35 Ellis Island Immigration Photos That Capture American Diversity

Published May 25, 2016
Updated August 5, 2020

Contrary to what some might have you believe, American identity can look like many things. These Ellis Island immigration photos prove it.

As a clerk at Ellis Island from 1892-1925, Augustus Sherman was in a unique position to document countless immigrants as they attempted to gain entrance into the United States.

The untrained photographer had an undeniable natural talent: Even with bulky cameras and the time-consuming exposure process they required, Sherman was able to take more than 200 photos — of subjects typically detained for interrogation — that reveal as much about the subjects’ fears as they do the diverse reality of our national heritage:

Albanian Soldier
An Albanian soldier.

Some hopeful immigrants could be held on Ellis Island for days, or even weeks, before being approved or deported.

Algerian Man
An Algerian man in traditional apparel.

Immigrants were given free meals upon arriving — in most cases introducing them to new foods such as bananas and ice cream.

Ellis islanf immigrant portraits Alsace Lorraine
Photo identified as 'Girl from the Kochersberg region near Strasbourg, Alsace" (circa 1905).

Bavarian Man
Wilhelm Schleich, a miner from Hohenpeissenberg, Bavaria (circa 1905).

Cossack Steppes
Cossack man from the steppes of Russia.

With the U.S. attitude toward becoming increasingly negative, World War I marked the end of mass immigration to America.

Danish Man
Peter Meyer from Svendberg, Denmark, age 57. April 30, 1909.

Dutch Family
Three Dutch protestant women identified as "Mother and her two daughters from Zuid-Beveland, province of Zeeland, The Netherlands" (circa 1905).

Dutch Siblings
Identified as "Dutch siblings from the Island of Marken, holding religious tracts" (circa 1905).

Dutch Woman
Photo identified as "Protestant woman from Zuid-Beveland, province of Zeeland, The Netherlands."

Fancy Dresses
Three women from Guadeloupe in fancy dress.

Ellis Island immigrant portraits German Stowaway
A tattooed German stowaway allegedly deported in May 1911.

Greek Priest
Rev. Joseph Vasilon, a Greek-Orthodox priest (circa 1905).

Greek Soldier
A Greek evzone, which is a member of a light infantry unit in the Greek army.

Greek Woman
A Greek woman in June 1909.

Guadeloupean Woman
A Guadeloupean woman, 1911.

About 700 immigrants passed through on the very first day of Ellis Island’s operation, January 1, 1892.

Gypsy Family
A Romani family. The Romani are sometimes referred to as Gypsies.

Italian Headdress
A young Italian woman. (circa 1906).

Eighty percent of immigrants were processed and approved in just a number of hours.

Italian Woman
An Italian woman.

The highest number of immigrants to arrive on Ellis Island in a single day was 11,747, on April 17, 1907.

Lapland Children
Swedish children in Lapland costume.

Norwegian Woman
Originally titled "Swedish woman," the title was changed when it was noticed that the woman's clothing originated from the west coast of Norway.

Rattvik Girl
A young Swedish girl from the Rattvik providence of Dalarna.

Romanian Piper
A Romanian immigrant poses with his instrument.

Romanian Shepherd
Romanian shepherd (circa 1906).

As opposed to wealthier arrivals, poor passengers were detained on the island for physical inspections and further legal questioning.

Romanian Women
Two Romanian women.

Russian Cossacks
Russian Cossacks, armed and in full dress.

Ruthenian Woman
A traditionally dressed Ruthenian woman, who would now be known as Ukrainian.

Sami Laplander
A Laplander woman from Finland (circa 1905).

Scottish Boys
Three young Scottish boys.

Serbian Gypsies
Captioned "Hungarian Gypsies all of whom were deported," this photo appeared in The New York Times on February 12, 1905.

Shepherd Pipers
Romanian shepherds, one proudly posing with his pipe.

Slovak Family
A Slovak woman with her children.

To accommodate the dietary requirements of Jewish immigrants, a kosher kitchen was built in 1911.

Slovakian Women
Three Slovakian women.

It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of U.S. citizens can trace at least one ancestor back to Ellis Island.

Three Cossacks
Three Russian Cossacks.

Many famous people were processed at Ellis Island, including Charlie Chaplin, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, Charles Atlas, and Irving Berlin.

Turkish Man
"Turkish bank guard John Postantzis, Feb 9, 1912."

The last person to pass through Ellis Island was a Norwegian merchant seaman by the name of Arne Peterssen in 1954.

Hindu Boy
A print of this image reads, "Thumbu Sammy, aged 17, Hindoo ex SS 'Adriatic', April 14, 1911."

All photos taken by Augustus Sherman (ca. 1905-1914)


Next, check out these chilling photos of American child labor in the early 20th century and striking photographs of people around the world at the turn of the 20th century.

Erin Kelly
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.