Visual depiction

The Transcontinental Railroad

A picture taken on May 10th, 1869, showing the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. (1)

The visual depicts the gathering of trains in Promontory Summit, Utah. This picture was taken on May 20, 1869 and it commemorates the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Before the railway, the average time it took from the East to the West coast was around 6 months. Two railroads began building tracks in order to claim the government subsidy. Eventually, the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific’s trains met in Utah. This visual shows the importance of the railroad, which shortened the coast-to-coast travel time to only 2 weeks. It also united the coasts, forming a joint nation. The railroad was vital to immigrants, who travelled west to find a suitable place for living and during the gold rush, many diggers headed west on the trains. However, this marked the final ending of the Native Americans’ lifestyle, as more Europeans flocked westward.


The 19th century

Discovery of gold and gold mining

There were three major gold rushes. The 1st rush took place in 1799, where gold discovered in North-Carolina. The first finder didn’t know its value and used it as a doorstop. In 1802, it was recognized and word spread. The first miners were farmers and they improved mines into mine-shafts. By 1835, there was a manifold of it, so president Jackson created the US Mint to process it. The second rush happened in Georgia in 1835, which created tensions with aboriginals and resulted in the removal of Cherokee tribes from the area. Another mint was founded to organize the findings. The third and the most famous rush was in 1848, which began in a gold mine in Coloma, California. J.W.Marshall at first tried to keep it a secret, but to no avail. Immigrants started flowing into California and so-called ‘forty-niners’ rushed to the state. Due to its high population and wealthy gold extraction, it became a state of the US. With private gold miners, both amateur and professional, came private companies in order to process the gold. This meant that entrepreneurship soared in the region.

A ‘forty-niner’ searching for gold in California. (2)

The construction of railroads (Union Pacific Railroad Co, Central Pacific Railroad Co)

In 1862, a Pacific Railroad Act made 2 companies start building railroads that would connect the land from West to East. In 1869 the 2 sides met in Utah. At first, people traveled from one coast to other usually by ship which took 6 months. Unless they were willing to go to the hazardous journey by foot, but people’s wish to travel increased with finding gold. Asa Whitney recommended building railroads and engineer Theodor Judah made it happen after 20 years gaining the approval from Lincoln. The terms included that each company got 32.000 dollars for each mile which forced a competition early on. The construction companies included many megalomaniac businessmen who also made illegal deals for profit. Native Americans feeling threatened of white Americans’  ‘iron horse’ attacked and kept disrupting the work. Poor settlements were founded behind the railroads forming the ‘Wild West’. Railroad constructors were different immigrants. The Union Pacific railroad company managed to cover 4 times as much distance as the Central Pacific one. The 2 sides met in Promontory Summit in Utah.

Industrialisation (raw materials, effect on development of economy, main industries)

Process where an agricultural economy transforms into a manufacturing one. In USA it began in the early 1800s. After the Civil War, machines replaced much of the manual work. Industrialisation grew economy rapidly, thanks to more goods being produced more quickly by machines. America had an abundance of natural resources, especially water, which helped to keep the machines working. Timber, iron and coal were some of the more rampant resources. Communication was also improved and made quicker to transmit messages with the invention of the telephone, telegraph and the building of railroads, which helped businesses to succeed. New products were also produced, such as the photograph, and the typewriter. Many jobs were created in manufactures to maximize efficiency in productivity.

Alexander Graham Bell testing his invention, the telephone. (3)

Formation of trusts

Trusts are formed when several businesses come together to standardize their rules and prices in order to increase profit. These are great for businesses, but bad for consumers. Trusts emerged, when there rose a competition between different firms offering a similar product. Without trusts, companies would have to compete with each other which is not beneficial for either of them. Trusts helped to agree on rules so that no company would have to lower their prices. For example, some of the most famous trusts were Rockefeller’s Oil Trust and the Sugar Trust. Because of the negative effect on consumer, as prices were not lowered, acts were made by congress that would prohibit trusts. Stockholders are in a company who’d give their respective trustees the power to vote for decisions within the company.

The role of Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie was an American industrialist and philanthropist. Firstly, he worked in a Pittsburgh cotton factory. He switched professions and began to work in Pennsylvania Railroad as the assistant to Thomas Scott, one of the railroad’s top officials, leading up to be the superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1859. Carnegie invested in iron and oil companies while working for the railroad. By 1889, he owned Carnegie Steel Corporation, the largest steel company in the world. In 1901, he sold his business and dedicated his time to philanthropy. He established the Carnegie-Mellon University in 1904 as well.

