"Peopling of America" Exhibit Traces Roots of Those Who Passed Through Ellis Island ... And Those Who Came Before

The Peopling of America exhibit at Ellis Island National Monument exposes visitors to America’s immigration history before Ellis Island. It highlights global reasons for immigration, describes both the voluntary and involuntary forms of immigration, and portrays immigration patterns from pre-Colonial America to the opening of Ellis Island. Photo by Bruce Schundler.

Among the interesting exhibits at Ellis Island National Monument is one called Peopling of America that traces the paths taken by immigrants to the United States, both before and after the island's immigration center opened for business.

The unique approach to this, however, has changed the museum from focusing on immigration at Ellis Island from 1892 to 1924 to a museum about immigration to America from before Columbus to today.

Since being renovated and opened in 1990, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum had focused primarily on immigration to America from 1892, when America’s busiest immigration center first opened, to 1924 when it was officially closed as a processing center and 1954 when the entire facility was closed.

Its two main exhibit areas had been Through America’s Gates, focusing on what immigrants had experienced when they arrived in New York harbor and entered Ellis Island, and the Peak Immigration Years, which highlighted many of the reasons why immigrants came to America and what they experienced after they left Ellis Island.

With the new Peopling of America exhibit, visitors are exposed to America’s immigration history before Ellis Island. It highlights global reasons for immigration, describes both the voluntary and involuntary forms of immigration, and portrays immigration patterns from pre-Colonial America to the opening of Ellis Island. It also underscores some of the many historical debates and discussions about immigration in America.

The new Peopling of America exhibit is just part of many planned changes at the museum. Another major phase, planned to open in 2013, will focus on immigration to America since the closing of Ellis Island in 1954. Among the planned exhibits will be a “dynamic radiant globe that will illustrate migration patterns throughout human history,” according to a press release from The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, which has raised funds for these new exhibits.

When completed, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum will not just be part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, or a historical landmark where 12 million immigrants entered America between 1892 and 1924. Rather, it will be the largest and most complete museum on immigration in the United States.

For those who want to visit Ellis Island, there’s now much more to see. A visit to all three of the museum’s major exhibits --Through America’s Gates, Peak Immigration Years, and The Peopling of America -- can easily take two to three hours!

For many years, Ellis Island was special because many people had ancestors who had arrived in New York City and who been processed on Ellis Island. Now the Ellis Island Immigration Museum will be a museum for everyone....and for anyone who has wondered why people migrate, why they move, and why they came to America!