Millions of people from countries around the world arrived and stayed here, making diversity part of the state’s lifeblood since its beginnings. Today, New York is home to more than 4.4 million immigrants, representing one out of every five New Yorkers - well over the national average of foreign-born residents. Like others who came before them, these individuals overcame obstacles such as language barriers, new cultures, prejudices, and poverty to make lasting contributions to the Empire State.
A lithograph created in 1884 depicts boats surrounding the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
-"The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus (1883)
By 1820, New York was the most populated state in the nation. The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 opened up Western New York to settlement by Italians, Poles, Germans, and Norwegians. Additionally, development of rail lines in Europe and New York and the rise of steamships brought millions of immigrants to the New York Harbor. The peak of immigration came in the mid-1850s when the Irish fled the potato famine and Germans escaped economic instability. Between 1845 and 1854, 2.9 million immigrants, many Catholic, came to the U.S.
New York - Welcome to the land of freedom - An ocean steamer passing the Statue of Liberty: Scene on the steerage deck / from a sketch by a staff artist. Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, 1887 July 2, pp. 324-325. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison designated Ellis Island as the first federal immigration station. Ellis Island was a gateway to the United States for over twelve million immigrants until its closure in 1954. 1907 marked its busiest year with over one million people immigrating to the United States. Known as the “Island of Hope” for newcomers making the arduous journey, the island has also been referred to as the “Island of Tears,” for its representation of the physical separation of families and generations. Ellis Island was declared part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument in 1965 and reopened as a museum in 1990.
Great Hall of the Second Ellis Island Immigration Station, New York, N.Y. The flags feature 46 stars and were used for four years (July 4, 1908 – July 3, 1912). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress