By Roz Hamlett, Portfolio Editor with Gregory Quinn
Photos Courtesy of the Library of Congress Archives
Regular followers of Portfolio will know that we post many historic photographs from the Port Authority vault. Few images of New York history are as iconic as those of Ellis Island during the height of immigration in the first decades of the 20th century. Pictures of huddled masses, in grainy black-and-white, looking simultaneously exhausted and hopeful—these images capture the American Dream. They are etched in New York iconography as firmly as the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. These newly-arriving Americans — the grandparents and great grandparents of many in this region — were destined to become the major labor source that built both New York City and its transportation infrastructure. We here at Portfolio still marvel at these images, and we wanted to share them with you.
From 1880 to 1924, more than 2 million Eastern Europeans, mainly Catholics, immigrated to the U.S. Of those, immigrants of Polish ancestry were the largest group. During the same period, roughly two million Jews came to the U.S., seeking opportunity and fleeing the political massacre taking place in Eastern Europe. Italian immigration to the U.S. reached its peak of over 2 million between 1910 and 1920. Immigration quotas passed in the 1920s tended to favor earlier generations of immigrants by giving preference to Northern Europeans.