Ellis Island Facts

Ellis Island from above

Did you know?

Some say that Ellis Island was the ‘gateway to the American dream’ but what we do know for a fact is that it was the gateway to America for 60 years. With a rich history, read on for some interesting and surprising Ellis Island facts…

An Island with Purpose

Ellis Island was opened in 1892 as a Federal Immigration station, a purpose it served for 60 years. Millions of immigrants passed through the station many from eastern and southern Europe and many were escaping poverty and conflict.

A Journey Before the Journey

Typically starting on horseback or train from cities and towns across Europe, many travelers had a long journey just to get to the seaport. They then boarded ships that were crowded, filled with a diverse group of up to 3,000 passengers all from different cultures and religions. and trekked across the Atlantic for 2 weeks

Conditions Onboard the Steamships

Passengers were dispersed between first class, second class and steerage, according to wealth of each passenger. The contrast between first and second classes meant that those with greater wealth enjoyed staterooms and cabin whilst steerage was just an open space at the bottom of the boat.

Tracing Ancestry

It is estimated that 40% of all current U.S citizens can trace at least one ancestor to Ellis Island.


The First Arrival

The first person to arrive on Ellis Island as an immigrant was Annie Moore from County Cork, Ireland. She arrived on January 1st, 1892 on her 15th birthday to join her parents already settled in New York. Travelling to New York with her younger brothers in steerage, Moore received a $10.00 gold piece from officials upon her arrival.

Humble Beginnings of a Future NYC Mayor

Working as an interpreter for the Immigration Service at Ellis Island from 1907 to 1910, Fiorello La Guardia later became the Mayor of New York City. A New York native, La Guardia’s parents were immigrants of Italian and Jewish heritage.

Eating at Ellis Island

Free meals were served on the island and a typical meal could include beef stew, potatoes, bread, herrings, baked beans and stewed prunes. There were also independent concessions that sold packaged food to be bought as people waited or to take with them when they left the island.

dining hall

Growth of the Island

The physical island grew over the years, quite literally with landfill and its suggested excess earth from the subway system construction. It grew substantially from 3.3 acres to 27.5 acres

Peak Time of Arrivals

During the peak period of Ellis Islands operations between 1900 and 1914, 5,000 to 10,00 passed through the immigration station each day. The ‘Passage of Immigrant Quota Act’ of 1921 ended the era of mass immigration to New York.

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From 1892 to 1954, over 12 million immigrants entered USA through the portal of Ellis Island in New York Harbor

We are part of America's story

Ellis Island tells the story of the journey of millions of men, women and children from around the world who sought a new future on these shores.

Walking around these buildings we're not just talking about history-visitors are able to touch, feel, and understand in a way that connects them to the past. As we rebuild parts of Ellis Island, we are rebuilding its legacy and revitalizing living landmarks to a world gone by. Save Ellis Island is working to create a destination that echoes the beacon of hope that it once was for nearly twelve million immigrants and continues to be for the nearly two million visitors each year.

Find out more

Our Supporters

The Save Ellis Island website is made possible by a generous donation from Heidi Liebi Root in memory of her father Fred Liebi