For over 60 years, from 1892 to 1954, millions of immigrants from all over the world arrived to the United States through Ellis Island. Six years after the Statue of Liberty was dedicated, Ellis Island opened, making the New York Harbor a gateway to the rest of the country. By 1900, thousands of immigrants were arriving each day. Approximately 40 percent of today's American population can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island, according to the National Parks Service, which continues to maintain the island.
Nativist policies in the 1920s set quotas to limit the entry of immigrants from certain countries, sparking the decline of immigration through Ellis Island. Literacy tests were introduced, nearly all Asian immigrants were banned, and by the 1940s the military had taken over the island for its own use. In November 1954, the immigration port was shuttered. Since then, immigration to the U.S. ebbed and flowed and national attitudes toward it have shifted. But there is no doubt that American itself is a nation of immigrants.
During the peak of immigration through Ellis Island, when 10,000 people could arrive in one day, Wisconsin-born sociologist and photographer Lewis W. Hine photographed these new Americans as they entered the country for the first time.
"Amidst crowds of anxious immigrants milling about, Hine had to locate his subject, isolate [them] from the crowd," wrote a biographer on Hine, "and set the pose-almost always, because of the language barrier, without words."
Generations later, the portraits wordlessly speak to the immigrant's place in American life.