“My first impression of the new world will always remain etched in my memory, particularly that hazy … morning when I first saw Ellis Island. The steamer Florida, fourteen days out of Naples, filled to capacity with sixteen hundred natives of Italy, had weathered one of the worst storms in our captain’s memory; and glad we were, both children and grown-ups, to leave the open sea and come at last through the Narrows into the Bay. . . Passengers all about us were crowded against the rail. Jabbered conversations, sharp cries, laugh and cheers—a steadily rising din filled the air. Mothers and fathers lifted up the babies so that they too could see, off to the left, the Statue of Liberty.” -Edward Corsi
First class passengers underwent a cursory inspection aboard ship and were quickly processed through customs, but second and third class passengers landed at Ellis Island for a more thorough inspection. Many immigrants changed their names upon arrival, hopoing new “American” identities would help them quickly fit in to their new homeland.
The passengers would queue up in long lines in the Great Hall. There were twenty inspection lines and at least four special inquiry boards. Doctors would briefly scan each person for obvious physical ailments and mental deficiencies in a “six second physical.” Then legal inspectors cross-examined the immigrants, checking against the ship’s manifest that had been filled out upon embarkation, which contained the immigrant’s name and answers to twenty-nine questions.
Interpreters interviewed the arrivees in Arabic, Albanian, Armenian, Czech, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Dalmatian, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Flemish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Hungarian, Montenegrin, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Rumanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and Yiddish.
If the immigrant’s papers were in order and they were in reasonably good health, the inspection process would last about three to five hours. If not, or if they landed late in the day, they might spend the night; or if one was considered to be detrimental to American society, they could be sent back to their country on the vessel in which they arrived.
The surge of immigration crested on April 17, 1907 when the ships La Gascogne, United States, Nieuw Amsterdam, Carmaia, Republic, and Allianca arrived from Le Havre, Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Liverpool, Naples, St. Michaels, and Colon. During that month of April the Port of New York received 197 ships, and more than a quarter-million passengers from around the world.
In all, 1,004,756 new Americans passed through Ellis Island in the year of 1907.