During 1892-1925, many photographers were drawn to Ellis Island by the general human interest and newsworthiness of the scene; others, such as pioneering social photographer Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940), responded to the individual humanity of the immigrants’ raw eagerness, symbolized for Hine by their humble possessions. But there was one amateur photographer, Augustus Sherman, the Ellis Island Chief Registry Clerk, who was in a unique position to capture countless immigrants as they attempted to gain entrance into the United States.
Augustus had an undeniable natural talent: Despite the time-consuming exposure process and bulky cameras of that time, he managed to capture over 200 immigrants who were typically detained for interrogation. Powerful photos, that reveal as much about the subjects’ fears as they do about the diverse reality of our national heritage.
#1. An Albanian soldier.
Some hopeful immigrants could be held on Ellis Island for days, or even weeks, before being approved or deported.
#2. An Algerian man in traditional apparel
Immigrants were given free meals upon arriving — in most cases introducing them to new foods such as bananas and ice cream.
#3. Photo identified as ‘Girl from the Kochersberg region near Strasbourg, Alsace” (circa 1905)
#4. Wilhelm Schleich, a miner from Hohenpeissenberg, Bavaria (circa 1905)
#5. Cossack man from the steppes of Russia
With the U.S. attitude toward becoming increasingly negative, World War I marked the end of mass immigration to America.
#6. Peter Meyer from Svendberg, Denmark, age 57. April 30, 1909
#7. Three Dutch protestant women identified as “Mother and her two daughters from Zuid-Beveland, province of Zeeland, The Netherlands” (circa 1905)
#8. Identified as “Dutch siblings from the Island of Marken, holding religious tracts” (circa 1905)
#9. Photo identified as “Protestant woman from Zuid-Beveland, province of Zeeland, The Netherlands.”
#10. Three women from Guadeloupe in fancy dress
#11. A tattooed German stowaway allegedly deported in May 1911
#12. Rev. Joseph Vasilon, a Greek-Orthodox priest (circa 1905)
#13. A Greek evzone, which is a member of a light infantry unit in the Greek army
#14. A Greek woman in June 1909
#15. A Guadeloupean woman, 1911
About 700 immigrants passed through on the very first day of Ellis Island’s operation, January 1, 1892.
#16. A Romani family. The Romani are sometimes referred to as Gypsies
#17. A young Italian woman. (circa 1906)
Eighty percent of immigrants were processed and approved in just a number of hours.
#18. An Italian woman
The highest number of immigrants to arrive on Ellis Island in a single day was 11,747, on April 17, 1907.
#19. Swedish children in Lapland costume
#20. Originally titled “Swedish woman,” the title was changed when it was noticed that the woman’s clothing originated from the west coast of Norway
#21. A young Swedish girl from the Rattvik providence of Dalarna
#22. A Romanian immigrant poses with his instrument
#23. Romanian shepherd (circa 1906)
As opposed to wealthier arrivals, poor passengers were detained on the island for physical inspections and further legal questioning.
#24. Two Romanian women
#25. Russian Cossacks, armed and in full dress
#26. A traditionally dressed Ruthenian woman, who would now be known as Ukrainian
#27. A Laplander woman from Finland (circa 1905)
#28. Three young Scottish boys
#29. Captioned “Hungarian Gypsies all of whom were deported,” this photo appeared in The New York Times on February 12, 1905
#30. Romanian shepherds, one proudly posing with his pipe
#31. A Slovak woman with her children
To accommodate the dietary requirements of Jewish immigrants, a kosher kitchen was built in 1911.
#32. Three Slovakian women
It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of U.S. citizens can trace at least one ancestor back to Ellis Island.