This Day In History: January 1

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On New Year’s Day 1892, Annie Moore, a teenage girl from Ireland, becomes the very first immigrant to be processed on America’s Ellis Island. Annie, along with her two younger brothers, kick off an immigration era that, over the next 62 years, brings more than 12 million immigrants through Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor off the New Jersey coast.

Ellis Island, the first and largest federal immigration processing station, was operated until it was abandoned in 1954. Between 1900 and 1914, the island’s peak years of operation, an average of 1,900 people passed through the immigration station daily.

Prior to 1890, when President Benjamin Harrison designated Ellis Island as the first federal immigration center, individual states regulated immigration. Migrants, who hailed from mostly northern European countries, came through Castle Garden—now Castle Clinton—on the southern tip of Manhattan to be processed. More than 8 million immigrants passed through Castle Garden between 1855 and 1890, in America’s first major wave of immigration. These 19th-century immigrants were often fleeing political and economic instability, or religious persecution. When it became apparent that Castle Garden couldn’t handle the influx of immigrants, the federal government began construction on the island, not far from where the Statue of Liberty towered.

Ellis Island became part of the National Park System in 1965, after a presidential proclamation from President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1990, Ellis Island was reopened to the public as the country’s primary museum on immigration. “Ellis Island was a temporary shelter for those who sought refuge, freedom and opportunity in our country; and…the millions of people who passed through the Ellis Island Depot were important to America for their contribution in making the United States of America the world leader it is today,” Johnson stated in the proclamation.

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