A portrait of Andrew Carnegie. (4)

The role of John D. Rockefeller

John Rockefeller was the founder of The Standard Oil Company (SOC) in 1870. He became one of the world’s wealthiest man, also taking interest in philanthropy. Born in New York, he entered the oil business by investing in a Cleveland refinery. At its peak, SOC controlled 90% of US refineries. During his life, he donated more than 500 million to philanthropy. However, Rockefeller was accused of colluding with railroads to eliminate his competitors. In 1911, US Supreme Court ordered SOC to be dissolved, in violation of anti-trust laws.

John D. Rockefeller. (14)

The role of Henry Ford

Henry Ford grew up in Michigan and he was born in 1863. At the age of 16, left home for Detroit to work as a machinist. He returned home to work on the family farm after three years. In 1891, he went with his wife to Detroit. There, Ford was hired an engineer for the Edison Illuminating Company, later promoted chief engineer 2 years later. He had spent many hours to build a gasoline-powered horseless carriage, or automobile. In 1896, completed the ‘’Quadricycle’’ – metal frame with 4 bicycle wheels powered by a gasoline engine. In 1902, established his Ford Motor Company. A month after, the first Ford car was assembled in Detroit, the Model T. Assembly process was slow and cars were built by hand. To avoid it, Ford introduced new mass-production methods, including large production plants, use of interchangeable parts and the world’s first moving assembly line for cars.

Ford’s first automobile, the Model T. (5)

Immigration to the US

Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World; French: La Liberté éclairant le monde) is a colossal neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island in New York Harbor in New York, in the United States. The copper statue standing at 93 meters, a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, was designed by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and its metal framework was built by Gustave Eiffel. The statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886. The Statue of Liberty is a figure of Libertas, a robed Roman liberty goddess. She holds a torch above her head with her right hand, and in her left hand carries a tablet inscribed in Roman numerals with July 4, 1776, the date of the Declaration of Independence. A broken chain lies at her feet as she walks forward. The statue became an icon of freedom and of the United States, and a national park tourism destination. It is a welcoming sight to immigrants arriving from abroad. Fundraising for the statue proved difficult, especially for the Americans, and by 1885 work on the pedestal was threatened by lack of funds. Publisher Joseph Pulitzer, of the New York World, started a drive for donations to finish the project and attracted more than 120,000 contributors, most of whom gave less than a dollar. Between 1886 and 1924, almost 14 million immigrants entered the United States through New York. The Statue of Liberty was a reassuring sign that they had arrived in the land of their dreams. To these anxious newcomers, the Statue’s uplifted torch did not suggest “enlightenment,” as her creators intended, but rather, “welcome.” Over time, Liberty emerged as the “Mother of Exiles,” a symbol of hope to generations of immigrants.

The Statue of Liberty being built in Paris, 1884. (6)

Causes of immigration from Europe in the 19th century

Main reasons for migrating to the US were fleeing crop failure, land and job shortages, rising taxes, and famine. It was perceived as the land of economic opportunity. Others came seeking personal freedom or relief from political and religious persecution. More than 70 percent of all immigrants, however, entered through New York City, which came to be known as the “Golden Door.” Throughout the late 1800s, most immigrants arriving in New York entered at the Castle Garden depot near the tip of Manhattan. A major wave of immigration occurred from around 1815 to 1865. Majority of the immigrants came from Northern and Western Europe. Approximately one-third came from Ireland, which experienced a massive famine in the mid-19th century. In the 1840s, almost half of America’s immigrants were from Ireland alone. Typically impoverished, these Irish immigrants settled near their point of arrival in cities along the East Coast. Between 1820 and 1930, some 4.5 million Irish migrated to the United States. Also in the 19th century, the United States received some 5 million German immigrants. Many of them journeyed to the present-day Midwest to buy farms or congregated in such cities as Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cincinnati. In the national census of 2000, more Americans claimed German ancestry than any other group. During the mid-1800s, a significant number of Asian immigrants settled in the United States. Lured by news of the California gold rush, some 25,000 Chinese had migrated there by the early 1850s. Between 1880 and 1920, a time of rapid industrialization and urbanization, America received more than 20 million immigrants. Beginning in the 1890s, the majority of arrivals were from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe. In that decade alone, some 600,000 Italians migrated to America, and by 1920 more than 4 million had entered the United States. Jews from Eastern Europe fleeing religious persecution also arrived in large numbers; over 2 million entered the United States between 1880 and 1920.

