Previous Page Search Again Next Page

The passing of the Homestead Act in 1862, with which federal land was given free to settlers, started a large-scale westward movement. This in turn led to the young industry's continuing search for cheap, unskilled labor, and the demand grew so great that the United States government, some of the individual states, industrial interests and ship lines began to recruit workers from abroad. 2 As early as 1862, Secretary of State Seward wrote to the consular and diplomatic representatives in Europe that nowhere else but in the United States could diligent workers and artisans expect such a liberal return for their services; he requested that these facts be made known everywhere and in every way, in the hope that it might result in increasing immigration. 3

The American economic depression in the 1870s led to a decrease in the annual immigration figure from a half million per year to less than a quarter million at the end of that decade, but by 1891 the figure had risen again, to almost 900,000, surpassed the million mark in 1902, and climbed to 1,800,000 in 1907, only to drop back to under a million again in 1908, due to another depression.

In the years from 1820 to 1870, with a total of 7,500,000 immigrants crossing the Atlantic, Great Britain and Ireland accounted for 3,333,000 of the total, Germany for 2,333,000, France for 250,000 and Scandinavia for 150,000. After 1880, these countries were gradually being replaced by Italy, AustroHungary and Russia, which in 1870 had accounted for but one percent of the total, in 1880 for 10 percent, in 1890 for one-third and in the years 1901-1905 for two-thirds of the total.

An immigration law passed in 1907 paved the way for a certain selectivity. The new law denied entry permits to the United States for the mentally deficient and the sick, for paupers who might remain public charges, for criminals and politically undesirable or dangerous persons. Minors under 16 could no longer come unless they were with their parents. Illiterates were classified as less desirable applicants. Then World War I definitely blocked the stream of immigrants, and after the war the flow was carefully controlled with hard and fast maximums, and with annual quotas assigned to the various countries of origin.

1. L. M. Hacher, The United States since 1865. p. 186.

2. L. Huberman, We, The People. p. 208.

3. Mississippi Valley Historical Review. September 1950. p. 203.


Previous Page Search Again Next Page