Sixty-five years ago, [today] on November 12, 1954, a Norwegian merchant seaman named Arne Peterssen became the last immigrant to pass through Ellis Island. Later that month, the ferry Ellis Island made its final stop at the island in New York Harbor and the immigration facility closed for good, ending its run as a gateway to the United States for generations of immigrants.
These days Ellis Island is a national symbol remembered in sepia tones but, while it was in active service, the station reflected the country’s complicated relationship with immigration, one that evolved from casual openness to rigid restriction. “It was not a great welcoming place for immigrants but, it was not a place of horrors either,” says Vincent Cannato, author of American Passage: The History of Ellis Island.
Until the end of the 19th century, individual states handled immigration with rules varying by jurisdiction. [T]hen, immigration soared. In light of the influx, the federal government decided in 1891 that it had to take charge.
New York was immigration’s epicenter. Some 75 percent of the country’s steamship traffic came through New York Harbor and so did 75 percent of the nation’s immigrants, according to Cannato. New York state ran an immigration facility called Castle Gardens at the tip of Manhattan but, the new federal Office of Immigration wanted an intake and inspection station in a more controlled location. It selected Ellis Island, a three-acre spot of land in the harbor between New York and New Jersey […].
The immigrants who eventually passed through Ellis Island started their journey by buying passage on a steamship, usually sailing from Europe. Between 1892 and 1924, 12 million people successfully traversed this highly efficient conveyor-belt immigration system. Most immigrants were processed through Ellis Island in a few hours and only 2 percent that arrived on the island were prevented from entering the United States.
[T]his era of mass immigration came to an end with the passage in 1921 and 1924 of new laws that severely limited immigration by establishing quotas for individual countries and requiring immigrants to obtain visas from American consulates. Since most official immigration screening now happened at U.S. consulates abroad, Ellis Island became increasingly irrelevant. The facility, which had once teemed with thousands of hopeful immigrants, transformed into “a major center for deportation and for holding enemy alien spies,” says [Barry] Moreno. “It was like night and day.” President Eisenhower quietly closed Ellis Island in 1954.
How Ellis Island Shepherded Millions of Immigrants Into America
November 13, 2019
Sixty-four years ago, today…
Also known as the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (Public Law 84-627), [it] was enacted on June 29, 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law. With an original authorization of $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles (66,000 km) of the Interstate Highway System, supposedly over a 10-year period, it was the largest public works project in American history [at] that time.
The addition of the term defense in the act’s title was for two reasons. First, some of the original cost was diverted from defense funds. Secondly, most U.S. Air Force bases have a direct link to the system. One of the stated purposes was to provide access in order to defend the United States during a conventional or nuclear war with the Soviet Union and its communist allies. All of these links were in the original plans, [though] some, such as Wright Patterson AFB, were not connected […] in the 1950s but, [were] later.
The money for the Interstate […] and Defense Highways was [drawn from] a Highway Trust Fund that paid for 90% of highway construction costs, with the states required to pay the remaining [10%]. It was expected that the money would be generated through new taxes on fuel, automobiles, trucks and tires. As a matter of practice, the federal portion of the cost of the Interstate Highway System has been paid for by taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel.
Eisenhower‘s support of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 can be directly attributed to his experiences in 1919 as a participant in the U.S. Army’s first Transcontinental Motor Convoy across the United States on the historic Lincoln Highway, which was the first road across America. The convoy was memorable enough for a young Army officer, 28-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Dwight David Eisenhower, to include a chapter about the trip, titled Through Darkest America With Truck and Tank in his book At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends (Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1967).
Following completion of the highways, the cross-country journey that took the convoy two months in 1919 was cut down to five days.
Additional Reading & Sources:
Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956: Creating The Interstate System (Federal Highway Administration)
Federal Highway Act of 1956 (Web Archive of the Class Brain Site)
Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 (Wikipedia)