A Multitude of Immigrants


Home       l       Site Map      l      Exhibitions      l     About the Museum       l      Education      l     Contact Us       l       Links


From the New York Tribune Illustrated Supplement, May 10, 1903:


Photographs reproduced from "The World To-Day," by courtesy of the Current Encyclopędia Company.

Immigrants Crowding the Deck of a Steamer, Watching Preparations for Landing.



IN APRIL, 92,778.

Tremendous Rush of Europeans to America.

In view of the growing volume of immigration the fascinating question, what is the future citizen of the United States to be like? is being pressed more and more upon the attention of those who have wrought and made the country what it is to-day--a land where every one has an opportunity. The improved business conditions, with their consequent effect upon building operations, are attracting to this country year after year more and more of the class of people who dig in the earth. It is not now because this country is an asylum for the politically oppressed, but because it is a great gold mine that the current of immigration tending toward these shores is swelling. Last year the number of immigrants who landed in this country was, lacking 100,000, equal to the total of the native stock living in New York City. This year it is estimated that 800,000 newcomers will reach this country. This will establish a new record for one year's arrivals. In April alone 92,778 arrived here. There have not been so many arrivals in one month since 1881.

Gustave Michaud, in a recent article in "The Century Magazine," attempted to give an answer based on the proportions of three ingredients to be found here. He divided the white races into three classes, according to their cephalic index--the relation of the length and breadth of the head. They were the Baltic, which includes the inhabitants of the British Isles, the Scandinavian Peninsula and the northern plain of Germany; the Alpine, which includes the peoples living on the mountain ranges beginning in Asia Minor and stretching across Europe, and the Mediterranean, the most emotional of the three, embracing the populations of the countries bordering upon the Mediterranean Sea. According to his figures, the approximate ethnic composition of 100 immigrants landed in this country within the period 1835-1890 was: Baltic, 87; Alpine, 10, Mediterranean, 3. Between 1890 and 1900 the proportion was 53, 32 and 15, respectively. In the following two years it was, respectively, 35, 42 and 23.

These figures are not needed to prove to us that the races from the neighborhood of the Mediterranean, especially that one whose home is in Southern Italy, are coming in increasing numbers. Where there is earth to be dug there comes the Italian to dig it. The stocky, globular headed people of the Alpine race, and the art loving, imaginative, dark skinned men and women dwelling on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, are gaining rapidly on the representatives of the Baltic race, with their altruism, their push, their love of work--which the Mediterranean race does not like so well--their love or order and cleanliness, their sincerity and their vastly higher percentage of literacy. The number of the latter wending their way hither is actually decreasing.

The other day a man who has been connected with the Bureau of Immigration on Ellis Island for many years was asked, "What distinguishing characteristics have you observed in the representatives of the different races passing before you?" He seemed to be doubtful of his ability to mention any. "I can never be sure that any characteristic is a distinguishing one," he said. "It is so likely to show itself in the representative of some other nation at any time. I pick out something that seems to be characteristic of one nation, and in the course of time an immigrant of another race exhibits the same characteristic."

Perhaps this man has gone below the surface so deeply that he has come to the universal characteristic of mankind. "The Italians," he said, "are politic. They display some of the Machiavellian principles. They will do anything necessary to get through the Bureau of Immigration--lie or steal, if it is necessary. They are clannish. If an Italian is placed in one of those rooms," referring to one of the rooms of the medical division of the bureau, "with another Italian, inside of sixty seconds he will know whether the other is an Italian, and, if so, if he is from the same town or not. The Scotch are the same. The Irish are entirely different. Tell an Irishman in the room and he will sniff and say, 'Is that so?'

"Then there are the Poles. They are very religious. When asked what country they come from, they are quite likely to reply they are Catholics. Half of the time they don't know of their nationality. They have no discrimination in the matter of dress. As likely as not, if they came by way of Liverpool, the would buy there a glaring necktie and a derby hat to wear with their native peasant costume, under the impression that it gave them an up to date appearance, and helped them to get a job. They have their eye on the almighty dollar. That is what they come here for. They go to the mines to work because it is about the only unskilled work open to them. The men come alone at first. After a while they organize a church, get a priest and hire a place for services. In the course of time they build or buy a church, and then send for their families.

Typical European Home of Many Immigrants Who Land Here.

"The Italian men also come alone. When they have earned enough money they send for their families or their sweethearts. The Italian women usually are coming to some one already here. They are either wives or sweethearts. The Irish women are different. Many of them come on speculation. Undoubtedly most of them have friends in this country, but they want to surprise them. They want to accomplish something and then look them up. Of course, if they fail they go to them for help."

A physician of the United States Marine Hospital Service, at one time detailed to the examination of immigrants at Ellis Island, now connect with the office of the Supervising Surgeon General at Washington, said, regarding the Italian immigrant: "his muscular development is away below par on the Anglo-Saxon standard--so much so, that I do not believe that a 13½-biceps, which is the possession of about one in four of our people, can be found in one thousand Southern Italian contadini or bracchinate (farmers or laborers) taken at random. In the matter of intellect we can find no fault with him, for I much doubt if our uneducated classes can nearly approximate these people in intelligence. The fault I find with them is an apparent tinge of rascality--which may be eradicable or not. I do not presume to judge of this. This much I will say, the race for life in Italy, as that for predominance here, is keen, and I am sorry to say that I believe the latter has strongly tinged our own people with dishonesty, and a dishonesty which, not having nearly so good grounds to rest upon as that suggested for our poor contadini, is, consequently, not excusable on any grounds.

