“The Immigrant” (by Ott)


Group 1

Discovery of gold and gold mining

The first documented commercial discovery of gold happened in 1799 when a 52-year-old male named Conrad Reed found a 17-pound yellow “rock”. He used it as a bulky doorstep until 1802 when a jeweller identified the rock and asked how much did Conrad Reed want for this. Reed asked only 3.50 dollars or a week’s worth of wages but the real value of the gold nugget was around 3600 dollars.

Another remarkable event in the gold mining history in the United States is the California Gold Rush. In 1848 a man named James Wilson Marshall found gold in Coloma, California. The news spread and soon approximately 300 000 prospectors in total arrived from other states and abroad to California to seek fortune. The thinly populated area of California soon gained statehood with the Compromise of 1850. California Gold Rush also caused the existence of ghost towns in California. These towns were usually formed when gold or silver was found. Eventually, these boom towns were deserted once gold opportunities were dried out. In the end, some became rich and most were left empty-handed. The sellers of mining equipment often became richer than the miners themselves.

The USA suffered a great decrease in gold mining due to the closure of gold mines during World War II. This was followed by another boom of gold production during the 1980s. Gold is still mined and exported in the USA to this day. Nowadays, the USA is the fourth-largest gold-producing nation in the world with 6.4% of the gold in 2018 produced by them.

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

In the construction of railroads, the Americas closely copied the British railroad technology. The first known railroad was used to build a French fortress in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia in 1720. The development of the first steam-powered locomotives was started in 1829. Before it, horses were used to pull the train cars. The first passenger service and the first common carrier was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad which started operating in 1830. By 1850, 14 000 km of railroads had been built. There were massive land grants by the federal government to build further new railroads.

The scheme of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Source

This all led to the First Transcontinental Railroad (also known as the Overland Route and the Pacific Railroad) which was 3 077 km of a continuous railroad connecting the existing eastern rail network to the Pacific coast. The railroad was constructed by three private companies: the Western Pacific Railroad (212 km), the Central Pacific Railroad (1110 km) and the Union Pacific Railroad (1746 km). The First Transcontinental Railroad was opened on May 10, 1869.

The Central Pacific Railroad Company operated from 1861 to 1885. In 1885 the company was acquired by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company. This rail company was chartered by the US Congress and its purpose was to build a railroad eastwards and complete the western part of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The Union Pacific Railroad Company was also a part of the First Transcontinental Railroad project. The company began operating in 1862. It finally merged into being the Southern Pacific Transportation Company. Union Pacific Railroad exists to this day and is the second largest railroad network in the USA (after the BNSF Railway) and one of the biggest transportation companies in the world.

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

During the 19th century, there were two Industrial Revolutions in the US and over the world. The First Industrial Revolution happened from 1760 to the time period between 1820 and 1840. This Revolution included mechanising the workforce, the increased use of steam and water power, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes. The Revolution also caused a huge population growth.

The Second Industrial Revolution happened between the late 19th century (1870) and early 20th century (1914). It mainly featured advancements in technology. For example, the developments of railroads, telegraphs, sewage systems, gas and water supplies which were then widespread.

The Industrial Revolution caused a huge shift in the US economy. The Revolution was itself caused by an increased necessity and demand of resources, so, for example, canals and railroads became instantly important to the success of the economy, especially in the Western frontier where resources were rich. All this led to the expansion of technological capabilities which in the future caused the dominant role of the USA in the worldwide economy.

Formation of trusts

A trust is a large grouping of financial interests with significant market power. The financial use of the word “trust” dates back to 1825. The term trust is often used in a historical sense to refer to monopolies or near-monopolies in the United States during the Second Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and early 20th century. Originally, trusts were made to consolidate power in large American corporate enterprises. The idea of trusts was not well received in the state courts. New American competition laws were created which were also known as antitrust laws. In 1898 an US President named William McKinley started a campaign of “trust-busting” and the next president Theodore Roosevelt did then the same.

The role of Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie. Source

Andrew Carnegie was a Scottish-American philanthropist, industrialist, Conservative and a business magnate. He led the expansion and development of the steel industry in the USA. He is identified as one of the richest people in American history with the net worth of 372 billion US dollars. He was born in Scotland in 1835 and emigrated to America in 1848 with his parents. He started working as a telegrapher moving his way up while investing in several ventures railroads, oil derricks, bridges, etc. He then founded a steel company and sold it later to J. P. Morgan in 1901 for 303,450,000 US dollars. After selling the company, he passed John D. Rockefeller as the richest American for the next few years. He devoted the rest of his life to philanthropy which seems to be quite similar to what Bill Gates is doing as of now.

