With the exception of the Native Americans, the United States of America is a country of immigrants. Unlike their neighbors in Asia, Europe, and Africa, the vast majority of the nation’s citizenry came from, or has ancestors that came from in the last 400 years, other countries. Whether you’re working on your genealogy or studying current social issues, an understanding of immigration is a must. Few centuries have been bigger for immigration in the U.S. than the twentieth century.
1901 to 1920 – As seen in the infographic below, the twentieth century started strong with immigration, still riding a wave from the 1890s, when the percentage of foreign-born people in the U.S. hit an all-time high of 14.7 percent. Sea travel became more affordable and faster, increasing the rates by which immigrants could travel to America. World War I threw Europe into a tail spin, both politically and economically, further stoking foreign interest in the relatively tranquil shores of the New World.
1921 to 1940 – Starting in 1924, immigration took a dramatic downturn when Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924. This act limited immigration from countries already well represented in the U.S. but limited immigration from less familiar countries. The Great Depression of the 1930s further decreased immigration as opportunity and prosperity vaporized. In fact, conditions in the U.S. were so negative that more people actually emigrated from the U.S. than immigrated into it during the early 1930s.
1941 to 1960 – World War II did little to boost immigration into the U.S. Rates would remain low throughout the war and throughout the 1950s.
1961 to 1980 – Immigration grew again in the 1960s due to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965, which drew down quotas on certain immigrant groups. With strong economic growth throughout the 1960s and 1970s, immigration boomed but not nearly to pre-Depression levels.
For more information on immigration in the 20th century, check out the following videos: