US Immigration History


US Immigration History: The First Immigrants
US Immigration History began with immigrants from Northern Europe who came from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Holland, Germany, France and Scandinavia. The first colony was founded in 1607 by English immigrants  at Jamestown, Virginia. The Pilgrim Fathers traveled to America on the Mayflower ship and founded the second colony of the Plymouth Settlement in New England in 1620. The Dutch followed the English immigrants and founded the New Netherlands (which became New York) in 1623.

The first Great Migration (1630 - 1640) was a mass migration of thousands of English people to the 13 colonies in America, together with migrants from Wales and Scots-Irish (people from Scotland that had settled in Ireland). A small settlement of Swedish and Finnish settlers established a small colony called New Sweden in 1638 and the groups of German immigrants arrived in the 1670's in Pennsylvania and New York. US Immigration History witnessed the arrival of 4,646 immigrants by 1630. In the early 1700's French migrants headed for Louisiana and Arcadia. By 1770 their numbers had increased to 2,148,076.


US Immigration History: The Indentured Servants
The numbers of the first immigrants significantly increased by the introduction of the Indenture system by the English in which Indentured servants emigrated to America to meet the growing demand for cheap and plentiful labor. Indentured servants were contracted to work between five to seven years in exchange for transportation and the prospects of a job and a new life in America. The Germans also used a form of indentured labor called the redemption system. An astonishing 80% of of the total British and continental emigration to America prior to the American Revolutionary War were Indentured Servants

US Immigration History: The Northern Europeans
The northern European migrants were motivated to emigrate to America to seek a new life with religious and political freedom and to escape from persecution for their beliefs. The vast majority of migrants were Protestants, only 1.6% of the population were Roman Catholics. Anglo-Saxon and Nordic races from Northern Europe started US Immigration History and the very foundation of America was built upon the religions, ideas, skills and culture that these first migrants brought with them. These first migrants would later be referred to as the "Old Immigrants"

US Immigration History: The "Old Immigrants"
The "Old Immigrants" were the first of the newcomers to populate America and the 'backbone' of US Immigration history. Although they came from different countries in Northern Europe they had many things in common. They shared similar religions based on the Christian ideology,  they shared similar physical characteristics, ate similar food, wore similar clothes and were bound together with the shared knowledge of European history and culture and the belief in democratic politics. As time went by US Immigration history evolved and the vast majority of the first migrants would also share the same English language. The "Old Immigrants", who numbered 2.5 million, were then united by a common goal - the American War for Independence (1775-1783). The ideals of the Declaration of Independence - Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness were indelibly woven into the new culture of America.

US Immigration History: Forced Migration - Slavery
Another system was indelibly woven into the fabric of American society and US Immigration history - Slavery. US Immigration history included the forced immigration of slaves from Africa. The economy in the Southern colonies was based on the mass production plantation farming system that was were labor intensive and required thousands of slaves. The establishment of the plantations led to the forced immigration of people from Africa. In 1680 it is estimated that there were 7,000 African slaves in America. By 1790 the number of African slaves had increased to 700,000.

US Immigration History: The Early 1800's - German and Irish Mass Migration
US Immigration history moved on in the early 1800's when massive numbers of people emigrated from Northern Europe due to political and natural disasters. The 1848 German Revolution had brought hunger riots and violence to Germany. The unsettled political climate, together with poor harvests and severe deprivation, drove over 1 million people from Germany to flee to America. Poor harvests had also hit Ireland which was devastated by the 1845 Irish Potato Famine.  Over 1 million  Irish immigrants left their homes in Ireland to escape the famine and build a new life in the United States.  many of whom were employed as miners as the natural resources of America were exploited. Many of the Irish migrants gained employment in the mining industries and German migrants established farming lifestyles.

US Immigration History: Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny
The acquisition of territories by the United States across the whole area of the North American continent from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west led to the Westward Expansion Era from 1841 - 1850. Westward expansion was spurred on by the belief that the Manifest Destiny of America was the divine right of the white American people. This had another profound effect on the mind set of the "Old Immigrants" from northern Europe and shaped the path of US Immigration history.

US Immigration History: The First Chinese Immigrants
The Westward expansion during the mid 1800's saw the discovery of valuable natural resources in America. The California Gold Rush (18481855) and the first Chinese immigrants arrived in the United States. It is estimated that 25,000 Chinese migrated to California by the early 1850's. The next wave in US Immigration history had begun.

US Immigration History: The First Industrial Revolution
The technical advancements and inventions of the First Industrial Revolution revolutionized America and saw great advances in the agriculture and textile industries. It was the age of iron, and steam engine technology that heralded the building of the railroads and the need for an increased of labor. This had a dramatic impact of US Immigration History, between 1850 - 1880 over 8 million immigrants flocked to America. The "Old Immigrants" from northern Europe were joined by "New Immigrants" from southern Europe.