Different waves of immigration

First Wave 1790 – 1820

Groups of immigrants came for a variety of religious, political, and economic reasons. Northern and Western Europeans (English, Irish, Germans, Dutch, French, Spanish etc). Starvation, disease, and shipwreck killed 1 in 10 of those immigrants who set sail for America before they even set foot on land. There was little immigration to the US, while it was widespread to immigrate to Canada.

Second Wave 1820 – 1860  

Immigrants came for new opportunities because in Europe, peasants displaced from agriculture and artisans were made jobless from the industrial revolution. Some immigrants received “American Letters” which were encouraging friends and relatives to join20 them in America. German (escaping economic problems and seeking political freedom), British, Irish 40% (poverty and famine encouraged emigration). The Roman Catholic church was the single largest religious body in the United States by 1850.

Third Wave 1880 – 1914  

Immigrants came over to America for more job opportunities and freedom of religion. Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian countries (migrated to the western states). In the 1910 census, foreign-born residents made up 15 percent of the U.S. population and 24 percent of the U.S. labor force.

Fourth Wave 1965 – Present  

A new law that altered the selection of immigrants from the country they were from, to giving priority to people who already had family in the United States or had skills that were needed in the labor market. Europeans, Asians, Hispanics (Mexico). In the 1980s and early 1990s, Asians made up about one-third of the immigrants entering America. Hispanics made up about one-half of the number of immigrants in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Third wave Europeans waiting in line to access the US, 1892. (7)

Jewish immigration

Sephardic wave

The first group of Sephardic settlers arrived in New Amsterdam in 1654 from Brazil. For several decades afterward, adventurous Sephardic and Ashkenazic merchants established homes in American colonial ports, including Newport, R.I., New Amsterdam (later New York), Philadelphia, Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga. This was a departure from the Old World, where synagogues in places like Amsterdam, London, and Recife, taxed commercial transactions, regulated Jewish publications, and punished members for lapses in individual or commercial morality.

German wave

German Jews began to come to America in significant numbers in the 1840s. Jews left Germany because of persecution, restrictive laws, economic hardship, and the failure of movements — widely supported by German Jews — advocating revolution and reform there. Some 250,000 German-speaking Jews came to America by the outbreak of World War I. This sizable immigrant community expanded American Jewish geography by establishing themselves in smaller cities and towns in the Midwest, West, and the South. If German Jews had one city of their own invention, it was Cincinnati.

Eastern European wave

Eastern European Jews began to immigrate to the United States in large numbers after 1880. Pushed out of Europe by overpopulation, oppressive legislation and poverty, they were pulled toward America by the prospect of financial and social advancement. Between 1880 and the onset of restrictive immigration quotas in 1924, over 2 million Jews from Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Romania came to America. The immigrants found work in factories, especially in the garment industry, but also in cigar manufacturing, food production, and construction. Large-scale Jewish immigration to the United States ended in 1924.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island is a former immigration inspection station in New York Harbor, within the states of New York and New Jersey. It was the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the United States as the nation’s busiest immigrant inspection station from 1892 until 1954. After an arduous sea voyage, immigrants arriving at Ellis Island were tagged with information from their ship’s registry; they then waited on long lines for medical and legal inspections to determine if they were fit for entry into the United States. From 1900 to 1914 – the peak years of Ellis Island’s operation – some 5,000 to 10,000 people passed through the immigration station every day.

The exterior of the immigration station on Ellis Island in 1907. (8)

Reed-Johnson Immigration Act of 1924

The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota. The quota provided immigration visas to two percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States as of the 1890 national census. It completely excluded immigrants from Asia. It was signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge. The 1924 Immigration Act also included a provision excluding from entry any alien who by virtue of race or nationality was ineligible for citizenship. Existing nationality laws dating from 1790 and 1870 excluded people of Asian lineage from naturalizing. As a result, the 1924 Act meant that even Asians not previously prevented from immigrating – the Japanese in particular – would no longer be admitted to the United States. Many in Japan were very offended by the new law, which was a violation of the Gentlemen’s Agreement. The Japanese government protested, but the law remained, resulting in an increase in existing tensions between the two nations. Despite the increased tensions, it appeared that the U.S. Congress had decided that preserving the racial composition of the country was more important than promoting good ties with Japan. In 1917, they created a plan that lowered the existing quota from three to two percent of the foreign-born population. They also pushed back the year on which quota calculations were based from 1910 to 1890.

