History of Ellis Island and JFK Airport

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History of Ellis Island

From 1794 to 1890, Ellis Island
was named Fort Gibson and was an important military role and defense system. Ellis Island opened in 1892 as a federal immigration station and officially closed in 1954. Almost 40% of current U.S. citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors to Ellis Island. When Ellis Island opened, immigrants from Western Europe flooded into New York; later on in the Eastern Europeans were the majority of immigrants. The first wave brought approximately eight million immigrants, mostly from Western European countries such as England, Ireland, Germany and the Scandinavian countries. They left the Old World for numerous reasons including longing for a better life, war, famine, religious persecution, drought.

"When we got toward Ellis Island, the boat slowed down and, oh, I felt better 
and I was happy. When we saw Miss Liberty, I can't tell you the felling
 that we had. We were so happy and we started to sing." 
--Renee Berkoff (Hungarian) Ellis Island, 1922

Annie Moore, a 15-year-old Irish girl was the first immigrant to be processed at Ellis Island on January 2, 1892. Over the next 62 years, more than 12 million immigrants followed through this port. First and second-class passengers were not required to undergo inspection but those who could not afford a ticket underwent a cursory inspection. Passengers that were sick or that had legal problems were sent for further inspection and then sent back or detained. Third class passengers often traveled in crowded unsanitary conditions near the bottom of steamships with very little food. All these passengers were required to go through legal and medical checks once they got off at Ellis Island.

"A week or more across the Atlantic. You leave one world for another.
We were seasick. And when you're seasick you wish you were dead... and we were
third class. Down at the bottom... they would always tell us to go up 
on the deck...and sometimes after a while you would feel a little better and 
then at night you'd go back into your dungeon cabin again and the cabin was
two by four." -- Regina Sass Tepper (Polish)

As the United States entered World War I, immigration to the United States decreased. Between 1918 and 1919, detained suspected enemy aliens were transferred from Ellis Island to other locations in order for the Navy with the Army Medical Department to take over the island complex for the duration of the war.

In 1920, Ellis Island reopened as an immigration receiving station and 225,206 immigrants were processed that year. It was officially closed for immigration procedures in November 1954. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared Ellis Island part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Ellis Island was opened to the public on a limited basis between 1976 and 1984. Starting in 1984, Ellis Island underwent the largest historic restoration in U.S. history. The $160 million dollar project was funded by donations made to The Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. in partnership with the National Park Service. The Main Building was reopened to the public on September 10, 1990 as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum. Today, the museum receives almost 2 million visitors annually.

History of JFK Airport

John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport in Queens, New York is one of the busiest airports in the United States. Surprisingly it was only built to relieve the overflow of local
LaGuardia Airport. Originally JFK was called Idlewild Airport for the golf course that it was built on. Construction began in 1942, it was planned to only be 1,000 acres but ongoing construction is taking place to this day. In 1943 it was renamed Major General Alexander E. Anderson Airport after a Queens resident who died in World War II. In 1948, the New York City Council again change the name to New York International Airport, Anderson Field though most people still called it Idlewild Airport. In December 1963, it was finally renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport in remembrance of the assassinated president.

The Port Authority of New York of and New Jersey manage JFK Airport; they oversee bridges, tunnels, bus terminals, airports and seaports. JFK Airport has now expanded to 4,930 acres and has 30 miles of roadway. The airport has eight terminals and has domestic, charter and international airlines. They constructed a monorail connecting JFK to LaGuardia. JFK Airport has been considered the new Ellis Island because New York City is the hot spot of immigration. During this semester our group explored the differences and similarities between the procedures and immigration laws from
Ellis Island to JFK times.

Return to:

I want to be an American, but how?

Immigration Laws and Prerequisites

Immigration Procedures

JFK Unit Media

JFK Airport

JFK Unit Works Cited