Between the 1880s and early 1920s, nearly 19 million immigrants arrive in the United States. Most come to New York City.
The Empire City is the nation’s hub for immigration, finance, culture, and social reform.
They’ve traveled across the Atlantic Ocean. Most carry all they own. For while they bring with them rich cultures, most have few financial resources.
Pushed by Problems
Immigrants are mostly Southern and Eastern Europeans, who face few entry restrictions. They include Italians—largely farmers and laborers—fleeing such problems as poverty and discrimination at home. About one third will eventually return home.
A vast number of newcomers are Russian and Polish Jews, from small villages. They are pushed to leave by persecution—including violent, anti-Semitic riots and attacks—and lack of economic opportunity. Few will ever return home for good.
Pulled by Promise
New York (and other American cities) have become centers for business and industry. There is a huge demand for unskilled and semi-skilled labor. The promise of jobs draws immigrants.
So does the promise of greater freedoms than they had in their home countries.
There is a mix of emotions, happy and sad, about what’s been left behind and what may lie ahead.
My heart pounded with joy when I saw New York in the distance. It was like coming out of the darkness…I came to the Big City where I sensed the freedom….
– L.D. in a letter to the Jewish Daily Forward’s advice column, 1915