The notion of Melting Pot vs Salad Bowl

The USA is traditionally called a melting pot because with time, generations of immigrants have melted together: they have abandoned their cultures to become totally assimilated into American society. Historically, it is often used to describe the assimilation of immigrants to the United States. But in the UK, where cultural diversity is considered a positive thing, immigrants have always been encouraged to maintain their traditions and their native language. This model of racial integration can be described as a salad bowl, with people of different cultures living in harmony, like the lettuce, tomatoes and carrots in a salad. New York City can be considered as being a “salad bowl”. Both models of multicultural societies have contradictory aspects: in a melting pot there is no cultural diversity and sometimes differences are not respected, but in a salad bowl cultures do not mix at all.

Present situation

Immigrants comprise about 14 percent of the U.S. population: more than forty-three million out of a total of about 323 million people. Together, immigrants and their U.S.-born children make up about 27 percent of U.S. inhabitants. Illegal immigration. The undocumented population is about eleven million and has leveled off since the 2008 economic crisis, which led some to return to their home countries and discouraged others from coming to the United States. A 2017 Gallup poll found that 71 percent of Americans considered immigration a “good thing” for the United States. Forty-six percent of immigrants in 2017 reported their race as single-race White, 27 percent as Asian, 9 percent as Black, and 16 percent as some other race. About 2 percent reported having two or more races. In 2017, approximately 78 percent (239.3 million) of the 306 million people ages 5 and older in the United States reported speaking only English at home.

The US at the beginning of the 20th century

Urbanisation (living conditions, labour unions)

The US was a predominantly rural in the 18th century. In 1790 approximately 95% of people lived outside a city. At that time only 3 cities had more than 15.000 residents. However, urbanisation exploded during the Industrial Revolution. The nation changed from an agricultural to an urbanized and industrialized one. Before the Revolution, rich people tended to live in the center of the city. However, rapid urbanization opened the possibilities of larger roads and mass public transport, which allowed towns to expand their borders. Because factory workers did not need to live in a close range to their workplace, suburbs were built. The North became heavily urbanized and industrialized, while the South remained rural. Only in 1920 did the number of citizens living in urban areas become bigger than in rural areas. Because of the growing number of factory workers, more people demanded tolerable working conditions. This marked the rampant start of labour unions. Eventually, labour unions played a key role in abolishing child labour and increasing wages, reducing working hours and improving sanitation in factories across USA.

A grid-pattern city plan of Baltimore in the 19th century. (9)

Progressive Movement: Theodore Roosevelt

The Progressive Movement, also known as Progressive Era, was a period from 1830s to 1920s. The later political movement supported equal conditions for everybody and it developed because of the socio-economic problems as a consequence to industrialization. Many progressives lived in cities and were well educated. Many problems, such as immigration, corruption, better education and the right to vote were tackled. The peak of the activism was when Theodore Roosevelt came to power as president. He was the governor of New York and he was aware of city problems, which only the government could resolve. He noticed the public’s outcry over rising prices in industries controlled by a monopoly. He began to eliminate monopoly, such as in the railroad, tobacco, beef and oil industries. His reforms’ purpose was to allow a free market and to end corruption and monopolism. To add, he claimed a lot of land in the west to harvest resources and develop an infrastructure for citizens. The Progressive Era ended after World War I, when the horrors of people were exposed and many began to associate president Wilson’s sayings with the war. He was the creator of National Pubs in the US.

A portrait of Theodore Roosevelt. (10)

An American Empire (the Philippines, Cuba)

It was a Spanish-American war. The first battle was held in the Philippines. Americans knew nothing about Philippines culture or history so American military diplomacy was being carried out in the arrogant cover of almost total ignorance. In 1896, a riot against the Spanish had started in the Philippines. The rebels had adopted a constitution modeled after the American constitution. They had elected a government, including a president: Emilio Aguinaldo. Spain agreed on a truce but then tricked the Philippines so America sent their troops to help the rebels out. Rebels didn’t accept the help put the troops never left. Spain knew they were losing so they surrendered, but only to the US. Americans stayed there and from their point of view, Filipinos were a conquered people. They had no right, US troops searched their houses without any warrants. Americans called them “indians” and the soldier referred to them as “niggers”. American soldiers also landed in Cuba. In less than two weeks of fighting, the Spanish were again defeated. Other American soldiers occupied Puerto Rico, another Spanish-owned island close to Cuba. In July the Spanish government saw it was beaten. When peace was signed with the US, Spain gave most of its overseas empire to the United States – Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and a small Pacific island called Guam. Spain sold the Philippines to America for 20 million dollars. But not everything is bad, the Americans built schools and hospitals, constructed roads, provided pure water supplies and put an end to killer diseases like malaria and yellow fever in the lands they now ruled. They continued to rule most of them until the middle years of the century. The Philippines became an independent country in 1946. In 1953 Puerto Rico became self-governing, but continued to be closely tied to the United States. In 1959 Hawaii was admitted as the fiftieth state of the Union. Cuba was treated differently. When Congress declared war on Spain in 1898 it said that it was only doing so to help the Cuban people to win independence. When the war ended, Cuba was soon declared an independent country. Nevertheless, US used Cuba as a military base.

