A photograph of immigrants arriving in Ellis Island in the early 20th century United States

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I chose this photograph as my visual because it depicts the people coming from war into unknown territory. Most of them didn’t have a choice as to whether to move into a completely different continent, not knowing what awaits, or stay at home and possibly get killed. These immigrants can be seen wearing what I’d say to be “higher-class” garments. So it is heavily implied that a lot of rich families had a better chance of escaping war in Europe. Ellis Island was the second hurdle to jump over, first, of course, being the long voyage on the ocean. The inspection was long and dull, so whether they were completely healthy or not, showing any symptoms would possibly mean deportation. Families usually had relatives living in New York City or somewhere near the area. If not, then people had to make due with what they had and work hard to even get a living space.


The 19th century

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Discovery of gold and gold mining

First rush was in 1799. Gold was discovered in North-Carolina. The finder didn’t know its value and used it as a doorstop. In 1802 it was recognized and word spread. First miners were farmers. Carolina mines evolved into mine-shafts. By 1835, there was a manifold of it so President Jackson created U.S mint to process it.

Second rush, found in Georgia in 1835 created tensions with aboriginals and resulted in the removal of Cherokee tribes from the area. Also, a mint was founded for it.

The third rush was, in 1848, a gold mine in Coloma, California by J. W. Marshall. At first, he tried to keep it a secret but that didn’t succeed. Immigrants started flowing into California in hopes of finding riches. ‘Forty-niners’ rushed to California. Thanks to this finding, it became a state. Amateur and pro-miners now became two separate professions. Private companies were created to process gold. Entrepreneurship in California flourished.

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

In 1862, a Pacific Railroad Act made two companies start building railroads that would connect the land from West to East. In 1869 both sides met in Utah.

At first, people travelled from one coast to the 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. Engineer Theodor Judah made it happen after 20 years gaining the approval from Lincoln. The terms included that each company got 48k 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 felt threatened by the white Americans’ “iron horse”. This gave them reasons to attack and keep disrupting the work. Poor settlements were founded behind the railroads forming the “Wild West”. Railroad constructers were different immigrants. The Union Pacific Railroad Company managed to cover four times as much distance as the Central Pacific one. Both sides met in Promontory Summit.

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

A process where an agricultural economy transforms into a manufacturing one. In the USA it began in the early 1800s. After the Civil War, machines replaced much of the manual work. Industrialisation grew the economy rapidly thanks to more goods being produced more quickly by machines. America had an abundance of natural resources; especially water helped to keep the machines working. Timber, iron, coal. Communication (telephones, railways, telegraph) helped businesses to succeed. New products such as photographs, telephone, typewriter. Many jobs in the manufactures to maximize efficiency in productivity. ‘Gilded era’-Mark Twain in 1920s-30; the culture of the newly wealthy people building mansions and following Europe in its art design etc.

Formation of trusts

Trusts are formed when several businesses come together to standardize their rules and prices in order to increase profit. 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. Famous trusts: Rockefeller’s Oil Trust, the Sugar Trust etc. Because of the negative effect on consumers (prices not lowering), acts were made by Congress that would prohibit trusts.

(Stock-holders in a company who’d give their respective trustees the power to vote for decisions within the company.)

The role of Andrew Carnegie

Photograph of Andrew Carnegie (image source)
  • American industrialist and philanthropist
  • Worked in a Pittsburgh cotton factory (earning 1.20/week)
  • Worked in Pennsylvania Railroad as the assistant to Thomas Scott, one of the railroad’s top officials
  • Became a superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1859
  • Invested in iron and oil companies while working for the railroad
  • By 1889, he owned Carnegie Steel Corporation (largest steel company in the world)
  • In 1901, he sold his business and dedicated his time to philanthrop
  • Established the Carnegie-Mellon University in 1904

The role of John D. Rockefeller

Photograph of John D. Rockefeller (image source)
  • The founder of The Standard Oil Company (SOC) in 1870
  • Became one of the world’s wealthiest men, a major philanthropist
  • Born in New York, entered the oil business by investing in a Cleveland refinery
  • SOC controlled 90% of US refineries
  • Was accused of colluding with railroads to eliminate his competitors
  • In 1911, the US Supreme Court ordered SOC to be dissolved, in violation of anti-trust laws
  • During his life, he donated more than 500 million to philanthropy

The role of Henry Ford

Photograph of Henry Ford (image source)
  • Born in 1863 and grew up in Michigan
  • At the age of 16, left home for Detroit to work as a machinist
  • Returned home to work on the family farm after three years
  • In 1891, he went with his wife to Detroit
  • Was hired an engineer for the Edison Illuminating Company(EIC)
  • Promoted to Chief Engineer 2 years later
  • 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 (model T)
  • Assembly process was slow and cars were built by hand
  • Ford introduced new mass-production methods, including large production plants, use of interchangeable parts and the world’s first moving assembly line for cars

Immigration to the US

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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, she carries a tabula ansata inscribed in Roman numerals with “JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (July 4, 1776), the date of the U.S. 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.

