News Articles

Ellis Island approaches centennial of record-breaking day

Numbers unmatched for over 80 years

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

ELLIS ISLAND, NY - April 17, 2007 marks the 100th anniversary of the busiest day in Ellis Island's history, when 11,747 individuals disembarked to begin new lives in America. A usual day saw some 5,000 immigrants processed. It was the highpoint of 1907 when 1,285,349 immigrants entered the United States, with Ellis Island processing nearly 80 percent of those new arrivals. The country would not welcome as many immigrants again until 1990.

Forty percent of Americans can trace their roots back to at least one ancestor who arrived through Ellis Island, which processed 17 million immigrants from 1892-1954, when it was closed.

Many immigrants, like the Natte family from the Netherlands, underwent numerous hardships to start better lives in America. Evert Jan Natte and his wife, Cato, arrived on the S.S. Potsdam in March 1907, after having lost two of their eight children at sea to diphtheria and seeing a third die from the same illness shortly after they arrived. The surviving children were sent to a hospital in nearby Hoboken, New Jersey, while Cato, pregnant and due to give birth, remained at Ellis Island for the entire month of April. Her infant son was named Robert Ellis Natte, after the Port Commissioner at Ellis Island and the place where he was born. Finally, the family was reunited and on May 3, 1907, they headed west for Minnesota. Today the Natte family has a rich and extensive genealogy, with 100 direct descendents sharing a tie to the Dutch couple's sacrifice and courage.

According to experts America's current wave of immigration has striking similarities to the turn of the last century when Ellis Island was the flagship of immigration depots in the U.S. The percentage of foreign born population in the U.S. in 1907 was 15.7%, while today it about 12.5%. The origin of immigrants is very different today: in 1907, most of those arriving were from Southern and Eastern Europe, while today they are coming predominantly from Latin America and Asia. Arrivals from the Netherlands between 1880 and 1911 were largely from municipalities which bordered the Waddenzee.

A commemorative celebration was held at Ellis Island to mark the centennial.