These photographs show a tiny handful of the more than 12 million immigrants who entered the United States through the immigration station at New York's Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. The men and women portrayed are wearing their finest clothes, often their national dress, brought with them from their homeland to America.Around 5,000 immigrants entered the country every day at the height of Ellis Island's activity.
The photographs were taken by Augustus Francis Sherman, the chief registry clerk at Ellis Island and an avid amateur photographer. They were captioned only with the subject's country of origin, and in 1907, the portraits were published in National Geographic.
It is estimated that today more than a third of all Americans have an ancestor who came through Ellis Island.
The photographs are part of the collection of the New York Public Library.
Left: 'Romanian piper' (c. 1910) Right: 'Norwegian woman' (c. 19190)
Left: 'Algerian man' (c. 1910) Right: 'Albanian Soldier' (c. 1910)
Left: 'Danish man' (1909) Right: "Dutch woman" (1910)
Left: 'Romanian woman' (c. 1910) Right: 'Bavarian man' (c. 1910)
‘We came by steerage on a steamship in a very dark place that smelt dreadfully. There were hundreds of other people packed in with us, men, women and children, and almost all of them were sick. It took us twelve days to cross the sea, and we thought we should die, but at last the voyage was over, and we came up and saw the beautiful bay and the big woman with the spikes on her head and the lamp that is lighted at night in her hand.’
- Sadie Frowne, immigrated from Poland aged 10 in 1903 with her mother
Left: 'Cossack man from the steppes of Russia' (c. 1910) Right: 'Hindoo boy' (1911)
Left: 'Romanian shepherd' (1906) Right: 'Ruthenian woman' (1906)
Left: "Guadeloupean Woman" (1911) Right: "Alsace Lorraine girl" (1906)
Left: 'Rev. Joseph Vasilon, Greek-Orthodox priest' (1910) Right: 'German stowaway' (1911)
‘When I got on the boat, I was only five and this little, this gentleman who had been back and forth several times, and well my mother took a liking to him because he was so knowledgeable about it. He spoke Italian.
‘And he said, ‘You know what? When you get over to Ellis Island they're going to be examining your eyes with a hook," and he says, "Don't let them do it because you know what? They did it to me one eye fell in my pocket.’ So we get over there and everybody has to pass and I'm on the floor screaming. I passed without a physical, because the other seven passed.’
- Elda Del Bino Willitts; immigrated from Lucca, Italy at Age 5 in 1916
Left: 'Italian woman' (c.1910) Right: 'Italian girl' (1906)
All images: Augustus Sherman / New York Public Library