Fresh from the end of the Industrial Revolution, the new formed United States was in need of laborers. With the country’s growing economy came a growing population. 12 million immigrants had passed through the gates at Ellis Island nestled in the New York Harbor between 1842 and 1954. As a result, the New York City population grew immensely. As millions of immigrants settled in New York City, the race for employment began. Immigrants replaced African-Americans and Native Americans, thus creating tension and a more profitable deal for manufacturers.
With the urge to fulfill the “American Dream”, many immigrants willingly took jobs that paid less than others with women immigrants earning less than men. In 1912, men earned less than ten dollars a week. This wage difference caused many job shortages for Americans. Immigrants were placed into categories, old and new. Old immigrants who had entered the country prior to the late 1800s often stereotyped the new immigrants and their lack of the English language. Many immigrants suffered because of this.
Prior to 1885, American manufacturers would advertise in European newspapers as well as send agents to across the Atlantic to recruit foreigners. American agents would cleverly offer them to pay for their journey to Ellis Island, while others offered jobs and land under contract. In 1885, Congress passed the Alien Contract Labor Law, putting an end to contractual labor of immigrants which left many Americans jobless.
For an immigrant coming to New York City, getting a job was fairly simple. However, the jobs which they were given consisted of some of the dirtiest and dangerous jobs at a low wage. City jobs were different than jobs in the country or suburbs. Farming and mining was replaced with factory work, ditch-digging, burying gas pipes and stone cutting. In New York City, immigrants are responsible for digging the first inter-borough subway tunnels, laying cables for Broadway street lights, the bridges on the East River, and constructing the Flatiron Building.
Novotny,Ann. Strangers at the Door. Riverside, CT: The Chatam Press, 1971.
Handlin,Oscar. A Pictorial History of Immigration. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc, 1972.