Causes of immigration from Europe in the 19th century

Fleeing crop failure, land and job shortages, rising taxes, and famine, many came to the U. S. because it was perceived as the land of economic opportunity. Others came seeking personal freedom or relief from political and religious persecution. More than 70 per cent 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.  (relatively little immigration, significant emigration 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 join 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 per cent of the U.S. population and 24 per cent of the U.S. labour 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 labour 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.

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. On January 1, 1892 – her 15th birthday – Annie Moore from County Cork, Ireland, became the first person admitted to the new immigration station on Ellis Island. On that opening day, she received a greeting from officials and a $10.00 gold piece. Annie travelled to New York with her two younger brothers on steerage aboard the S.S. Nevada, which left Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, on December 20, 1891, and arrived in New York on the evening of December 31. After being processed, the children were reunited with their parents, who were already living in New York.

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 per cent 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. 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.

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;
  • in a salad bowl, cultures do not mix at all.

Present situation

Immigrants comprise about 14 per cent 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 per cent of U.S. inhabitants. Illegal immigration. The undocumented population is about eleven million and has levelled 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 per cent of Americans considered immigration a “good thing” for the United States.

Forty-six per cent of immigrants in 2017 reported their race as single-race White, 27 per cent as Asian, 9 per cent as Black, and 16 per cent as some other race. About 2 per cent reported having two or more races. In 2017, approximately 78 per cent (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

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Urbanisation (living conditions, labour unions)

The main reason why the US started to urbanise was due to the worldwide technological advancements of the Industrial Revolution. The rich lived within the centre of the city, the middle class was a bit further away and the poor residing in the suburban areas. Life within cities was becoming much better than somewhere on a farm. Water pumps gave people more access to drinkable water, railroads enabled faster transportation and town watches to keep the peace. However, cities were densely populated, so moving around proved quite difficult. New factories gave the locals more jobs, therefore increasing the workforce amount within the vicinity. Labour workers, as they became known to be, did jobs that almost anyone could have dealt with, meaning that skilled craftsmen had fewer customers or just moved on into factories themselves. But they could have been easily exploited, with the working conditions being dreadful and wages unbelievably low. To combat this, they formed labour unions, in hopes to protect their rights and demand higher wages.

Progressive Movement: Theodore Roosevelt

Also known as the Progressive Era, it was a time of social activism and reformation of politics that went from the 1890s to 1920s. The main goal was to deal with problems caused by immigration, corruption and industrialisation. The movement was severely against monopolies, demanding that they “even out the playing field” for other up-and-coming businessmen. Its most well known political leader was President Theodore Roosevelt Jr. With his earlier experiences as New York City’s police commissioner and governor of the state, he had a solid grasp of the urban problems present within the society. He dealt with the trust issues head-on, enforcing the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which earlier presidents ignored. He was called the “trust-buster”, but in fact, he was actually supporting trusts, just not the bad ones. He created the Bureau of Corporations, which dealt with shady corporate practises.

An American Empire (the Philippines, Cuba)

Between both the Philippines and Cuba, America had a war with Spain on both of the islands during the late 19th to the early 20th century, known as the Spanish-American War. The first big battle took place in the Philippines, known as the Philippine American War. Before the purchase of the Philippines, the Filipinos lived on the islands as Spanish colonies for hundreds of years. They created a revolution, where the United States was reluctant to help. After winning the war, the Americans decided to buy the Philippines for 20 million dollars from Spain and denied their citizenship as Filipinos. Tensions immediately rose and started another conflict in 1899. The US fought with overwhelmingly more strength and after pushing the Filipinos back into the main island, they moved to guerrilla tactics. This made the battle much bloodier, causing additional casualties on the soldiers as well as civilians. In 1902, they captured the Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo and his followers dissipated, putting the fight to a close.

