The History of American Immigration Prior to 1965 – Part 2

The second edition of delving into the history of American immigration moves forward from the Colonial era and we look into the peoples that were coming to America during the mid-19th Century.

The Mid-19th Century

During 1810 to 1865 a new and massive wave of immigration hit America, and it was the Western and Northern Europeans who arrived in North America. A third of the immigrants were from Ireland escaping the dreadful potato famine that the country was blighted with during this period. It is estimated that in the mid-19th Century almost half of all immigrants in America were Irish. Considering the tiny population of Ireland this is quite incredible. The Irish immigrants landed on the East coast and did not travel far from their landing points heading for New York, Chicago and Boston.

German immigrants were the other major influx during this time, America opened its doors to over five million Germans who ventured to the Midwest to live lives as farmers congregating around Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. It is a fact that when the national census was taken in America in 2000, more Americans across the nation claimed their ancestry was German, which was more than any other single group.

The 1850s

The 1850s saw a great Asian influx into America due to the Gold Rush in California. Twenty-five thousand Chinese were lured to the U.S with the promise of getting rich quick and striking gold. This large influx of peoples resulted in a growing unrest and anti-immigrant feeling among the Anglo-Saxon majority population. The new immigrants were seen as unwanted competition for work, and the Irish were discriminated against due to their Catholic beliefs.

The Civil War pitched American versus American but also Irish versus Irish as the immigrants fought for their new homelands. After the war America went into depression which curbed immigration numbers until the 1900s.

The 1900s

From the late 1800s to 1920 America underwent a massive period of urbanization and industrialization and they needed new skilled workers to undertake a great deal of the work. During these forty or so years over twenty million new immigrants came to America. Mostly they came from all over Europe, there were six hundred thousand from Italy which grew to four million by 1920. There was also a high number of Jews from Eastern Europe entering America, fleeing persecution. The forty-year period after 1880 saw two million Jews settling in America. Things came to a head in 1907, when over one million immigrants entered America illegally, and so after WWI legislation started to appear to limit the numbers of immigrants entering America


During the depression of the 1930’s and the devastation of WWII, immigration was at one of its lowest rates. So The Immigration and Nationality Act was passed in 1965. Allowing refugees from Europe to immigrate to America. The Act allowed American citizens to sponsor their relatives from the same country of origin to come to the United States, and immigration patterns changed after Congress passed the act. Today, America accepts more immigrants from Asia than Europe but the United States is still welcoming immigrants from all over the world.


KMME 2021