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THE THIRD WAVE: 1890s-1930

Total Immigrants: 22 millions

The population of the USA increased from 63 million in 1890 to 106 million in
1920, as immigration hit its peak. For four decades after 1890, an annual
average of 580,000 immigrants arrived on American shores, and 1907 set a
record of 1.3 million newcomers in a single year. On the eve of World War I,
the foreign-born had swollen to 15% of the US population.
The character of immigration also changed with the Third Wave. Whereas in
1880, 87% of immigrants had been from Northwestern Europe (the British
Isles, Germany, and Scandinavia), by 1900, over 80% were from Southern
and Eastern Europe (Italy, Russia, Austro-Hungary). The size and greater
cultural diversity of the Third Wave would give rise to a great new
Xenophobia (fear and hatred of foreigners) that would slam the door to new
arrivals in the 1920s.
Factors that drove Southern and Eastern Europeans to leave their
native countries:
High population growth in Southern and Eastern Europe.
Lack of jobs and food.
Rarity of available farmland.
Mechanization of agriculture, which pushed peasants off the land.
Religious persecution of Russian Jews, who fled their villages after pogroms.
Factors that attracted immigrants to the USA:
Democracy.
Freedom of religion.
Available land.
Other forms of economic opportunity.
Booming industries like steel and railroads advertised for workers in Hungary
and Poland. These new immigrants helped build new railroads and took jobs
in steel mills.
Transportation improvements sped immigration:
By the late 19th century, regularly scheduled steamships replaced sailing
ships, cutting what had been a 3-month voyage across the Atlantic to a
mere 2 weeks.
As the Third Wave grew in numbers, there was a new nativist backlash against
immigration. Some Americans disapproved of the new immigrants whom they saw
as different from those who had come before them.
Third Wave immigrants were accused of:
Taking jobs away from native Americans.
Being difficult to Americanize due to their lack of education, their tendency to
cluster in urban ethnic ghettos, and their attachment to their own languages
and customs.
Being racially inferior, according to the theory of Nordic Supremacy that
argued Northwestern Europeans were mentally and physically superior.
In 1894, the Immigration Restriction League was formed, and only President
McKinleys veto prevented them from enacting an English language literacy
requirement. Standards were tightened at Ellis Island in the 1910s when
Anarchists were officially banned from entry to America. Japanese
immigration was ended in 1907 and all immigration from Asia soon after.
When World War I began, immigration greatly declined, but nationalist
xenophobia increased and German immigrants were persecuted, some even
lynched; a new anti-immigrant fear was growing.

The End of the Third Wave: Closing the Gates


European economic collapse after WWI led to another surge in immigration,
from 110,000 in 1919 to over 800,000 in 1921. Americans strongly rejected
this new wave. Xenophobia exploded in reaction to the 1917 Bolshevik
Revolution in Russia and the Red Scare bombings of 1919. At the same time,
the US economy sank into a deep depression, making foreigners seem a
threat to US workers jobs. A revived Ku Klux Klan grew all over the country
opposing not only blacks but Catholics and Jews as well. The Klan demanded
strict new restrictions on immigration.
In 1921, the Republican congress passed the first of a series of new restrictions
on immigration. the 1921 Immigration Quota Act capped annual immigration
at 350,000 and set National Origins Quotas to limit each countrys total.
Further revisions of the law in 1924 and 1929 eventually brought the total of
immigrants allowed in the US down to 150,000 per year. Moreover, the details of
the law reflected widespread prejudice against southern and eastern Europeans,
whom most Americans considered to be racially inferior in those bigoted times.
These laws caused a dramatic decline in immigration to America. Whereas 22.3
million people immigrated to America between 1891 and 1930, only 4.1 million
immigrated between 1930 and 1960. Southern and Eastern European immigration
declined by nearly 90% (87.3%). The foreign-born represented 15% of the
population in 1930, but only 4.7% in 1960. Thus the middle of the 2oth century
became the low tide of American immigration history.