Dollar Diplomacy

Dollar Diplomacy, foreign policy created by U.S. President William Howard Taft and his secretary of state, Philander C. Knox, to ensure the financial stability of a region while protecting and extending U.S. commercial and financial interests there. It grew out of President Theodore Roosevelt’s peaceful intervention in the Dominican Republic, where U.S. loans had been exchanged for the right to choose the Dominican head of customs (the country’s major revenue source).Under the name of Dollar Diplomacy, the Taft administration engineered such a policy in Nicaragua. It upheld the overthrow of José Santos Zelaya and set up Adolfo Díaz in his place; it set up an authority of traditions; and it ensured loans to the Nicaraguan government. The hatred of the Nicaraguan individuals, however, in the long run resulted in U.S. military intervention too. Taft and Knox also attempted to promulgate Dollar Diplomacy in China, where it was even less successful, both in terms of U.S. ability to supply loans and in terms of world reaction. The dismal failure of Dollar Diplomacy—from its simplistic assessment of social unrest to its formulaic application—caused the Taft administration to finally abandon the policy in 1912. Dollar diplomacy has come to refer in a disparaging way to the heedless manipulation of foreign affairs for strictly monetary ends.

A portrait of William Howard Taft. (11)

Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine was a United States policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas beginning in 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as “the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.” At the same time, the doctrine noted that the U.S. would recognize and not interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries. The Doctrine was issued on December 2, 1823 at a time when nearly all Latin American colonies of Spain and Portugal had achieved, or were at the point of gaining, independence from the Portuguese and Spanish Empires. To simplify the Monroe Doctrine was a principle of US policy, originated by President James Monroe, that any intervention by external powers in the politics of the Americas is a potentially hostile act against the US. Eventually, all attacks of Europeans to the Western hemisphere was considered a threat to the United States.

The US in WWI

The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, more than two and a half years after World War I started. Before entering the war, the U.S. had remained neutral, though it had been an important supplier to Great Britain and the other Allied powers. The U.S. made its major contributions in terms of supplies, raw material, and money, starting in 1917. A premise to join the war was the sinking of the passenger ship Lusitania by German U-Boats, where over 1160 civilians died. American soldiers under General of the Armies John Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), arrived at the rate of 10,000 men a day on the Western Front in the summer of 1918. During the war the U.S. mobilized over 4 million military personnel and suffered 110,000 deaths, including around 45,000 who died due to the 1918 Spanish influenza outbreak (30,000 before they even reached France). The war saw a dramatic expansion of the United States government in an effort to harness the war effort and a significant increase in the size of the U.S. Armed Forces. After a relatively slow start in mobilizing the economy and labor force, by spring 1918, the nation was poised to play a role in the conflict. Under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson, the war represented the climax of the Progressive Era as it sought to bring reform and democracy to the world, although there was substantial public opposition to U.S. entry into the war. To simplify Although World War I began in 1914, the United States did not join the war until 1917. The impact of the United States joining the war was significant. The additional firepower, resources, and soldiers of the U.S. helped to tip the balance of the war in favor of the Allies.

Sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. (12)

Versailles Treaty of 1919

The Treaty of Versailles was perhaps one of the most important treaties in all of mankind, ending the Great War, or better known as World War I. Initially, it originated from President Woodrow Wilson, with his Fourteen Points Speech to the Congress on January 8, 1918. The Treaty was signed on June 28, 1919. Under the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan, Germany was held responsible for all war crimes and damages, therefore they had to pay 132 billion marks (roughly 396 billion euros in today’s economy) in reparations. This was also the cause of the hyperinflation in Germany. Most of the border territories were either given back to the original country (Alsace-Lorraine back to France) or given as entirely new land for neighbouring countries who aided the Triple Entente (Denmark, Belgium, Poland and Lithuania). The treaty demanded that Germany would lower their armies forces, all while prohibiting the use of certain class weapons and later on, be completely disarmed. However, due to the rise of Hitler in 1932, the treaty’s terms were completely avoided.

