19th Through 20th Century Immigration

From these modest beginnings -a few dozen English Separatists and Dissenters in the north and a hardly greater number of early -and not always willing -settlers in Virginia, began a series of westward migrations that in the 18th and 19th centuries drew millions of people from other lands into the United States. The heaviest influxes in the 18th and early 19th centuries were from Great Britain, Ireland, and northwestern Europe. The stream grew from a few thousand -just over eight thousand in 1820- to over two million per decade around the middle of the 19th century. This was a period of great industrial expansion in the United States, and there was great need for cheap labor. Before 1820, immigration records were largely kept by the States, and even when the records can be found they are sometimes less than fully reliable. One of the ablest historians of the subject, Mr. Samuel Blodget, wrote in his Statistical Manual in 1806 that the best estimates of immigration for the decade 1784 to 1794 placed it at not more than 4,000 persons per year. A reliable estimate for the year 1794 alone stood at 10,000. From then until 1810, the average for each year has been placed at not more than 6,000 per year. 

The flow was interrupted briefly on account of the renewed hostilities between the United States and Great Britain, culminating in the War of 1812. (The formal declaration of war was voted in Congress on June 18, 1812.) During much of the preceding decade, with British men-of-war intercepting America-bound shipping at sea or, later, actually blockading American ports, in1migration must have seemed overly risky. From about 1806 until the formal conclusion of peace between the belligerents in 1815,

the stream virtually dried up. But the flow was soon to increase dramatically.


"Old lronsides"

Between 1820 and 1986 the U.S. Immigration Service  records the entry into the United States of almost fifty-two million people, the greatest numbers from the United Kingdom and Germany.

By 1865 immigration from Great Britain and Germany had lessened to a mere trickle; the greater numbers in the second half of the 19dI century were from southern and eastern Europe and from Asia.

The heaviest period of immigration into the United States was the decade from 1901 to 1910: fore than eight-and-a-half million people accepted ôLiberty's" invitation. Most of those people came from Europe, many in this period from southern and eastern countries -Italy, Hungary, Germany, Greece, and the Near East. A goodly number, however, came from the Orient -Chinese and, later, Japanese, looking for new lives. It hardly needs saying that with such great numbers arriving on virtually every boat, record-keeping aboard ship about the conditions these immigrants endured in their quest was less than complete. By the turn of the century, conditions endured by passengers on many of the incoming vessels had improved very little since 1820 when Congress first began attempting to regulate such matters.