Ellis Island is best known as the landing place for many immigrants throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. And while this will always be the primary reason that many know of the island’s existence, there are several, little known facts that prove interesting when considering the rich history of the iconic landmark.
(1) Ellis Island is named after a tavern owner that once operated on the island itself
Ellis Island had many names before Samuel Ellis purchased it, and set up shop as a tavern owner. The business catered to the fishermen and sailors that conducted business in the harbor and surrounding waterways. After his death, Ellis’ heirs sold the island to the state of New York, and it was eventually transferred to the United States government. Throughout this process, the island never changed its name from the tavern owner, Samuel Ellis.
(2) Before operating as an immigration facility, Ellis Island housed military weaponry and ammunition
Long before immigrants came to Ellis Island for amnesty, the location was used to hold ammunition and weaponry for the United States military. This was the primary use for the island until Congress converted the facility into an immigration processing center. Before there was a federal immigration location, each state handled the process individually.
(3) A young Irish woman was the first person to pass through Ellis Island once it was an immigration station.
Annie Moore was 15 years old when she was admitted at Ellis Island on January 1st, 1892. Coming all the way from Ireland, she was also the first person to ever pass through the immigration station once the federal government had converted it. Soon after, thousands of Irish immigrants would pass through Ellis Island looking for a new life in the United States.
(4) Ellis Island has been called “Heartbreak Island” despite the millions that have passed through the immigration center.
The United States found it important to screen all incoming immigrants before allowing them into the country. Those that were sick or had criminal records were either sent back to their native land or were housed until they were well enough to enter the country. Because of the chance of rejection, some immigrants coined Ellis Island “Heartbreak Island”.
(5) The total number of immigrants that have entered the United States through Ellis Island is around 12 million.
Though it is no longer used as an immigration station, Ellis Island saw the admittance of over 12 million immigrants in its 62 year existence. In 1907, a single day saw nearly 12,000 immigrants pass through! That’s quite a few dreams!
(6) Ellis Island is now home to the Statue of Liberty
After its retirement from immigration services, Ellis Island became the home to the Statue of Liberty, in a sense. The islands are part of the same national park operation. Frederic Bartholdi dedicated the monument as a symbol of freedom and hope for the American people in 1886. The statue remains a huge attraction for travelers all over the world.
(7) Ellis Island was originally much smaller, but the government managed to create a facility 9 times the size of the original island!
When the government purchased Ellis Island from the Ellis family, the island was only around 3 acres in total area. At the same time, the city was creating the New York City Subway System, and the rocks and dirt removed from the ground to create the tunnels were dumped on the island. This expanded the size, giving it the width it has today.
(8) In World War II, Ellis Island was used as a Coast Guard training facility
Despite its history with immigration, Ellis Island has seen time as a weapons storage facility and a training facility.
(9) An immigration museum now exists on the island.
Visitors to Ellis Island today can view the Statue of Liberty and an Immigration Museum that shows the incredible history of the national monument.
(10)The last immigrants to pass through Ellis Island did so in 1954.
After years of debate, the government finally closed Ellis Island permanently as an immigration station in 1954. At this time, 12 million immigrants had passed through the center in its history.
Click here for recommended Ellis Island websites.