US Immigration History: The Factories and Urbanization of America
The industrial age of iron and steam was replaced by the age of steel and electricity and the industrialization of the United States with the rise of the factory system led to the ever increasing demand for cheap labor which fed the surge in Immigration. US Immigration history now encompassed the arrival of many more "New Immigrants" who flocked to the new emerging cities in the United States and the urbanization of America.

US Immigration History: The Late 1800's - The "New Immigrants"
The "New Immigrants" consisted of many different races including Asian, Slovak and Jewish people and radically changed the profile of US Immigration history. The "New Immigrants" came from countries in Asia and South east Europe. Their countries of origin included Russia, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Italy, Greece, Lithuania, Serbia and China, Japan and Korea. The "New Immigrants" had no connections to the existing Americans. The "New Immigrants" came from completely different environments and cultures, spoke strange languages, wore different clothes, ate different foods, adhered to different beliefs and religions and many had totally different physical characteristics which made them easily identifiable as "New immigrants".

US Immigration History: Nativism and Xenophobia
Between 1880 and 1910 over 17 million immigrants arrived in the US. The nation experienced periods of major economic depression and the massive influx of "New Immigrants" led to Nativism and Xenophobia amongst the existing American population.  Nativism is the belief that the interests of established residents of the United States residents should be given a favored status compared to that of new immigrants. Xenophobia refers to the irrational fear of foreigners or strangers leading to racism and ethnic conflict. By 1910 foreign-born residents made up 15% of the U.S. population and 24% of the U.S. labor force. Pressure was placed on the government to restrict immigration and restrictive Immigration laws were passed.

US Immigration History: Restrictive Laws, Ellis Island and Angel Island
The first restrictive law was passed in 1875 and many others followed. In 1892 the Ellis Island immigration center was opened on the east coast in New York to regulate immigrants fro Europe and in 1910 the Angel Island Immigration Station was opened on the east coast in California to regulate immigrants from Asia. US Immigration history entered the restrictive period as all newcomers were subject to medical and legal examinations. The 1921 Emergency Quota Act introduced a discriminatory system of national quotas based on a 'per-country' system.

US Immigration History: WW1 and Mexican Immigrants
The early 1900's were marked by World War 1 creating a labor shortage and Mexicans were encouraged to work in the United States. The soldiers returned home and many Mexicans were deported. The nation continued to grow and develop but then disaster struck - the Great Depression.

US Immigration History: The Great Depression
The Great Depression (1929 - 1939) was the deepest and longest-lasting economic crisis in the history of the United States. During the Great Depression 13 million people became unemployed. For the first time in US Immigration History the numbers of immigrants fell.

US Immigration History: WW2
The mid 1900's were devastated by the outbreak of World War 2. Americans were drafted into to military creating a labor shortage in the United States. The Bracero Program was established encouraging Mexican labor but the numbers of Mexican immigrants were later restricted in Operation Wetback. Once again the numbers of immigrants fell during this period of US Immigration History.

US Immigration History: The War against Communism
The next period in US Immigration History centered around the United States war against communism. The United States entered into the wars in Korea and Vietnam and new immigration laws were passed to block the spread of communism.

US Immigration History: The Reform Laws
History then saw the reform the U.S. immigration laws starting with the 1965 Hart-Cellar Act. The law was a major landmark in U.S. immigration history and a new system was introduced allowing immigrants into America based on family ties and special skills. numbers of immigrants from Asian and Hispanic countries rose dramatically and without the quota system there was a long waiting list of Mexicans wanting to immigrate into the United States. Reform laws were passed on humanitarian grounds allowing the entry of refugees and asylum seekers.

US Immigration History: The Fight against Terrorism
The most recent US Immigration History took a dramatic turn as the United States became subject to terrorist attacks in the homeland. Since these terrible events the United States has directed new laws towards enhancing security checks for anyone entering the United States and to deter and punish terrorist acts in the US.

Brief US Immigration History
This article contains a brief overview of US Immigration History from the first Immigrants in the 1600's to the recent history of the 21st century. Important historical events have been highlighted which had a significant impact on US Immigration History. A brief description of the effect of the first immigrants, indentured servants, the northern and southern Europeans and the differences between the "Old Immigrants" and the "New Immigrants" to America. Our US Immigration History also outlines subjects as Forced Migration, the Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny of America, the effects of Industrialization, the factories and Urbanization in America. A helpful educational resource for kids on the subject of US Immigration History. Comprehensive information on US Immigration History can be found in other articles on this website.


US Immigration History for Kids, Schools and Homework

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