Immigration to the USA: 1900-1920

Immigration to the USA: 1900-1920

Immigration to the United States reached its peak in the 19th century in the decade 1880-89 when immigration reached 5,248,568. The first decade of the 20th century saw another record with 8,202,388 people entering the country. Emigration to the United States reached a record level in 1907 when total arrivals in American ports reached 1,285,000. The four most popular sailing ports in Europe were Naples (240,000), Bremen (203,0000), Liverpool (177,000) and Hamburg (142,000).

The main attraction of the United states for the early immigrants was the abundance of cheap or free land. Most of this had now gone and the main desire was for the high wages being paid in in the industrial cities. In 1910 three-quarters of the population of New York, Chicago, Detroit and Boston consisted of first and second generation immigrants.

Between 1820 and 1920 over 5,500,000 came from Germany. Other figures for this period included Ireland (4,400,000), Italy (4,190,000), Austria-Hungary (3,700,000), Russia (3,250,000), England (2,500,000), Sweden (1,000,000), Norway (730,000), Scotland (570,000), France (353,000), Greece (350,000), Turkey (320,000), Denmark (300,000), Switzerland (258,000), Portugal (210,000), Holland (200,000), Belgium (140,000), Spain (130,000), Rumania (80,000), Wales (75,000) and Bulgaria (60,000).

1840-1849 1,427,337

Primary Sources

(1) John Mitchell, Immigration and the Living Wage (1913)

Formerly, the great majority of immigrants came from England, Ireland, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries, from countries, in other words, where conditions of life and labour were, to some extent, comparable to those of the United States. At the present time, the source of immigration shifted from northern and western to eastern and southern Europe, and from men with a higher to men with a lower standard of living. The illiteracy of the immigrant has become more pronounced. This illiteracy, amounted in some cases to sixty-five to seventy-five per cent, debars the newly arrived immigrant from many trades, makes it more difficult for him to adapt himself to American conditions and American manners of thought, and renders it almost inevitable that he fall into the hands of the sweater and exploiter. The practically unrestricted immigration of the present day is an injustice both to the American workingman, whether native or foreign-born, and to the newly landed immigrant himself. As a result of this practically unrestricted and unregulated immigration, the congestion of our large cities is so intense as to create abnormally unhealthy conditions. The average immigrant from eastern and southern Europe brings with him from eight to ten dollars, which is about the railroad fare from New York to Pittsburg and is hardly sufficient to support him for two weeks. It is inevitable, also, that he remain where he lands and take the work offered him on the spot.

(2) Samuel Gompers, Schemes to Distribute Immigrants (1912)

More than 2,00,000 Italians have come to the United States in the last ten years: 1901-1905, 974,236; 1906-1910, 1,129,975. Here from a single nationality has been the revenue of $70,000,000 to the steamships. If a million Italians have gone back, they have paid for transportation thirty to forty million dollars more. The advertisements in the New York daily Italian newspapers, of which there are no less than six, are a revelation of the financial interests which are maintained by the Italians in the metropolis who are not yet sufficiently Americanized to depend on American newspapers for their daily reading. The revenues of any one of these newspapers would be reduced by a good percentage, perhaps below the sustaining point, if the steamship advertisements were withdrawn. The bankers, the doctors, the transportation agents, the dealers in Italian food supplies are all enterprising advertisers.

(3) Emanuel Celler, speech in the Senate in 1924.

It is the most vaunted purpose of the majority of the Immigration Committee to encourage assimilation, yet this bill has already done more than anything I know of to bring about discord among our resident aliens. Processes have been encouraged that make for the very antithesis of assimilation. The Italian is told he is not wanted; the Pole is confronted with the stigma of inferiority; the bar sinister is placed upon the Czech and the Russian. Fortunate is the one whose cradle was rocked in Germany or England. The 'inferior complex' is now extended to all Europe, save Nordics. The Austrian rubbing elbows with the Norwegian in the subway or on the street is beset with emotions of inferiority. His pride surges within him. He resents the stigma placed upon him. Surely he does not view the favored one with complacency. Does he not rather view him with hatred? Thanks to the ill-considered and improvident Johnson bill; and so race is set against race, class against class.