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Urban America: Immigration . 1865-1915 More than 13.5 Million Immigrants came to the United States. Coming to America. In the five decades after the Civil War, roughly 1865-1915, a flood of immigrants came to America. From 1865 to 1900, some 13.5 million immigrants arrived in America.

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urban america immigration

Urban America:Immigration


More than 13.5 Million Immigrants came to the United States

coming to america
Coming to America
  • In the five decades after the Civil War, roughly 1865-1915, a flood of immigrants came to America. From 1865 to 1900, some 13.5 million immigrants arrived in America.
why did they come
Why did they come?
  • Wars, famine, religious persecution, and overpopulation were the four major reasons why people left Europe and came to the United States.
new immigrants 1880 1920
New Immigrants: 1880-1920
  • Major immigrant groups to the United States
  • Italians
  • Jews
  • Slavs
the new immigrants
The New Immigrants
  • From 1880 to 1924, more than two million Eastern Europeans, mainly Catholics, immigrated to the U.S.
italian immigrants
Italian Immigrants
  • Italian immigration to the U.S. reached its peak of over two million between 1910 and 1920.
jewish immigrants
Jewish Immigrants
  • During the same period, roughly two million Jews came to the U.S., seeking opportunity and fleeing the political massacre taking place in Eastern Europe.
slavic immigrants
Slavic Immigrants
  • Slavic Immigrants worked in the basic industries of America
  • Steel mills of Pittsburgh and Chicago
  • Coal mines of the Penn. Anthracite
how did they get here
How did they get here?
  • Passage to the United States often cost a life’s savings.
  • Because of this cost, entire families would often save enough money to send just one or two family members to America, hoping that eventually these members could afford to bring over the rest of the family.
on the boat
On the Boat
  • The crowded steerage deck usually contained a diverse group of people. Many were poor farmers whose fathers’ or grandfathers’ land had been divided so often that the plots were no longer large enough to support even single families.
travel dangers
Travel Dangers
  • As for conditions below decks, an agent for the United States Immigration Commission described them as follows: “During the twelve days in the steerage I lived in…surroundings that offended every sense. Only a fresh breeze from the sea overcame the sickening odors.
  • Everything was dirty, sticky, and disagreeable to the touch.” In such conditions, disease and even death were not uncommon.
ellis island
Ellis Island
  • In 1890, Congress designated low-laying, three- acre Ellis Island in Upper New York Bay as an immigration station. By the end of 1910, six million immigrants had come through Ellis Island.
  • The immigration inspection process was a humiliating and dehumanizing experience for many.
  • Newly arrived immigrants were given medical inspections and asked 32 background questions. Immigrants with contagious diseases were shipped back.
welcome to america
Welcome to America
  • With the huge numbers of immigrants, inspectors had just 2 minutes to complete the process and many immigrants had their last names changed by the inspectors because they didn’t have the time or patience to struggle with the foreign spellings.
  • Long lines of immigrants were tagged according to what language they spoke and marked with chalk according to the medical ailments they suspected of having and they waited for the inspectors to decide their fate.
what was it like here for them
What was it like here for them?
  • Some native-born Americans feared and resented the new immigrants.
  • Their languages, religions, and customs seemed strange.
  • They also competed for jobs.
  • Desperate for jobs, immigrants often accepted lower wages and worse working conditions.
where did they live
Where did they live?
  • Many immigrants lived in areas with people of similar ethnic background.
  • Such neighborhoods provided support but separated the immigrants from the rest of Americans thus slowing their assimilation into US culture.
  • The majority of immigrants settled in the big cities where factory jobs were available. By 1900, 4 out of every 5 people in New York City were immigrants or children of immigrants.

Cities Grow: 1890-1920

  • Factory jobs sparked an increase in the growth
  • of cities after the Civil War.

1890 – 1/3 of Americans lived in cities

1920 – 1/2 of Americans lived in cities


City Life

  • Poor families struggled to survive in crowded slums living in tenements.
  • Tenements were overcrowded, dirty and oftentimes had no windows, heat, or indoor bathrooms.

Hine, Lewis W. NYC tenement 1910

in the tenements
In the Tenements
  • *
  • Many immigrants lived in crowded tenement buildings.
  • Families shared living space and decent lighting & fresh air were scarce.
living conditions
Living Conditions
  • Conditions were uncomfortable, crowed, and dirty.
  • In New York, 1,231 people lived in only 120 rooms in one part of the city.
  • In Chicago in one year, over 60% of newborns never reached their first birthdays.
  • Many babies asphyxiated in their own homes.
five cents a spot rooms
“Five Cents a Spot” Rooms
  • Many immigrants had no home and slept in 5 cents a spot rooms where people paid for a small space to spend the night.
  • Can you imagine sleeping crowded against strangers?
jacob riis
Jacob Riis
  • An immigrant himself, Jacob Riis was well known for his photographs documenting the lives of immigrants & the urban poor in his book How the Other Half Lives.


  • Garbage collection and street cleaning began regularly.

Street cleaning, Fourth Street


Help for the Poor

  • Salvation Army

Hull House – a settlementhouse set up by Jane Addams

Hull House in the early 1900’s (above) and Jane Addams in the 1930’s (right).

1920s xenophobia
1920s Xenophobia
  • Immigration quotas passed in the 1920s tended to favor earlier generations of immigrants by giving preference to Northern Europeans.