Immigration 1850's to 1920

Immigrants, as any U.S. History class will tell you, were vital to the life blood of American society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of the labor class that filled the newly built factories was primarily made up of immigrants. Causing much of the labor class to be looked down upon and abused for racial reasons, in addition to their poverty levels and political status. 23 million immigrants came to the U.S. between the years 1880 and 1920; and an average of 1 million a year between 1900 and 1914.

European immigration accounted for three quarters of the total number. From Western Europe (old immigrants), prior to the Civil War, Germans mostly came because of the social upheavals caused by the many Revolutions of 1848. Most of these immigrants were from Germany, known as the German '48ers. Irish immigrants came between the years 1845 and 1848 en masse, due to the Irish Potato Famine potato famine there. Pre-1900, 28% of all immigrants were from Germany, 15% from Ireland, 18% were from England, and another 33% were from northern and central Europe.

After 1880, a gradual shift began on the locations from which the immigrants came. The "New Immigrants" came from Eastern Europe. They were considered racially inferior in accordance to feelings of the majority at the time, and thus discriminated against worse, in a few cases, then African-Americans who had emigrated to the North looking for work in Urban America. These immigrants were also discriminated against because of their religions. Catholics from Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Orthodox Christians from the Baltics and Russia, and Jews from all over Europe, especially Russia.

Immigration from Asia was severely restricted solely on the basis of race. 300,000 Chinese Immigrants arrived on the newly settled West Coast between 1851 and 1882 in search of work, and 200,000 Japanese immigrants arrived between 1891 and 1907. These Asian Immigrants were willing to do almost any job, regardless of pay and conditions. This willingness caused conflicts with Native-born workers, and eventually led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Gentleman's Agreement between Theodore Roosevelt and Japan. These laws prevented Chinese and Japanese immigrants from reaching U.S. soil. Despite the hardships they faced, both groups found their niche in American society; the Japanese found work in fruit and vegetable farms, and the Chinese developed businesses in urban areas (China Town, Chinese Laundry, ect.). The ban on Chinese and Japanese immigration did not end until the 1940's and 1950's.

Immigration today is limited, and even though we may complain about the number of immigrants, the numbers are relatively small; only 1.8 million legal immigrants in 1991 in a population 250 million. To have the impact now that immigration did at the turn of the previous century the amount of immigrants per year would have to be around 50 million.

So stop worrying. Immigrants aren't going to take your job. Other American citizens are.

Im"mi*gra"tion (?), n. [Cf. F. immigration.]

The act of immigrating; the passing or coming into a country for the purpose of permanent residence.

The immigrations of the Arabians into Europe. T. Warton.


© Webster 1913.

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