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Timeline 1790 - 1980

This timeline was excerpted from Ellis Island and the Peopling of America: The Official Guide, by Virginia Yans-McLaughlin and Marjorie Lightman, with the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation

1790 The first U.S. census counts 3,227,000 residents. 64% are of British origin, 7% German, 18% enslaved African-Americans, and 2 percent free African Americans.

1820-1850 U.S. industrialization progresses rapidly with manufacturing techniques and inventions, as well as improvements in domestic trasnportation.

1840-1860 More than 4 million immigrants arrive in the United States. The Great Potato Famine of 1845-1850 prompts a surge in emigration from Ireland. The defeat of the Revolution of 1848 brings German political refugees to the U.S. The Gold Rush in 1849 draws people to California from other parts of the country. In 1855, New York State opens Castle Garden immigration station in lower Manhattan. In 1858, economic depression and famine in Sweden cause large-scale migration to America.

1860-1880 Immigration to the U.S. numbers five million. More than 200,000 Chinese arrive in the U.S., while great numbers of French Canadians migrate to New England. The Civil War, from 1861-65, causes a major drop in immigration to the U.S. Following the war, steam-powered ocean liners gradually replace sailing vessels in the immigration trade. By 1869, the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads, built by Irish and Chinese workers, cross the whole of North America.

1880-1900 Nine million immigrants arrive in the U.S. Many are from Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Russia. Many Russian immigrants are Jews fleeing religious persecution.

1900-1920 The peak years of immigration, with more than 14 million people arriving in the U.S. A growing proportion come from southern and eastern Europe. The first large wave of Mexican immigrants arrives in California to work on farms and railroads. In 1907, more than 1,285,000 people are admitted into the U.S., a record for one year.

1914 The outbreak of World War I ends mass migration to the Americas. The labor needs of U.S. industries supplying the warring nations in Europe draws African-Americans to northern cities from the south.

1920-1940 Immigration to the U.S. totals 4.6 million, less than one-third the level of the previous decade. Nearly half a million immigrants arrive from Mexico during the 1920's, but during the next decade, more than 400,000 Mexicans are deported. Around 1920, anti-immigration sentiments become more widespread; "nativists" lobby vigorously to restrict immigration to the U.S. In the 1930's, the Great Depression, combined with a rigorous enforcement of current immigration laws, further reduces immigration. For the first time, people leaving hte U.S. outnumber those arriving.

1940 The Alien Registration Act requires fingerprinting and annual registration of all resident aliens as a national security measure.

1940-1960 Approximately 3.5 million people immigrate to the U.S. In 1941, America goes to war with the Axis powers, and the industrial mobilization of the civilian population draws many rural people to cities. In 1945, World War II ends, but the Cold War soon begins. Massive population shifts occur in Europe and Asia as a result of world conflict.

1960-1980 U.S. immigration tops 8 million; uncounted illegal immigrants add significantly to this total. Immigration from Latin America and Asia steadily rises. By 1980, more than 41 percent of immigrants come from Latin America, and 34 percent from Asia. More than 440,000 Cuban refugees immigrate to the United States. Between 1965 and 1972, as a result of President Lyndon B. Johnson and Fidel Castro signing a "memorandum of understanding", 275,000 Cubans are airlifted to the U.S. In 1975, Saigon falls to the Viet Cong. About 130,000 refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia are admitted to the U.S.