League of Nations

The League of Nations was to be formed under the first part of the Treaty of Versailles, later officially founded at the Paris Peace Conference on January 10, 1920. There were 42 original founding members and 15 other countries who joined later on. Its primary goal was to maintain world peace, by negotiation before things got worse. Their most successful achievement was the creation of the Geneva Protocol (prohibited use of biological and chemical weapons), while their other endeavours were not able to be enacted. It had no official army which was ever formed, so it only relied on the Allies’ powers. A lot of problems were not able to be solved because of countries not believing that they were a threat to the attackers, meaning that the League had to mostly watch from the sidelines. Even though it was Woodrow Wilson’s plan to form an intergovernmental organization to stop wars from ever happening, the US refused to join them. This, and the Soviet Union joining the League and later declaring war on Finland severely lowered their reputation. During World War II, the League of Nations’ members were supposed to stay as neutral, but France and Germany did not agree to this. That shows how low the organization has fallen, and in the early to mid-40’s, it basically ceased to exist. Only 26 of them remained as part of the League until it’s disbandment in 1946.

A League of Nations conference in Geneva, 1923. (13)

Historical accuracy

The film “The Immigrant”, firstly premiered in 2013, depicts a Polish immigrant named Ewa coming to America in 1921, but with her sister taken away because of an illness and she was declared someone with low morals, she had to be deported. Bruno Weiss offered help to her and he helped her escape, but she began working as a prostitute. Afterwards, Ewa worked very hard to help her sister on Ellis Island. The movie itself is a rather true illustration of the scenery and conditions at that time, but the actual plot is only vaguely based on real-life stories. Overall,

The décor and scenery around the movie is as realistic as it can be. It shows truly the life of immigrants on Ellis Island and the bustling nightlife of downtown New York. Different issues were very well bought out in the program, such as poor sanitation and personal hygiene and also corruption of the authorities, which was rampant with police officers and immigration workers on Ellis Island. A reviewer of the film mentions: “Every space—public or private, interior or exterior—feels authentic, historically and emotionally.” (1) For example, different scenes at the bathhouse or the café gave off an authentic vibe of the 1920s.

The characters are fabulously portraying the era of the 1920s, but in history they are not based on a sole person. However, the absence of solid historical evidence does not take away anything from the film. A critic, while interviewing the producer of the movie James Grey, mentions: “It isn’t necessary to know that Gray based the movie loosely on family stories…” (2) The producer of “The Immigrant” said that the center point of the actions, the bar, has a family symbol. His great-grandfather used to run a bar in New York and he talked a lot about a local exploiter of prostitutes, named Max Hochsten. This could mean that character Bruno Weiss is vaguely based on this real-life pimp.

To sum up, the program, which has a running time shy of two hours, is a historical movie depicting the challenges and obstacles of immigrants, who had went to the US. The background of the film was chosen very meticulously, as this was the first show, which was actually filmed on Ellis Island. The main characters of the movie are not portraying a certain person of that time period, but it is a broad generalization of what happened to immigrants in the early 20th century in New York.


Visual sources

(1) A picture taken on May 10th, 1869, showing the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Source:

(2) A ‘forty-niner’ searching for gold in California. Source:

(3) Alexander Graham Bell testing his invention, the telephone. Source:

(4) A portrait of Andrew Carnegie. Source:

(5) Ford’s first automobile, the Model T. Source:×1024.jpg

(6) The Statue of Liberty being built in Paris, 1884. Source:

(7) Third wave Europeans waiting in line to access the US, 1892. Source:

(8) The exterior of the immigration station on Ellis Island in 1907. Source:

(9) A grid-pattern city plan of Baltimore in the 19th century. Source:

(10) A portrait of Theodore Roosevelt. Source:

(11) A portrait of William Howard Taft. Source:×300/96/126396-004-0B18C26A.jpg

(12) Sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. Source:

(13) A League of Nations conference in Geneva, 1923. Source:×0/filters:no_upscale():max_bytes(150000):strip_icc()/LeagueofNationsConference-59dc029dd088c00010323c8b.jpg

(14) John D. Rockefeller. Source:

Used reviews

(1) Vishnevetsky, I. (2014) James Gray’s The Immigrant is an American masterpiece, AV Club. Available at: [Accessed 22.05.2019]

(2) Brody, R. (2014) ‘James Gray’s Overwhelming New Movie’, The New Yorker, May 16. Available at: [Accessed 22.05.2019]

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