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Ellis Island

January 1, 2022

On January 1, 1892, the first day of the new year, Ellis Island opened as a United States immigration inspection station. While preparing to open, three ships had already arrived and were eagerly waiting to dock. Records show an impressive 700 newcomers were processed through Ellis Island on the first day alone, with a total of 450,000 immigrants making their way to the United States through Ellis Island by the end of the year. Fifty years later, by 1942, an incredible twelve million individuals had been processed through the island and granted entry to the United States, a melting pot country widely seen as a beacon of hope, opportunity, and prosperity.

Prior to opening as an immigration inspection station, Ellis Island boasts a rich history. The island initially belonged to the Mohegan people, Native Americans who lived on the nearby island of Kioshk, later known as Gull Island. The Dutch purchased the land in 1630 and gifted it to Michael Paauw, an early colonizer of Manhattan.

One hundred or so years later, near the beginning of the Revolutionary War, a merchant by the name of Samuel Ellis purchased the island. He built a tavern, aiming to serve the fisherman who frequented the island’s shores; albeit, the watering hole was short-lived, going out of business upon Samuel’s death. Fourteen years after his passing, the state of New York purchased the island for $10,000. Adjusting for inflation, this would amount to roughly $280,000 today.

The island was then used for U.S. defense purposes, with military usage beginning at the onset of the War of 1812. During this period of time, the island was primarily used as a place to store ammunition and build fortification apparatuses. Military usage slowed as defense needs waned and picked up once again during the Civil War, then serving as an arsenal for weapons and ammunition.

In more current history, Ellis Island opened to the public as a tourist location in 1976, allowing over 50,000 individuals to tour the island in its first year. Tourism further expanded in 2001 with the opening of American Family Immigration History Center (AFIHC). Lastly, and most recently, the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration opened on May 20, 2015 and is colloquially referred to as “The Peopling of America.”

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