Though the resources below cover
immigration thoroughly, I wanted, on a personal level, to
write for myself what it must have been like. Part of that
exercise was to rehash the academic material in my own
words--a writing assignment to myself, if you will. I share
it here with you, at least a small part of it, in hopes that
my essay on immigration will encourage you to try something
similar with your dream.
Much attention has been paid over the years to United
States immigration during the period of the 19th century
into the early 20th century. A great mass of emigrants from
various origins would leave their places of birth in pursuit
of the "American Dream", which symbolized for them
democracy, equality, liberty, justice and most of all
To facilitate a better understanding of this phenomenon
central to America's identity, I have focused on this period
of the 19th century into the early 20th century, emphasizing
the obvious pattern between the seemingly disparate
Many of Europe's inhabitants suffered
tremendous hardships. Wars, calamities generating poverty,
racial prejudices, religious persecution, political
oppression, economic causes, tyranny, and prevention of
individuals from reaping the rewards of their hard work,
were a consistent part of the emigrant's daily existence. As
long as those who were victimized remained in their
countries, they knew they would continue to be subjected to
more of the same.
Of course, not all Europeans were
affected; some would choose to leave their country on a
temporary nature, seeking better economic opportunities
elsewhere before returning home. Often, however, those that
ventured to America and prospered economically would remain
in their adopted country.
The Era of Industrial and Economic
Growth in America
"The Industrial Revolution was one
of the great forces that developed the American Dream. The
Industrial Revolution, amidst all the government corruption
of the Gilded Era, resulted in the creation of hundreds of
thousands of jobs. (1)
Following the War between the States,
there was a period in the United States known as "The Gilded
Age" where great advancements in technology contributed to
the rapid industrialization of America. As more and more
cities and towns were established, the demand for more
laborers also grew. The Chinese and Irish immigrants became
the workforce for most of the backbreaking jobs.
The stagecoach was becoming obsolete:
America demanded faster and more comfortable transportation.
The railway was the solution to the problem for the people
of the far west. Federal subsidies were generously granted
to the builders, helping bring this gigantic project to
fruition. Contractors put out the word for hired help. From
all over the United States and beyond came an eager response
to the promise of a "$2.50 a day" wage. This was even a
better offer for the Irish immigrants who currently were
making 50 cents a day working on the East Coast's Erie
Canal. Soon Irish, responded; strong muscular German and
Chinese immigrants were working side by side.
Some of the Union and Confederate
veterans who were in great financial need were also hired by
the Union Pacific. The men worked fast and furious, with
their weapons close at hand, always looking over their
shoulder, in case the Indians would attack or disrupt their
work by tearing up the tracks and rails. "Terminus towns"
became a temporary social center, where the laborers,
drinking heavily and gambling away their earnings, sought
out the brothels and sociability of the saloons. Death from
Indian attacks and frequent confrontations between the
ethnic groups often resulted in hastily made unmarked graves
left behind as the laborers moved on to their next
destination. Swift transportation across the continent was a
product of "the Industrial Revolution."
Between 1850-1890, the American railway
system expanded prodigiously. The 200,000 miles of track
that were laid down by 1890 encouraged economic growth,
facilitating industries ' swifter shipment to the public
markets (2) "Before the turn of
the century the United States had become the world's leading
manufacturer of farm machinery. As a result of the new
commercialized farming, the agricultural map of the nation
was sharply divided into a "corn belt," a "wheat belt," and
a "dairy belt." Farming had become a highly specialized
enterprise in many parts of the nation. Agriculture offered
economic security to those who could afford the investment
in large-scale commercial farming." (3)
Some families made great fortunes from their investments
throughout the second half of the 19th century. They had the
money and leisure to indulge in conspicuous consumption,
furthering a new emphasis on Society manners. The Astors
were one of the landholding and mercantile families that
made great private fortunes during the early nineteenth
century. Cornelius Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie, giants in
the nation's growth, were multimillionaires resulting from
their investments in transportation and industry. "Through
his association with Philadelphia's old established firm of
Drexel & Co, J. P. Morgan came to the forefront of American
finance, at a time of big opportunity." (4) Other business
giants of the era were Rockefeller in oil, the Armours,
Swifts, and Morris in meat-packing, the Havemeyers in sugar,
and the Dukes in tobacco. The peak of power and wealth of
these financial giants was during the years 1866-1897.
Before they even had the warmth of cash
in their hands, the new millionaires were deciding upon the
mansion they would build, one which would satisfy even their
pampered wives and daughters. Soon there would be nonstop
invitations to balls for themselves and their family.
There-or at the most exclusive men's clubs-- they would rub
elbows with the elite. Old money was essentially dead.
Money, if enough of it, talked, however recently it was
The Match: Labor Needs and Laborers'
The gold rush to California attracted immigrants from every
part of the world. . Much of America's workforce twas on the
east coast, and before long the workers left the factories
and industries to seek their fortunes out west. Factory
owners on the eastern seaboard began losing money and
Everyone was looking for a piece of the action as America
expanded. Steamship companies, railroad companies, state
immigration bureaus, as well as industrial firms and private
enterprises, turned to workers in Europe. Ruthless
businessmen hired unscrupulous agents to work on commission.
They were sent to Europe with a collection of enticing
pamphlets, advertisements, drawings and pictures. "Remember
promise them anything, just get them over here. There's big
bucks in it for you."
The commissioned agents, the "Smooth Operators," exploited
the vulnerability of the masses. These operators promised
wealth that would prove an illusion. But to the oppressed
people of Europe, the hope of economic betterment for
themselves and their children was the promise of a life they
had long dreamed of. The smooth operator convinced the
downtrodden that land was cheap, that jobs were plentiful
and that some day they could return to their home country as
wealthy land owners.
To close the deal, the smooth operator played his last card.
" My employer is willing to loan you the money to pay for
your passage and lodgings, and when you begin to work in
America you can pay him back out of your wages." Who would
say no to such a proposition?
(Continue Part II The Departure)