"Speaking of exceptions in type, I have in mind a peculiar, red headed, blue eyed Sicilian and Calabrian we occasionally see. Some of them are so distinctly members of the Norse race that, despite their lessened stature, one would say without hesitation what their antecedents were--even did not history furnish the proof. There is a mystery about them. When one stops to remember that the stalwart frame, the long head, the blond hair and the light eyes of the Gothic invaders of Northern Italy have disappeared in the original race, heaving no reminder of themselves, gone as completely as if they had never existed, one wonders why there should remain here in Italy these unmistakable traces, marked and clear in a race which is an amalgamation of the Goths and another.

"The Magyar men are rather heavily set and much of the same type as the Slavonic people--indeed, it is extremely probable that they are akin. Both are darker and shorter than the Teuton. They frequently wear a short, many buttoned and much braided coat reaching hardly below the belt. Overcoats they eschew. Topboots with absurdly high heels are worn. They carry little or no baggage. This is in strong contrast to the women, who carry such huge bundles that, once laid down, they must have help to get them again upon their shoulders. The more dandyish men will occasionally carry a tin valise, whose collapsed sides show it to be veritably a hollow pretense. The women, while they certainly cannot be styled either pretty or graceful, make a picturesque appearance with their short skirts, print aprons, colored had cloths and high topboots, like the men's, leaning forward under their huge burdens, on top of which sometimes is a baby, and with half a dozen youngsters toddling at their sides.

"Some time ago we had several hundred Armenians on Ellis Island for many days. They were a rare sight for one seeking novelty in costume and physiognomy. With the head covered usually, both indoors and out, with the red Turkish fez, a vest much ornamented with bangles, buttons and braid, covering a shirt of some pronounced color, and, finally, trousers which almost beggared description, they were a spectacle, indeed. The trousers were in some respects similar to those worn by the Turks, but instead of the fullness at the knees it was given to another prominent part. So generous was the expanse of the seat of these wonderful trousers that the owner of one pair was not conscious that a small boy had hold of them until he had advanced a full yard. Squatting on the floor in circles and smoking cigarettes incessantly, they attracted more attention than any other visitors to Ellis Island I have known of.

"Among these people there were hardly any women. I asked one of the men why he left Armenia, and, upon being told, 'to escape Turkish atrocity,' I asked if he had a wife or mother or sisters, and if so, why they were not with him. He admitted that he had all of these in Armenia, but seemed to feel that it mattered little what became of them so long as he was safe. He merely shrugged his shoulders when I asked him what their fate was, and seemed more amused than hurt at the frankly uncomplimentary expression of my opinion of him. Their personal vanity was most pronounced, and the satisfaction with which they would pose for a sketch was absurdly evident. As a rule, it is not easy to get the European to pose, but these fellows were delighted to do so.

"The striking point in their appearance was their flatheadedness. They are probably the extreme in this direction, as the Tunisian is probably in longheadedness. These people were thrown on us much as a foundling is laid on one's doorstep, and partly in human kindness they were landed."

Deportation under the present laws is largely for pauperization, liability to become a public charge or because of diseased or maimed condition. Practically four-fifths of the deportations are on the ground that the persons are likely to become public charges. Occasionally it is for some other cause, as in the case of a family of gypsies who arrived here several months ago from Brazil. There were six children besides the parents. They said they were Arabs. They might have been anything so far as one was able to observe from the color of the skin. It was hidden beneath grime. The family carried a couple of copper kettles, hermetically sealed. When passing the inspectors they produced enough money to insure their admission to the country, provided they were eligible otherwise. They were directed to submit their kettles to examination. This they did with some hesitation. When the cans were opened, like Jack Horner's Christmas pie, they were found to contain plums of a golden hue. In the cans were gold coins amounting in value to between $20,000 and $25,000. The coins were of the mintage of the different countries through which the gypsies passed--Italy, Spain, Portugal and several of the South American countries, including Brazil. They declared that they were on their way to the Philippines to trade horses. after the cans were opened they carried the coin tied up in old handkerchiefs. It was decided not to admit them, on the ground that they were undesirable persons.


A few days ago, Anton Hanslian, an Austrian, who had pushed his wife and five year-old daughter all over Europe in a wheelchair, was ordered deported because he was a professional beggar and was subjecting a child to a form of nomadic life. At first he was admitted. It was found that he made his living by selling postal cards and that he accepted cash presents to assist him in paying his travelling expenses. He was a sturdy fellow and had none of the characteristics of the ordinary professional beggar. Had he come here to settle down on a farm instead of pushing a cart across the country, it was thought he would have made an excellent citizen, for he was energetic and especially intelligent.

photo: Anton Hanslian and his family, cir 1906. Hanslian was called the "Champion Walker of the World."

Some of the immigrants who have doubts as to their being able to get into the country devise schemes to encompass their object. One woman came here with four children, declaring that here husband was in this country. A man appeared before the Board of Special Inquiry in her presence, pretending to be her husband. The woman and children ran to him and embraced him. It was found on investigation that the woman had never seen him before. She finally admitted this to be a fact, and proceeded to describe her husband as a man with the left eye blind. On the next day another man appeared to get the family. He was blind in one eye, but it was the right one. One being questioned as to family matters which a husband would necessarily know, he proved to be a fraud also.
The woman and her children were eventually deported as likely to become public charges, without the truth regarding her husband ever being learned.

Under the present administration at Ellis Island the laws regarding deportation are rigidly enforced, and as a result it is probably that nearly all who are regarded under the present laws as persons who should be excluded are kept out and sent back to their native countries. It is said that this rigid enforcement has shown its effects on the class of immigrants now being received here.




Copyright © 2008-9. Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved.  Image Use Policy.