Lonely Planet Writer

New York library releases 100-year-old immigrant photos

Amazing images of new immigrants as they arrive in America at the turn of the century are now available for all to see and use, as the New York Public Library has released out-of-copyright images into its online digital collection.

Caption: An Albanian woman from Italy at Ellis Island - 1905. This woman is wearing her native costume. At times the Island looked like a costume ball with the multicolored, many-styles national costumes.
Caption: An Albanian woman from Italy at Ellis Island – 1905. This woman is wearing her native costume. At times the Island looked like a costume ball with the multicolored, many-styles national costumes. Image by Lewis W. Hine

The library announced this week it would release 180,000 digitized images free for public use, made possible by the NYPL Labs, a group that is dedicated to disseminating the library’s resources online.

Caption: Italian immigrants at Ellis Island - 1905. Lost baggage is the cause of their worried expressions. At the height of immigration the entire first floor of the administration building was used to store baggage.
Caption: Italian immigrants at Ellis Island – 1905. Lost baggage is the cause of their worried expressions. At the height of immigration the entire first floor of the administration building was used to store baggage. Image by Lewis W. Hine

Among the images are photographs taken of immigrants, some more than a century ago, as they pass through Ellis Island. Located in the Upper New York Bay, Ellis Island was the gateway for millions of immigrants between 1892 and 1954. It is estimated that half of all Americans can trace their lineage back to at least one person who came through Ellis Island. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in America’s National Park Service.

Caption: Armenian Jew - Ellis Island - 1926. This Armenian Jew probably left his native land to escape the Turkish persecution of the post-war period. His beard is typical of that worn by the orthodox Jews of Europe and the Near East.
Caption: Armenian Jew – Ellis Island – 1926. This Armenian Jew probably left his native land to escape the Turkish persecution of the post-war period. His beard is typical of that worn by the orthodox Jews of Europe and the Near East. Image by Lewis W. Hine

The photographs were taken by Lewis W. Hine (1974-1940), a “pioneering social photographer”, according to the library.

Caption: A Finnish stowaway at Ellis Island - 1926. The desire to come to American must have been very strong for this young man to face all sorts of uncertainties.
Caption: A Finnish stowaway at Ellis Island – 1926. The desire to come to American must have been very strong for this young man to face all sorts of uncertainties. Image by Lewis W. Hine

Hine moved in New York at the turn of the century to teach at the Ethical Culture School and soon began to take photographs at the immigration station of Ellis Island.

Caption: A Syrian Arab at Ellis Island - 1926. Tattoo marks on her face and hands, (a sign of marriage), did not show in the photograph.
Caption: A Syrian Arab at Ellis Island – 1926. Tattoo marks on her face and hands, (a sign of marriage), did not show in the photograph. Image by Lewis W. Hine

Hine photographed the new immigrants between 1904 and 1909 and later took an interest in child welfare and the conditions of the working class. He took pictures for the National Child Labor Committee and the American Red Cross in Europe, according to the library.

Caption: Lithuanian woman with colorful shawl, Ellis Island - 1926.
Caption: Lithuanian woman with colorful shawl, Ellis Island – 1926. Image by Lewis W. Hine

He returned to Ellis Island years later, in 1926, to once again photograph new immigrants and documents reform at the immigration station.

Caption: Mother and child - Italian Ellis Island - 1905. This beautiful mother and child sit outside the detention cell. Sometimes 1700 immigrants were crowded into a room which was built to accommodate 600.
Caption: Mother and child – Italian Ellis Island – 1905. This beautiful mother and child sit outside the detention cell. Sometimes 1700 immigrants were crowded into a room which was built to accommodate 600. Image by Lewis W. Hine

According to the Tech Times, the photographs had previously been available from the library, but users were required to make a request for the image and pay a processing fee in order to access the images.

Read more: Ellis Island museum reopens with greater ambition