The second battle in Cuba had a similar outcome. The US was seen as the only solution to their bad conditions with the Spanish. So, with the American aid they wanted, the Cubans pushed the enemy back, but only staying at a stalemate on Fort Canosa. Spain, realising they had lost the war, withdrew all of the islands, including Puerto Rico and Guam.

Dollar Diplomacy

The Dollar Diplomacy was a political policy created by both President William Howard Taft and his Secretary of State Philander C. Knox. Knox ensured that this policy would create stability and order abroad, which would be beneficial for American commercial interests. It improved financial opportunities and helped the US use its private capital for foreign dealings. However, it failed to counteract foreign instability in places like Mexico, Nicaragua and China.

A cartoon made to show how the Monroe Doctrine is being used against the European powers setting claims on the Republic of Santo Domingo. (image source)

Monroe Doctrine

It was a foreign policy created by President James Monroe on December 2, 1823. He made four points in his doctrine:

  1. The US would not interfere with the internal affairs of the European powers, including wars.
  2. The US would not interfere with existing colonies and countries within the Western Hemisphere.
  3. No further colonisation was allowed in the Western Hemisphere
  4. Any attempts made by European political powers against the countries and colonies within the Western Hemisphere will be seen as an act of war.

The US in WWI

The United States declared neutrality after the war had broken out. More specifically, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed this. But after the sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania by a German U-boat in 1915, public opinion changed on the war. 2000 including 128 Americans died on that ship. News also spread about Zimmerman’s telegram which threatened an alliance between Mexico and Germany. The US, after having a vote for war within the Congress, declared war on Germany in April 6, 1917. The US Army consisted of just 133,000 soldiers, but after passing the Selective Service Act, the draftees numbers exploded to 2.8 million men. The first of the army arrived in June 1917. The war ended with 2 million Americans serving in the war and more than 50,000 casualties.

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 or given 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. 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, later declaring war on Finland severely lowered their reputation.

During World War II, the League of Nations’ members were supposed to stay neutral, but France and Germany did not agree to this. That shows how low the organization had fallen, and in the early to mid-’40s, it basically ceased to exist. Only 26 of them remained as part of the League until its disbandment in 1946.

Critical Response

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The movie I will be reviewing is called “The Immigrant”, made in 2013, directed by James Gray and set in 1921. Its main character, Ewa Cybulska, is a Polish immigrant who escaped the Great War with her sister Magda. Their arrive in New York City but were quickly separated. The movie revolves around Ewa trying to earn enough money to rescue her sister, by any means possible.

I liked the movie’s scenery. It captured the lifestyle of an immigrant who went into America unprepared quite well. Doing illegal acts just to stay alive might have been the only to even survive in New York City, especially as a woman who does not own a home. Reviewer Peter Debruge said: “Though the film ultimately concerns the heartbreaking compromises Ewa makes to adapt to this better life, Gray depicts these transgressions as magnanimously as possible.” (review link) I thought all of the clothing, props and portrayal of the city were very close to the real thing. It helped immerse me into thinking all of the events which occurred actually could have happened. The way people spoke was much different from what we see today and was a nice touch to cement the fact that it took place in early 20th century America. The story was well-handled, featuring a love triangle which actually did not become your average soap-opera scene. I thought that Ewa and Emil would get out of the city, with Bruno dying or something happening to him but I was honestly shocked that Emil would be killed by Bruno.

Moving on to the things I didn’t like. A lot of events that led up to how the movie ended would have been completely avoided if certain people did things differently. One such action was Emil’s 2nd confrontation with Bruno, after learning about the existence of a gun. Had Emil not pulled the trigger, or even opened the door, he would have lived. This frustrated me, as such a simple action cost his life. A reviewer named Howard Schumann had this to say: “Though we listen to Ewa’s self-deprecation in the oppressive darkness of a confessional, little is shown of her actual “work” and, as a result, it is not easy to relate to her feelings of degradation.” (review link) I felt the same way. Little to no scenes about her “sinful work” make it seem like the job of a prostitute isn’t even so bad. Of course, this is not the case, but even having one scene of her with a “bad customer” would help the viewers sympathise with her self-grudge towards her work.

I think this movie does well at portraying Ewa’s journey throughout the 2-hour runtime. However, I don’t think it isn’t that good for giving an overview of the immigrant situation in the United States. The movie has a well-written story which has quite a few flaws. If someone is looking for a good movie based in the 1920s, then this movie would be one of my suggestions.

Review sources

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