Immigration Archives - Edison Sheds Light On The Immigrant
NEW YORK is the chief port of entry for immigrant aliens coming to this country. Seventy per cent of the 1,197,89 2 foreigners who entered the United States last year were examined at Ellis Island. Of the 892,653 admitted, 330,53' were bound to points in New York State. Many of these went no further than New York City. They left Ellis Island by ferry, were landed at the Barge Office in Battery Park and, either escorted by friends or directed by professional guides, proceeded to their various destinations, to be absorbed in the heterogeneous population of the Metropolis.
During the past ninety four years (the records begin in 1820), immigration to this country. has reached the amazing total of 30,808,944 persons. This, how-ever, does not include those who tried to enter but were debarred. No less than 189,070 have been returned to their own lands since 1892, a period which has seen '4,837,282 aliens admitted.
They come to this country clad in their old-world costumes—Greek soldier in his pleated kilts, Dutch kinder, clodhoppers and all—women with their gaudy colors —Cossack in astrakan cap and girdled cloak—patriarchal Hebrew and the scrappy son of Erin. All intermingled, they await the word that is to decide whether or not they are to become toilers in the New World.
The immigrant and the scenes incidental to his admission are said to be picturesque—picturesque, that is, to the onlooker. The immigrant himself, overcome by doubt and uncertainty, finds little to admire in his surroundings, while to those associated with the work the kaleidoscopic scene has long since lost its powers of fascination.
Before he is permitted to come into this country the immigrant goes through the hands of a number of officials in the course of the Government's inspection. He is examined physically, his mental and financial and social conditions are ascertained. To other officials he gives the names of friends who are to be told of his arrival, and sometimes his case requires special inquiry and he passes before an official board.
During all this there is little time to explain to him the meaning of it all. With anywhere from one thousand to five thousand "cases" a day, the officials find little opportunity to tell each the why and wherefore. Even the interpreters cannot do much more than call the instructions by which groups are herded from place to place.
Small wonder then that the immigrant is in a state of great bewilderment when he has at last satisfied the officials regarding his qualifications as a potential citizen. It is hardly to be thought that he understands what it has all been about—the most vivid impression his mind has received is that of buttons and badges; he has learned one thing—he must respect the authority of the badge, and just here it may be said that this is the reason he is such ready prey for the first badge-wearing hackman who greets him on landing from the Ellis Island ferry.
Until as recently as two years ago, the "graft" at the Barge Office in Battery Park offered rich picking for hackmen, guides and porters who for a consideration agreed to deliver the newcomer and his baggage at his city destination. It was the boast of Barney Goldman, who has since abandoned the field, that a hundred dollars a week was poor business—he claims to have taken in as much as a thousand in a good week.
Methods were simple enough. Hacks and baggage wagons were backed to the curb opposite the ferry landing, the badge wearers hailed the crowds as they flocked off the boat, and since the immigrant has a weakness for cabs, business was always brisk.
A cab trip to the Bronx was only less astounding than the amount charged. and collected. As for leaving their clients at the wrong address or stranded on a
corner, there was nothing simpler.
When times were pressing and business slack these guides would call for an immigrant they had already delivered, and on the plea that there was some error, start back with him for Ellis Island—and for this they collected another fee. Indeed it was an easy graft, and made easier by the fact that there was little trouble in procuring one of the various licenses and the badge that permitted the wearer
to solicit business among the new comers.
However, times are changing. Barney arid most of his contemporaries have dis-appeared and those who are left are encountering a form of competition which is slowly but surely driving them out of business. There arc now about six of these exploiters; two years ago there were sixty.
And this through the work of the North American Civic League for Immigrants, which in October, 1910, established the Immigrant Guide and Transfer. The Guide and Transfer, which, as its name implies, guides immigrants to their destinations in New York City, is a sub-organization of the North American Civic League. Its purpose is to guide newcomers, rendering good service at the lowest possible cost.
Its highest fee is a dollar. For a quarter an immigrant and his baggage are taken to any point south of Chambers Street. The dollar takes him to the Bronx, or even to the remote parts of Queens.
After the New York destined immigrant has given the Government officials at Ellis Island satisfactory proof that he is worthy of being admitted to the country, he leaves the Administration building for the ferry house. Just before he reaches the waiting room he passes the agent of the Guide and Transfer. This man speaks the foreigner's own language — that is, he speaks twenty-two languages, and there are few aliens indeed who may not be addressed in one of these tongues.
The agent explains the work, and if the immigrant wants guide service he buys a ticket and goes to the boat. On the New York side the ticket holders are sorted into groups according to their destination. Then, under the direction of two guides, they start at once. Two guides are necessary, for the society is responsible for those in its charge, and it is sometimes difficult to manage a. party of a. dozen or more in the crowds among the tenements. The ticket which the immigrant holds serves a double pur-pose. His friends sign it 8.s a receipt when he reaches them.
It sometimes happens that immigrants have addresses in New York which are either fictitious or wrong. If he has no bona-fide address the guide takes him to one of the missionary homes or to a lodging house of his nationality. Then if he is seeking work he is taken to the labor bureau in the Barge Office, where are kept records of industrial opportunities in all parts of the country.
During 1911-12, 39,892 persons were taken to various parts of New York by these guides; in 1912—13, 51,730 strangers were similarly aided. Of this work Commissioner of Immigration William Williams said in his 19'3 report: "Happily most of the 'guides' and 'runners' who used to waylay the immigrant at the Barge Office have been driven to cover, and this is due in part to the establishment by the North American Civic League for Immigrants of its excellent guide and transfer system."
The Ferry-Boat Ellis Island plying between the Immigrant Station at Ellis Island and the Barge Office at Battery Park. All Foreigners Destined for New York Come over on this Boat. Those Bound for Points beyond New York are taken direct to the Railroad Terminals in Barges
In the Barge Office where Groups of Immigrants are made up, awaiting the Services of Guides. The Barge Office in Battery Park Houses, in Addition to its Immigration Quarters, Several Branches of the Federal Service, among them the Bureau of Animal Industry, the Civil Service Examination Rooms, the Recreation Rooms of the Customs Inspectors as well as the Offices of the Ship News Reporters. The Building Receives its Electric Current from The New York Edison Company
The Edison Monthly
VOLUME VII OCTOBER, 1914 NUMBER 5