Old vs New Immigrants
Through the 1880s, the vast majority of immigrants came from northern and Western Europe: the British Isles, Germany and Scandinavia. Most of these “old” immigrants were Protestants, although many were Irish or German Catholics.
Beginning in the 1890s and continuing to the outbreak of WWI in 1914, the national origins of most immigrants changed. The “new” immigrants came from Southern and Eastern Europe. They were Italians, Greeks, Croats, Slovaks, Poles and Russians. Many were poor and illiterate peasants who had left autocratic countries and therefore were unaccustomed to democratic traditions. They were largely Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox and Jewish.
After 1892 most of these immigrants came through Ellis Island 🚢 and poured into the nation’s urban areas to work as unskilled laborers.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia
African Americans began to leave the south and migrate to urban areas as well.
Chinese immigrants also came in large numbers, mostly through San Francisco. and settled in the West working in mines and on railroads. After 1910, Chinese immigrants passed through Angel Island in San Francisco, where they needed to prove that they fit one of the exceptions to the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Many of these immigrants, especially those coming through Ellis Island, settled in the nation’s urban areas to work in factories. With this, cities became highly populated, bustling centers of commerce.
Cheaper production of steel (thanks, Carnegie!), new means of transportation, and elevators further developed cities as centers for commerce. The growing popularity of Vaudeville 🍿 and department stores 🏬 led to cities functioning as cultural centers. 🌃
Because methods of transportation had improved so greatly, wealthy and middle class Americans could live slightly outside the city and come into the city for business or entertainment.