100-Year-Old Portraits of Immigrants to Ellis Island Show the People Who Helped Shape America

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100-Year-Old Portraits of Immigrants to Ellis Island Show the People Who Helped Shape America

German stowaway
German stowaway




To understand our present, we must first have a sense of our past. The historic Ellis Island in the United States is a symbol of the “melting pot” that has come to define the country—it’s a place where many modern families got their start in America. Active between 1892 and 1954, it served as an immigration inspection station for the millions of people arriving into the country. A 17-year-old named Annie Moore from Cork, Ireland was the first of 700 immigrants who arrived on January 1—opening day. At its peak, the site saw 11,747 people arrive in April of 1907.

Those who went through Ellis Island represented low-income passengers trying to immigrate to the United States—first and second class travelers were considered wealthy enough as to not become a burden to the state and were examined on board the ships. The people who were sent to the island underwent medical examinations, interviews, and legal inspections, often with very little in tow.

While waiting (for money, travel tickets, or family members), amateur photographer Augustus Sherman snapped portraits of the immigrants in their native dress, from grown men and women to small children. The black and white images are a fascinating look at these cultures throughout history, as well as an important reminder of the people who helped make America what it is today.

The New York Public Library currently houses Sherman’s photographs. In 2005, these images were compiled and published into a book called Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905-1920. The full-page portrait publication is now available through Amazon.

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Ruthenian woman
Ruthenian woman
Italian woman
Italian woman
Romanian women
Romanian women
Three Dutch women
Three Dutch women
Russian Cossacks
Russian Cossacks
Romanian piper
Romanian piper
Dutch children
Dutch children
Slovak woman and children
Slovak woman and children
Children from Lapland
Children from Lapland
Cossack man from the steppes of Russia
Cossack man from the steppes of Russia
Algerian man
Algerian man
Norwegian woman
Norwegian woman
Hindu boy
Hindu boy
Guadeloupean woman
Guadeloupean woman
Slovakian women
Slovakian women
Three women from Guadeloupe
Three women from Guadeloupe