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Ellis Island Timeline

Compiled by Matthew Bunson



Finding oyster beds near the future Ellis Island, Dutch settlers name it "Oyster Island."

Salem is founded on Massachusetts Bay by fifty colonists.

Bubonic Plague kills half the population of Lyons, France, later ravaging much of northern Italy.


After the execution of pirates on the island, including one named Anderson, it is known as "Gibbet Island."


The Stamp Act is passed by British Parliament in 1765 to defray he costs of troops stationed in the colonies. Independence is won in the American Revolution, 1775-1783.


Samuel Ellis, owner of the island, tries unsuccessfully to sell the property, although New York will buy it, after his death, in 1807.

The dollar is declared the official currency of the United States.


The United States Government buys Ellis Island from New York for $10,000.

Congress outlaws importation of slaves, although trade continues illegally.

Napoleon invades Spain, starting the Peninsular War (1808-1814).


Ellis Island houses Fort Gibson (named after the Battle of Lake Erie hero), housing large amounts of ammunition.

The term "Uncle Sam" is coined, in an editorial in the Troy (New York) Post on September 7.

Napoleon defeated at the Battle of Leipzig by combined allied armies.


Ellis Island is first proposed as a depot to house thousands of Irish immigrants, although Castle Garden is chosen, and serves as depot until 1890.

The United States receives the First Wave of immigrants fleeing troubles in Europe (the Second Wave lasts from 1890 1924.)

Ireland is in the grip of the Potato Famine; over one million die.


Fort Gibson is dismantled and Ellis Island becomes the island's official name.

America's Civil War begins at Fort Sumter.

Tsar Alexander II of Russia emancipates the serfs, yet their condition remains desperate.


The Federal government establishes the Bureau of Immigration and selects Ellis Island as the site for construction of a new Federal immigration station for the port of New York.

The Battle of Wounded Knee in South Dakota results in the massacre of hundreds of American Indian men, women, and children.

In London, the first electric underground railway is put into service, costing two pence a journey.


The immigration station on Ellis Island is opened on January 1.

Financier J.P. Morgan organizes the creation of the General Electric Company.


Fire destroys the original wooden buildings on Ellis Island.

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, largest hotel in the world, is opened By John Jacob Astor IV.


The Ellis Island Immigration Center reopens in its present Beaux-Arts style, designed by the architectural firm of Boring and Tilton.

U.S. Troops help to suppress the Boxer Rebellion in China.

The Trans-Siberian Railway opens, connecting Moscow with Irkutsk.


In a single day, 11,747 immigrants pass through Ellis Island.

Women in Norway are granted suffrage. (American women are granted the Right to vote in 1920.)


The tide of immigrants through Ellis Island begins to wane.

Congress passes a law making all American Indians U.S. citizens.

Lenin dies in Russia, succeeded by a triumvirate that includes Josef Stalin.


Ellis Island is used as a detention center for enemy aliens.

Allied forces invade southern Italy after taking Sicily.


Ellis Island is officially closed and offered for bid. More than 12 million immigrants have passed through Ellis Island since 1892.

The U.S. Supreme Court declares racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

French Foreign Legion troops and pro-French Vietnamese are defeated at Dien Bien Phu by the forces of Ho Chih Minh.


Ellis Island becomes part of the National Park Service.

President Lyndon B. Johnson unveils his "Great Society" program to end poverty in the U.S.

The People's Republic of China is gripped by the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," instituted by Mao Tse-tung.


The Restore Ellis Island Committee is formed to raise funds for renovation.

President Richard Nixon resigns and is replaced by Gerald Ford.

Famine induced by severe droughts threatens millions of Africans.


Restoration of the main building on Ellis Island is begun.

Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space, on the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Lech Walesa, head of the Polish labor union Solidarity, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


The Ellis Island Immigration Museum opens on September 10.

United States forces are sent to the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Desert Shield.

Communism collapses in Eastern Europe, and the "Cold War" ends.


Ellis Island celebrates its centennial.


Landmark Supreme Court decision in dispute over Ellis Island ownership between New York and New Jersey.

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