Peaks/waves of immigration

The century following 1820 can be divided into 3 great periods of immigration, or "waves." These three have immigrants coming from primarily three different regions. (there is more detail below):

    1820-1860, Great Britain, Ireland, and Western Germany.
    1860-1890, The above countries continued to provide, as well as Scandinavian Nations.
    1890-1910, The majority was Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Russia, up until World War 1.

From 1905 until 1914, an average of more than a million aliens yearly entered the U.S. With the outbreak of World War 1, the number declined sharply. In 1921 the number again rose, but only for a short time until changing conditions in Europe as well as new U.S. Laws governing Immigration were established.


The slaves trade thrived through the 18th century. Africa thus made a substantial addition to the American population. There were about 500,000 African Americans here by the time of the American Revolution. The great majority were slaves. The unique quality of this migration had planted the seeds of difficulty that would permanently mark the nation.


  • In the decade preceding the election of Lincoln, 2,598,214 immigrants came to U.S. mainly from Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany with few from Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands
  • After the panic of 1857 and out break of the Civil War, immigration declined, but after collapse of Confederacy, immigration assumed a huge volume again
  • Not until the 1840's did wave after wave of immigration was deposited on American shores from practically every country of Europe
  • This is where Irish immigration began its wave, especially after the potato crop failure
  • This "Era of Mass Immigration" was initially from northern and western Europe
  • The 1830's was a surge of German immigrants
  • In 1848, with the discovery of Gold, there was a spur of Chinese and Latin American immigrants to the west coast
  • In the 1870's large number of Scandinavians, Chinese, and Canadians immigrated to the U.S.
  • 1840's and 1850's - 1.5 million immigrants
  • 1840's - 1880's (Germans) - 4 million immigrants
  • Total number of immigrants in this wave is about 7.5 million


  • In 1907 Japanese immigration was limited
  • Chinese immigration was stopped in 1892 & 1902


  • Cuban immigration picked up sharply during the 1950's as a result of increasing political turmoil in Cuba
  • Many of the first Cubans to flee Castro's dictatorship in the early 1960's were from wealthy families and were well educated
    • The U.S., granted asylum to these people and offered federal help to qualified applicants in finding homes and in making job contacts
    • Most later Cuban immigrants were relatives of the first group or were poor people looking for work
  • A major influx of Cuban immigrants was the arrival in 1980 of the Marielitos
    • The Marielitos were about 125,000 people that the Cuban government wanted out of Cuba
    • They included many unskilled workers, criminals, and mentally ill people
    • These people were put aboard boats at the Cuban port of Mariel, and sent to Miami
    • The U.S. government allowed these people to enter, not knowing that some of them were criminals
    • Some were placed in U.S. prisons
    • Many of them were rehabilitated and released
    • Few were returned to Cuba


During the first period (from 1820 to 1860), most immigrants arrived from Great Britain, Ireland and western Germany.

During the second period (from 1860 to 1890) The above three nations continued to supply immigrants. Also, the Scandinavian nations became a large minority.

Thereafter, the proportion of immigrants from the northern and western nations dropped, and the southern and eastern nations began providing more immigrants. This third wave, (1890-1910), included a majority of immigrants from nations such as: Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Russia. These nations constituted more than half of the immigrants during that wave.

Until World War 1, Immigration had generally increased in volume annually. From 1905 until World War 1, An average of more than 1,000,000 immigrants a year came to the United States. With the outbreak of World War 1, those numbers decreased sharply.

From 1915 to 1918, the average yearly immigrants was barely making 250,000, in 1918 the number showed a small rise, but it soon fell in response to a changing situation in Europe, as well as new legislation that was placing a cap on immigration.


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