The role of John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller in his late age. Source

John D. Rockefeller is also considered as one of the wealthiest Americans of all time. He was also a philanthropist and industrialist. Rockefeller was born in a large family in New York in 1839. He became an assistant bookkeeper at the age of 16. By the age of 20, he had already been in a few business partnerships and then decided to concentrate on oil refining which caused him to found the Standard Oil Company in 1870 while being 31 years old. The company rose to be the biggest company in the world. He ran it until 1897 and remained as its biggest shareholder. At his peak, he controlled 90% of the oil in America. The violation of the anti-trust law caused the Standard Oil Company to be split into 34 separate entities in 1911. Some of the pieces had even a bigger worth than the whole company ever did. This was caused by the doubling of shares. Rockefeller then became the first billionaire in US history. His treasure rose to be worth as much as 2% of the US economy. Rockefeller’s net worth was 409 billion US dollars. He died in 1937 aged 97, though he had a great desire to live to the age of a hundred.

The role of Henry Ford

Henry Ford. Source

Henry Ford was the founder of Ford Motor Company which still exists to this day. He was a sponsor of the development of the assembly line technique in mass production. He did not invent the automobile nor the assembly line but he developed and manufactured both. The most significant invention was the affordable car. Before it, the car had been a curiosity but Ford brought the car to the masses, he made it affordable and wide-spread. He also became one of the richest people in American history. He was born in 1863 and died in 1947 aged 83. Ford left his wealth to the Ford Foundation and arranged for his family to control the company permanently. Henry Ford was known for his pacifism during the years of World War I. Later on, he promoted and created antisemitic content. Ford blamed the Jews for causing both World Wars. He also was against the USA joining the Second World War.

Group 2

Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty nowadays. Source

The Statue of Liberty is a copper 93-metre-high statue on Liberty Island in New York. The statue was a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States. It was designed by a French sculptor named Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and dedicated on October 28, in 1886. The Statue of Liberty plays a role in American immigration as it was (and still is) the sign of freedom to the newcomers. For example, between 1886 and 1924, almost 14 million immigrants arrived in the United States and for them, the Statue of Liberty was a reassuring sign that they had arrived in the land of their dreams. The statue later claimed the nickname “Mother of Exiles”, a symbol of hope to generations of immigrants. The torch in its hand was meant to express enlightenment but instead seemed like a symbol of welcome to the immigrants.

Causes of immigration from Europe in the 19th century

Main reasons: fleeing crop failure, land and job shortages, raising taxes; the US being perceived as the land of economic opportunity, personal and religious freedom.

New York City quickly earned the nickname of the “Golden Door” as more than 70% of all immigrants entered through there.

One of the biggest waves of immigrants from Europe happened around 1815 to 1865. Most of them came from Northern and Western Europe.

One-third of them came from Ireland because of the massive famine there in the mid-19th century. Between 1820 and 1930, about 4.5 million Irishmen emigrated to the US and in the 1840s half of the immigrants in total were Irish. The mainly settled in the cities along the east coast.

About 5 million Germans emigrated to the US during the 19th century. Many of them went to the present-day Midwest in the hope to buy farms or settled in cities such as Milwaukee, St. Lois and Cincinnati.

Asian immigrants started to pour in during the mid-1800s brought by the news of the California Gold Rush. By 1850s, about 25 000 Chinese immigrants had settled in the US.

Rapid industrialization and urbanization between 1880 and 1920 brought more than 20 million immigrants to the US, another one of the biggest waves of Europeans. Most of them arrived from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe.

About 600 000 Italians emigrated to America. By 1920, more than 4 million had arrived in the United States.

Jews in Eastern Europe were trying to flee religious persecution as over 2 million of them entered the United States between 1880 and 1920.

Different waves of immigration

The First Wave happened between 1790 to 1820 when Northern and Western Europeans (for example, the English, Irish, Germans, Dutch, French Spanish, etc) fled because of religious, political and economic reasons. Shipwreck, starvation and disease killed 1 of 10 immigrants who travelled to the USA by ship before reaching their destination.

The Second Wave happened between 1820 to 1860 when many peasants in Europe were made jobless because of the industrial revolution. Germans escaped economic problems and sought political freedom, whereas the Irish were escaping poverty and famine. Many of them received letters from America encouraging them to join these friends and relatives in the US.

The Third Wave happened between 1880 to 1914 when many Asians (mainly from China and Japan) migrated to the US in search of job opportunities and religious freedom.

