A Brief History of Immigration in New York

City Tales

A Brief History of Immigration in New York

City Tales

28 June, 2017

Beginning in the 17th century when ‘New Amsterdam’ was established as a trading outpost on Manhattan Island in 1626, successive waves of migrants have passed through New York City, in search of a new life in America. Later renamed New York by the British, the city continued to grow throughout a turbulent 18th century establishing itself as one of the biggest ports in America – New York was, and still is, a city full of opportunity.


Immigrants have shaped New York in many ways and the Statue of Liberty stands as a reminder of how the city has become a symbol of hope and new beginnings.


19th Century Immigration


Industrialization and modernization projects, such as the Erie Canal and the Croton Aqueduct, meant there was plenty of work in New York for those who wanted it and news of the massive construction projects taking place in America quickly travelled over the Atlantic.

As well as construction and manufacturing, migrants were also drawn by the cheap farmland that was being made available from western expansion.


Although immigrants came to New York from many European countries, the vast majority were from Germany and Ireland.


Close to a million German immigrants passed through New York between 1850 to 1855, making New York the third largest population of Germans in a city behind Berlin and Vienna!

The Irish had been arriving in America since the mid 18th century however the Irish potato famine, beginning in 1845 led to mass emigrations from Ireland to America. By 1850 the Irish made up around 25% of New York’s population.

By 1860 New York was one of the most diverse cities in the world, for example 69% of the electorate were foreign-born.

Ellis Island & The Statue of Liberty

In 1892, to process the large numbers of migrants, an immigration-station was opened on Ellis Island, it would process 12.5 million immigrants including large numbers of Italians over the coming decades. 

Erected in 1886 on Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island) in New York Harbor, The Statue of Liberty stood as a welcoming symbol to immigrants to America.

Liberty Enlightening The World or more commonly known as the Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people of France in honor of the United States’ continued dedication to freedom and democracy.



The Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island Guided tour is the perfect way to learn more about the history of immigration to New York and how it has shaped the city and the United States on a whole.

The goal of City Tales Sightseeing is to share the history of our great city with our visitors in a fun and informative way all while sharing our local expertise that helps you to get through your visit faster and getting the most from the experience by always being in the right place and steps ahead of the crowds.

If you want to learn more about how immigration has shaped New York City Tyler Anbinder’s ‘City of Dreams’ is worth reading.

For more tales about New York City delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter. If you have any specific questions about NYC or our range of guided & private tours in New York City, feel free to contact City Tales New York.

I look forward to welcoming you to New York City in the near future.

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