are official --- the German immigration preponderates, for Prussians, Bavarians, Saxons, Hanoverians, and Badeners are included under the one title of Germans, while the English, Scotch, Irish, and Canadians are estimated separately. If the total of British subjects is taken it will be found that 7,319,992 came to this country between the years 1820-90, and the probabilities are that a majority of those who came from "all other countries" were British subjects as well.

When the Board of Immigration was in the hands of the State, comparatively few immigrants were barred out. From January 1 to April 18, 1890, under the old law, 85,952 immigrants arrived at the port of New York, and only 82, or one-tenth of one per cent., were sent back to the old world, while in 1891-92, under the new law, about one half of one percent. were returned.

Note: The building to the right was the dining hall.

Colonel John B. Weber, the Federal Commissioner of Immigration at Ellis Island, reports that up to March 1892, the end of the fiscal year of 1891-92, there arrived at the port of New York 477,972 immigrants.

2,142 were not permitted to land, of whom 874 were unqualified and absolute paupers, whom the steamship companies were obliged to take back at their own expense.

Of those who landed, 585 became paupers during the year, due to the death of relatives. Under the old regime these immigrants would have been allowed to stay in the United States, and would have cost the country $172,900.50 for the past year.

Here are some interesting facts that statistics and reports show with regard to immigrants who arrive in New York.

About one-third of them remain in New York or Brooklyn; the rest get swallowed up in the West.

More than sixty per cent. came upon tickets sent them from friends who have made money in this country.

On quarter of one per cent. of the Scandinavians --- that is, Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes --- over fifteen years of age, who reached New York 1891-92, could neither read nor write.

One per cent. of the Germans over fifteen years of age could neither read nor write.

Great Britain is put down as sending over five per cent. who are ignorant of two of the three R's. It would be interesting to know whether the Commissioners are aware of the fact that Great Britain does not include Ireland, and why the Emerald Island, which is given a separate place in all the other statistics, is merged into Great Britain on this occasion only. If the true facts of the case were given in the report, it would be found that the percentage of Scotch ignorance of reading and writing was nearly nil, and that the Irish were no more learned that the Russian immigrants, the per cent. of whom do not know their A B C's. Of Austrians and Hungarians --- again an unfair combination --- twenty-five per cent. are reported to be ignoramuses, of Italians forty-five per cent., and of Poles sixty per cent.

People who visit Ellis Island will not be much impressed with the class of people who are to form our future fellow citizens. However, as Col. Weber, who has thoroughly studied the question of immigration on both sides of the Atlantic, tells us they are not deteriorating, we must conclude that a few months spent in this bright air of ours, and a week or two of feeling that you may go as you please, works wonders. The American who came over in the steerage a few years ago is a different person from the being you see landed at Ellis Island.

We hear a great deal of the Irish peasant girl, with black hair and blue eyes, and a complexion which would drive a Newport beauty wild with envy. We have seen her once or twice on her native sod, with stockingless feet, and we have often met her raised to the position of a barmaid; but we have never seen her at Ellis Island. Possibly she is kept in hiding. Scotland's "bonnie lassies," too, have hidden themselves away, and where are England's fair daughters? The beautiful women of Capri evidently never came to this country in the steerage, and Germany must smuggle her pretty Gretchens into this country by some other means.

The matrons and maids who arrive here, to domineer over our housekeepers, are certainly not a picturesque lot. The men are of a far finer type, and this is probably explained by the fact that the hard labor of the European peasant develops manly beauty, while it coarsens the features of the women. At any rate the European beauties do not come to this country by steerage.

When a transatlantic steamer arrives at its dock in New York, a tug or barge is sent to bring the immigrants to Ellis Island on which is a huge building of pine, faced with slate, for their accommodation. Here they can remain, but at the expense of the steamship company which brought them over, until their relatives or friends call for them. Each immigrant is thoroughly examined as to whence he came and whither he is going, and particularly questioned as to whether he is under contract. If so, he is returned to his native heath at the cost of the steamship company. If it is found that he is penniless, or likely to prove a burden to the State, or has any noxious disease, or is an idiot or a lunatic, or is a convict, back he goes to the old world.

Along Bowling Green, facing the Battery, are numerous hotels and mission houses, supported by philanthropic Catholics and Protestants, where the newly arrived immigrants can find board and lodging, and every precaution is taken by the government officers that they shall not be fleeced. A body of men, who can between them talk almost every language under the sun, is provided, and the immigrant, so long as he is under Uncle Sam's care, is thoroughly taken care of.

Nor does Uncle Sam remain satisfied with having seen him start off to the mainland with his baggage, full of hope in his prospects in the land of liberty. If he comes back to Ellis Island a pauper within a year, the government authorities see that he is taken home again by the steamship company on whose vessel he arrived here. If he falls sick of any disease which may have been incurred in that vessel or before he left Europe, they see, too, that the steamship company pays his doctor's bills.

Under the new regime, the lot of the immigrant to the United States is made as happy a one as mortal man can make, and his expense to the country has been reduced to a minimum. The new law has worked well in this way, too. The steamship companies have ceased to seek in the highways and hedges for immigrants as they did under the old regime, for they know that the United States Government has set its foot down and refuses to receive undesirable immigrants.

The logical result is that the next generation will be much better than the present. But logical results do not always occur.