The Fourth Wave is still happening but started in 1965. A new law was set in place that gave priority to the immigrants who already had family in the US or had skills which were needed in the labour market. Most of the immigrants were Europeans, Asians and Hispanics (they were mainly from 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

The Sephardic Wave happened when the first group of Sephardic settlers arrived in New Amsterdam in 1654. They had come from Brazil. This was followed in the next decades by the Sephardic and Ashkenazic establishing homes in American colonial ports, including Newport, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston and Savannah. Jews were escaping taxes for commercial transactions and regulations for Jewish publications.

The German Wave began in the 1840s when large numbers of Jews started arriving in America trying to escape persecution, restrictive laws, economic hardship and the failure of movements which advocated change and were largely supported by German Jews. By the beginning of World War I, about 250 000 German Jews had arrived in America. These Jews established themselves in smaller cities and towns in Midwest, West and the South. They also created the city of Cincinnati.

Eastern European Wave happened after 1880 when Jews started escaping Europe because of overpopulation, oppressive legislation and poverty. The prospect of financial and social advancement lured them to migrate to the United States. Between 1880 and 1924, over 2 million Jews from Russia, Austria-Hungary and Romania arrived in America. They found work in factories, garment industry, cigar manufacturing, food production and construction. The wave came practically to an end in 1924.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island in 1907. Source

Ellis Island was an immigration inspection station in New York Harbour. It was the nation’s busiest immigration inspection station from 1892 until 1954. The station was a gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the United States. From 1900 to 1914 about 5000 to 10 000 people passed through the station every day. The period was also the peak of Ellis Island’s operation. The immigrants on Ellis Island had to wait in long queues for medical and legal inspection to determine if they are fit to enter into the United States.

Reed-Johnson Immigration Act of 1924

The Reed-Johnson Immigration Act was signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924. The act established a national origins quota, limiting the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States. The principle was that 2% of the total number of people of each nationality were provided visas. The act excluded immigrants from Asia completely. This means that Asian people were no longer admitted access to the United States. The Japanese were very offended as the Japanese government protested and thus raised tensions between the two countries, though without any result.

The notion of Melting Pot vs Salad Bowl

The Melting Pot – generations of immigrants have melted together, they’ve abandoned their cultures to become totally assimilated, there is no cultural diversity, sometimes differences are not respected. Describes the assimilation of immigrants in the US.

The Salad Bowl – cultural diversity is considered a positive thing, immigrants maintain their traditions and native languages, racial integration, living in harmony, cultures don’t mix at all. Describes the situation in the UK. The principle is based on the example of lettuce, carrots and tomatoes living in harmony in a salad.

Present Situation

14% of the US population consists of immigrants. That makes more than 43 million out of 323 million people. When we add their US-born children to the numbers, they make up about 27% of US inhabitants. The undocumented population is about 11 million and started decreasing since the 2008 economic crisis which led to many of the immigrants to return to their homes. The economic crisis also discouraged others from even coming to the United States. More than 71% of the people in the US consider immigration a good thing for the United States.

Group 3

Urbanisation (living conditions, labour unions)

Urbanisation kicked off with the Industrial Revolution. Before it, only 5% of people lived in cities and only 3 cities had more than 15 000 residents. But then the USA was industrialised and urbanised. Though the South remained mainly rural for some time as later in 1920 the number of people living in cities exceeded the number of people living in rural areas. Still, rapid urbanisation caused the creation of larger roads, mass public transport which allowed towns to extend their borders. Factory workers no longer needed to live near their workplace as also suburbs were built. Labour unions were created as the increasing number of factory workers started demanding for tolerable working conditions. These unions eventually played a big role in abolishing child labour, increasing wages, reducing work hours and improving sanitation in factories all across the USA.

Progressive Movement: Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt. Source

The Progressive Movement was a period from the 1830s to 1920s. The movement was created because of the socio-economic problems which had derived from industrialisation. The Progressive Movement supported equal conditions for everybody and tackled problems, such as immigration, corruption, bad education and lack of right to vote. The movement reached its peak when Theodore Roosevelt became the President of the United States. He had been the governor of New York before it, so he knew the city problems which could only be resolved by the government. He heard the public outcry over rising prices in industries controlled by monopolies, so he began to eliminate monopolies, for example, in the railroad, tobacco, beef and oil industries. His purpose was to establish a free market and to end corruption and monopolism. The Progressive Movement ended after World War I.

An American Empire (the Philippines, Cuba)

In 1896, the Philippines carried out a rebellion against the Spanish. The locals established a local government, a president and a constitution very similar to the US one. This was a rebellion against the Spanish conquerors. The Spanish agreed on a truce but followed to trick them, so the Americans sent their troops out, having no knowledge about the Philippines culture or history. Rebels didn’t want the American help but after the Spanish lost the Americans continued to stay and treated the locals with ignorance. The locals’ houses were searched without a warrant. The locals were treated like conquered people, they were called “Indians” or “niggers”.

