Ellis Island Immigrants, 1907

Between 1892 and 1954, Ellis Island served as an immigration inspection station for millions of immigrants arriving into the United States. The first immigrant to pass though the station was 17-year-old Annie Moore from Cork, Ireland, one of the 700 immigrants arriving on the opening day on January 1, 1892. The first and second class passengers were considered wealthy enough not to become a burden to the state and were examined onboard the ships while the poorer passengers were sent to the island where they underwent medical examinations and legal inspections. These images of people wearing their folk costumes were taken by amateur photographer Augustus Sherman who worked as the Chief Registry Clerk on Ellis Island from 1892 until 1925. The people in the photographs were most likely detainees who were waiting for money, travel tickets or someone to come and collect them from the island. In 1907, the photographs were published in National Geographic, and they were also hung on the walls of the lower Manhattan headquarters of the federal Immigration Service.

1907 was the busiest year for Ellis Island, with an all-time high of 11,747 immigrants arriving in April. Approved immigrants spent between three to five hours on the island where they underwent medical examinations and were asked questions regarding their occupation and the money they owned, it being preferable for them to have a starting sum when they arrived in the country. Two percent of the immigrants were denied admission on the grounds of suffering from contagious diseases or insanity, or alternatively by virtue of having a criminal background. In the 1920s, restrictions were placed on the percentage of immigrants arriving from various countries or ethnic backgrounds, as immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were seen as inferior to the earlier immigrants from Northern and Western Europe. The facilities later served as a detention and deportation processing station, and during the Second World War, German, Italian, and Japanese resident aliens were detained on the island. Source

Albanian soldier.

Identified as “Girl from the Kochersberg region near Strasbourg, Alsace”

Cossack man from the steppes of Russia.

Guadeloupean woman.

Identified as “Peter Meyer — [age] 57, Denmark. [SS] ‘Mauretania’ Apr. 30 — ’09” from Svendberg.

Lapland children, possibly from Sweden.

Identified in Peter Mesenhöller “Augustus F. Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905-1920” from another print that bears a caption: Thumbu Sammy, aged 17, Hindoo ex SS ‘Adriatic’, April 14, 1911.

Identified as ‘Protestant woman from Zuid-Beveland, province of Zeeland, The Netherlands’

Identified as “Wilhelm Schleich”

Sami woman from Finland.

Romanian piper.

Formerly titled “Swedish woman;” costume is from the west coast of Norway.

Romanian shepherd.

Ruthenian woman.

Rev. Joseph Vasilon, Greek-Orthodox priest.

Romanian woman.

Algerian man.

Italian woman.

Fascinated by the diverse origins and cultural backgrounds of his subjects, Sherman created a riveting series of portraits, offering viewers a compelling perspective on this dynamic period in American history. Very little is known about him. Born on July 9, 1865, in Lynn, Pennsylvania, he was a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Hired by the Bureau of Immigration to work as a clerk at Ellis Island in 1892, eight years after having moved to New York, he rose through the clerical ranks. Considering the state of the art of photography in that era, with long exposures and huge box cameras, the fact he was able to capture so many images during his working life is amazing. Over the course of his career at Ellis Island, Sherman took more than 200 pictures, often encouraging his subjects to open their suitcases and put on their elaborate national costumes or folk dress. He captured images of Romanian shepherds, German stowaways, circus performers and women from Guadeloupe.

Ellis Island, in Upper New York Bay, was the gateway for over 12 million immigrants to the U.S. as the United States’ busiest immigrant inspection station for over 60 years.

Prints available

These photographs were restored and colorized over the course of 4 days.
The originals were provided by the New York Public Library.

11 thoughts on “Ellis Island Immigrants, 1907

  1. Thank you so much for this tribute to so many! Both sides of my family came thru Ellis ISland in those years. I have many old pictures. I was able to visit Ellis Island in 2000, unprepared for the emotional tidal waves I felt in that great hall. All their hopes, dreams, passions, courage…from all points on the globe. All races and all religions and none, I suppose. If any one thing has made me love our great diversity in America is was that trip to Ellis Island. I loved each and everyone of them, their stout hearts and their contributions to who we are now. Thank you for your work.

  2. Wonderful work Marina Maral – thank you for this Ellis Island series. I especially liked ‘Ruthenian Girl’ as my father and his family are Ruthenian, residing in Eastern Slovakia – Pisana, Presov, Medzilaborce which are nestled in the north-east corner bordered by Poland and Ukraine. A number of Slovakia’s leading writers, philosophers, politicians and artists arose from this rich heritage. You may or may not know that Andy Warhol’s heritage is Ruthenian – his parents came from the village of Mikova in Eastern Slovakia. His famous quote about his origins ‘I come from the middle of nowhere’ is likely to be referring to Mikova. I’ve visited this beautiful landscape and Warhol’s quote resonates with me. All the best for your creative endeavours which I enjoy and promote when I can. Your images are inspirational for my professional cultural heritage and personal family history research. Kind regards, Anna Grega

  3. What a wonderful job! Thank you Marina for that. I wonder if I will find there the photo of my great-grandfather Filippo Ciminello who emigrated in 1911?

  4. Thank you for this moving tribute to the courageous immigrants who came through Ellis Island. As a descendant of some of those immigrants, I am very grateful for their courage and your acknowledgment of the contributions of immigrants to our great nation.

  5. How fortunate we are that the photographer encouraged the subjects to wear their traditional outfits. I’m awed by the artistry and hours of time put into the stitching of blouses and sashes, painting handmade buttons, lace making, leatherwork, weaving and sewing! Their clothes fit perfectly, since they are made for that person, likely by that person, or by a loved one. Each in a “bespoke suit”, but no snobs here, just hardworking and culturally proud people. Thank you for taking the time to learn your craft, Marina, and reminding all North Americans that we are all children of proud immigrants. From a humbled (Norwegian, English, Irish) Canadian.

  6. These are breathtaking. You are incredibly talented. The love you have for your work is very obvious. When I was flipping back and forth my mind honestly started to automatically see/think they were all originally color photos that had been turned sepia!

  7. So many thanks for these marvelous photos Such brave strong people who have made our country as fine as it is Amazing work by busy photographer and now you in publishing all these Most of my family came through Canada but find I am having very emotional reaction to all this and to any and all,. no matter where they entered

  8. Interesting article and mostly correct.

    The “Cossack Man” from the Steppes of Russia is actually a Georgian Rider who worked for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, see Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgian_horsemen_in_Wild_West_shows, I researched this a few years ago and was in contact with the author of a book about them, Irakli Makharadze, and he and I corresponded for a while (I work at The Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration for the National Park Service (since 1990), here is a link https://www.amazon.com/Georgian-Trick-Riders-American-1890s-1920s/dp/0786497394https://www.amazon.com/Georgian-Trick-Riders-American-1890s-1920s/dp/0786497394.
    Very interesting characters, but NOT Cossacks. We had to change a picture description shortly after we opened in 1990 because of this.

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