Immigration Patterns in the Late 1800s

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  • 0:03 Early Immigration
  • 1:19 New Immigrants
  • 2:20 Birds of Passage
  • 3:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson describes the immigration patterns of the late 1800s. Focusing on the new immigrants and birds of passage, it will highlight the hardships and discrimination these groups faced.


Here are some crazy statistics. By the early 1900s, it's estimated that New York City had more Italians in it than any other city but Rome. It also had more Polish people than any other city but Warsaw. Talk about a melting pot! To take a closer look at this, let's explore immigration to the U.S. during the late 1800s.

For starters, an immigrant is one who settles in a foreign country. Most of us have ancestors who, at some point or another, immigrated to the U.S. Whether speaking of the North, South, East, or West, the U.S. is a nation of immigrants.

Prior to the late 1880s, many of the immigrants who came to the U.S. were of Western or Northern European descent. Speaking more specifically, they tended to be English, German, or Norwegian. With their fair skin and their Protestant beliefs, they assimilated very nicely into the white Anglo-Saxon Protestantism that pervaded the country. To state it simply and sadly, they didn't threaten the status quo. However, this all changed as the end of the century brought what history calls the new immigrants.

New Immigrants

Keeping things simple, the new immigrants of the late 1800s came from Southern and Eastern Europe. They landed on the American shore from places like Italy, Poland, Greece, and Russia. Unfortunately, these new immigrants didn't always receive the warmest of welcomes. In fact, they often faced discrimination.

For starters, the new immigrants were perceived as different. Rather than being light-eyed and fair-skinned, many were of darker complexion. Sounding sadly familiar, this bothered some already settled Americans. Also, many of the immigrants were Roman Catholic, not Protestant. After all, many came from Italy! Adding to this, many of those coming from Russia were Jews fleeing religious persecution. Rather than open arms, these groups met discrimination in the U.S. Despite this not-so-warm welcome, the year 1886 alone saw over 300,000 immigrants land on American soil.

Birds of Passage

Some of the immigrants who came in the late 1800s were known as birds of passage. They were usually men who came alone and did not settle in one place. Rather than permanently settling in the U.S., their goal was to return home.

To explain their stories, during the 1800s, commercial farming gobbled up much of the land in Southern and Eastern Europe. Driven by profit, large, wealthy landowners tossed thousands upon thousands of poor farmers from their land.

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