Then the American troops also landed in Cuba. They fought again with the Spanish for a few weeks which was followed by another American victory. They continued their advance to Puerto Rico and once again beat the Spanish. The Spanish government saw that they were beaten and opted for peace. Thus they gave most of its overseas empire to the United States (including Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam). The Philippines were sold to the Americans for 20 million dollars. On the bright side, the Americans built schools and hospitals, constructed roads, provided pure water supplies and put an end to killer diseases like malaria and yellow fever.

Then the USA began to lose its empire. The Philippines gained independence in 1946. Puerto Rico started to self-govern itself in 1953 while still preserving close ties with the USA. Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state of the US in 1959. Cuba was used as a military base, though the USA had promised it was only helping the Cuban to gain independence by fighting the Spanish. Still, Cuba became an independent country.

Dollar Diplomacy

Dollar Diplomacy was a foreign policy which was created by the US President William Howard Taft and his secretary of state Philander C. Knox. The purpose was to ensure the financial stability of a region while protecting and extending US commercial and financial interests there. Dollar Diplomacy grew out of the peaceful intervention of President Theodore Roosevelt 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 US 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 manipulation of foreign affairs for strictly financial purposes.

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 been 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 Monro, that any intervention by external powers in the politics of the Americas is a potentially hostile act against the US.

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 US had remained neutral, though it had been an important supplier to Great Britain and the other Allied powers. The US made its major contributions in terms of supplies, raw material, and money, starting in 1917. 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 US mobilized over 4 million military personnel and suffered 110 000 deaths, including around 45 000 who died due to the 1918 Spanish influenza outbreak. 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 US Armed Forces. After a relatively slow start in mobilizing the economy and labour 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 US entry into the war. 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 favour of the Allies.

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 an 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 logo of the League of Nations. Source

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 and 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.


I have chosen a diagram as my visual. I do not think it pictures the conditions and challenges that the immigrants suffered and went through but it creates a simple visual understanding of the waves of immigration. The diagram pictures US immigration flows by country. It is a good way to visualise the waves of immigrants pouring into the United States from the 1820s to nowadays. For example, I was surprised to find out the contrast between the numbers of Irish immigrants and Chinese immigrants. I figured the numbers to be more equal but apparently, that is not the case. For anyone who is having trouble remembering the waves of immigration, this is a great visual to scrutinise. The source offers also many other great ways of visualising immigration history in the United States.


“The Immigrant” is an American film published in 2013, starring a French actor Marion Cotillard playing a Polish immigrant who is trying desperately to settle in the United States. She faces several challenges when her sister is put in an infirmary, she herself is facing deportation and then suddenly she is mixed into the world of prostitution to gain money for her sister’s treatment. Eventually, a somewhat lethal love-triangle emerges which changes everything.

Seemingly, the purpose of the film was to picture the harsh life of the immigrants arriving in the United States. It is hard to find reviews which evaluate the accuracy of the historical integrity but I personally think that the film was a success in that matter. The immigrants did not get to choose their fates. In order to stay alive and earn money, they had to accept what they were offered. Whether the events actually took place is disputable, though the director James Gray himself has said that “The Immigrant” is based largely on the remembrances of his grandparents (Callahan, 2014). There are also reviews that consider the film totally non-historical. For example, one review has given this film such a verdict: “The Immigrant’s triumph isn’t revealing the illusion of the American dream, but showing how two souls push past doubt and toward an understanding and appreciation of their interdependence as necessary to their human survival.” (Gonzalez, 2013)

Many people do not like the film but I do. The film has earned a fairly low rating of 6.6 in IMDb and many of my fellow students considered the film to be way too long and way too boring. I frankly liked the film. I found the film to be interesting and intriguing. It was exciting to discuss the events later with my classmates because each and every one of us saw the events differently. We saw different meanings and different perspectives. This film reminds me of a classical Estonian film: the colours are somewhat dull; there is not much speaking, especially by the main character; you have to kind of invent the ending yourself.

According to the director, “The Immigrant” is based on the remembrances of his own grandparents and the film seems to picture the harsh life of immigrants arriving in the United States but some of the reviewers see the film as not revealing the illusion of the American dream. The ratings are low but despite that, I personally liked the film and saw it as intriguing and interesting as people understand it differently.

1. Callahan, D. 2014. The Immigrant, RogerEbert.com. Available at: https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-immigrant-2014 (Accessed: 26.05.2019)

2. Gonzales, E. 2013. Review: The Immigrant, Slant. Available at: https://www.slantmagazine.com/film/the-immigrant/ (Accessed: 26.05.2019)

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