Linguapress Advanced level English
Advanced level reading resources Intermediate reading resources English grammar online Language games and puzzles
Linguapress - Advanced English

Click here to open vocabulary guide

USA - American life

The story of Ellis Island

WITH AUDIO. : Click to open/close audio player then hit the ► play button

Mass migrations have marked the history of the human race ever since people began to dream of a better life

Migration is in the news these days, since Donald Trump tried to set up new physical and administrative barriers against people wanting to enter the USA - mostly from Central America, Asia and Africa.  But a century ago, the USA welcomed immigrants, most of them people from Europe who were migrating in mass, looking for a better life in the USA. Ellis Island, the small island in New York Harbor was, for millions of would-be immigrants,  their first experience of the promised land.

Ellis Island, 1902    The year is 1906, the date November 16th. Franz and Ulrike Schumacher and their three children have just disembarked from the Hamburg-Amerika line steamship that has carried them across the stormy North Atlantic Ocean from Germany.
    Like the thousands of other people milling around them, they are totally bewildered, caught up in a mixture of hope and apprehension, as they crowd into a vast waiting room. The room sounds like the Tower of Babel, for few of those in it speak a word of English. They speak German, Polish, Dutch, Hungarian, or Russian maybe, yet they have come, seeking a new life in a new world; and now they are on American soil for the first time. This is America! America! Or at least it is Ellis Island.
    After interminable hours of waiting, the Schumacher family are finally called to a desk; immigration officials study their papers, and ask them where they intend to go. They don't ask how long they're planning to stay, however, since they know the answer already. All those who pass through Ellis Island -- and that could mean over 11,000 people per day -- are would-be immigrants. They are looking to start a new life in a new world.
    For many, passing through Ellis Island was not so much a matter of stepping into a new world, it was stepping into a new life, a new character. And so it was that the man who finally led his family through the door and onto the ferry packed with a jostling crowd of new Americans was not Franz Schumacher any more, but Frank Shoemaker, even if he still didn't understand more than a couple of words of English.

* * *

The acclaimed compact English reference grammar for the 2020s From Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones and good bookshops

    Ever since the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the United States has been a nation of immigrants. While today the pattern of immigration is not what it used to be  (most immigrants coming from Latin America or Asia)  and immigration policies are now designed to restrict entrance to the USA, things were very different in the early part of the twentieth century.
    Ellis Island, almost in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty at the entrance to New York Harbor, was the first stop on American soil for some twelve million immigrants between the years 1892 and 1954. For most, it was "a portal of hope and freedom"; for just a few, it was the "Island of Tears", when they were turned away for failing to meet the various immigration laws and requirements.
    During its years of operation, Ellis Island was the principal port of immigration into the United States, processing approximately 75% of all the immigrants into America over the period.
    The original three acre island got its name from a previous owner, Samuel Ellis. At the end of the eighteenth century, the State of New York secured the island in order to build fortifications as part of its harbor defense system.
    It was in 1890 that that Congress set aside funds to begin improvements on the island, so that a federal immigration station could be built to replace the existing facilities at Castle Garden, in lower Manhattan.
    The original island was expanded to several times its size, and the new immigration station opened on January 1st, 1892. Five years later, it was destroyed by fire; but it was soon rebuilt, with an impressive French Renaissance style brick building, which opened for business on December 17th 1900 and processed 2,251 immigrants that very same day. The part of the building whose image remained most clearly marked in the memories of those who passed through, was the vast registry room occupying the whole central section of the second floor; it was here that most of the processing of would-be immigrants took place.
    During the next half century, the small island grew to its present size, as it was joined by landfill to three adjacent islands. The main building was supplemented with a power house, kitchens, a hospital and contagious diseases wards, a dormitory building, a bakery and several other structures.
    In the early 1920's, though, immigration declined sharply, as restrictive immigration laws were passed. These put an annual ceiling on immigration, and established quotas for each foreign nation. They also made it compulsory for would-be immigrants to fill in papers at the US consulate in their country of origin, rather than on arrival. Thereafter, only those whose papers were not in order, or who needed medical treatment, were sent to Ellis Island.
    The facilities were increasingly used for the assembly and deportation of aliens who had entered the USA illegally, or of immigrants who had violated the terms of their admittance. And finally, on November 12th 1954, the Ellis Island immigration station ceased operation.
    Now it is open again, but as a museum, to tell the story of a fundamental stage in the making of modern America. The story needs to be told; what better place to tell it than on Ellis Island ?

disembarked from: got off - to mill around: to move around with nothing to do - bewildered: lost, anxious - seek: look for - interminable: long, endless - would-be: potential, hopeful - jostling: pushing -  processing: filling in the documents for - three acre: 1.3 hectare - funds: money - facilities: buildings - adjacent: near - power house: generator room, where electricity is made - contagious: infectious - aliens: foreigners, non-Americans -

Printing: Optimized for printing

Teachers & students :
WORKSHEET : for classroom or personal use, ► ►  open the printable worksheet that accompanies this article

Copyright notice.
This resource is © copyright Linguapress  Originally published in Spectrum magazine.
This text may not be reproduced on other websites or in printed form without written permission from the publishers.

Classroom use.
of this resource is permitted for classroom use..

Return to Linguapress home page

Advanced level English resource

Readability - Advanced. Flesch-Kincaid grading:
Grade level: 11.2
Reading ease level:  55.1
CEF level: C1
IELTS Level  7.5

A selection of other resources in graded English
from Linguapress
Advanced level reading : a selection
California's water wars
The electric car revolution
Steaming on the Mississippi  with audio
Britain, at any cost ?
The Queen who almost wasn't  with audio
Tea and the British with audio
Woody Guthrie, the Dustbowl baladeer
Crime time basketball
Advanced level short stories:
For Elise  by Pamela Garza with audio
A Suitable Job  by Lindsay Townsend
And lots more:  More advanced reading texts  
Intermediate reading :
Profession : Cowboy
George Washington    with audio
Fast food, OK? Dialogue with audio
Robin Hood, fact or fiction?  
Black taxis going green 
Sport:  The story of the Derby  with audio
USA: Still looking for gold !  
USA: The story of Coca-Cola 
And more:  More intermediate reading texts  
Selected grammar pages
Online English grammar
Phrasal verbs in English
Word stress in English with audio
Reported questions in English
And some other pages
Language and style 
Word games for EFL/ ESL
Pages for teachers
Texts on the environment

CopyrightCopyright information.

Updated  from an article originally published in Spectrum magazine .
© Linguapress renewed 2022 

top  :  Library of Congress photo

All articles published on this website remain the copyright © of and/or their individual authors.
Reproduction is authorised exclusively for use by students for personal use, or for teachers for use in class

Free to view, free to share,  free to use in class, free to print, but not free to copy..

 In schools declaring the source of copied materials to a national copyright agency, Linguapress advanced level resources should be attributed to "Spectrum" as the source and "Linguapresss France" as the publisher.
Copyright by Linguapress.
If you like this page and want to share it with others,  just share a link, don't copy.

Linguapress respects your privacy and does not collect personal data. We use cookies only to log anonymous visitor stats and enable essential page functions; click   to remove this message, otherwise click for more details