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America's History in the Making

Industrializing America

Theme 2

Fleeing religious and political persecution and poor economic conditions, millions of people began to move about the globe, with a high concentration coming to the United States.

Industrial expansion required an ever-growing workforce. American businesses and some Southern planters actively recruited workers from the nation's rural areas, as well as from abroad through advertisements published in foreign languages around the world. Between 1870 and 1920, approximately 26.5 million migrants from Asia, Latin America, and Europe entered all regions of the United States, with the majority settling in the Northeast and the Midwest.

Non-native born migrants came to the United States for a variety of reasons. Some were escaping political and religious persecution. Others, facing a declining quantity of arable land in their homeland, were attracted its availability in America. Most immigrants left their homelands looking for economic opportunity. The United States not only offered such opportunity but also held out the promise of upward mobility for those locked in to the social classes into which they had been born.

More shipping lines, faster ships, and lower costs of travel made transoceanic travel easier than ever before. Ships brought immigrants to ports at Baltimore, Boston, New York City, Galveston, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Using transcontinental railroads and river boats, immigrants fanned out across the country to look for jobs: the Japanese in California's fruit orchards, Mexicans in Colorado's mines and beet fields, Scandinavians in western mines, Italians in iron mining camps in Missouri, and the Irish in New York factories.

Many migrants arrived hoping to buy land, but they were often so penniless that they could not afford to move beyond their arrival city, where they took the first job they could find.

Primary Sources


Text Artifact

The New Colossus

Emma Lazarus "The New Colossus" (inscription from the Statue of Liberty, New York harbor, 1886).


Group of Emigrants from Eastern Europe

Frances Benjamin Johnston, GROUP OF EMIGRANTS (WOMEN AND CHILDREN) FROM EASTERN EUROPE ON DECK OF THE S.S. AMSTERDAM (1899). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Wells Fargo&Company Express Directory of Chinese Business Houses

Wells Fargo&Company, Directory of Chinese Business Houses (1878). Photo used with permission from Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

"Some Reasons for Chinese Exclusion. Meat vs. Rice. American Manhood Against Asiatic Coolieism. Which Shall Survive?"

American Federation of Labor, Some Reasons for Chinese Exclusion. Meat vs. Rice. American Manhood Against Asiatic Coolieism. Which Shall Survive? (1901). Courtesy of the Bancroft Library, the University of California-Berkeley.

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