Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

Acquisition Strategies

Joe April 15, 2020
Old Immigrants wealthier.
New Immigrant were poor.
Old Immigrants were similar to Americans and were able to assimilate easier and faster.
New Immigrants were different culturally and in appearance.
Newly arrived immigrants disembark from the passenger steamer Thomas C. Millard upon their arrival at Ellis Island, in New York, early twentieth century. (Photo by Bain News Service/Interim Archives/Getty Images)
New Immigrants were poorer and would become a burden to the public as well as the state.
Immigrants in a Tenement.

So you’ve completed two history topics and you are about to start the third. So far, you should have learned about the founding of the country. Moving forward, you will start to gain an appreciation on why immigration policies are important for both the immigrant and the country. Hang in there. I know these topics could be slow, but things will start to speed up soon.

There were two primary waves of European immigration to The United States. The first wave became know as the Old Immigrants and the second one was know as the New Immigrants. In this section we will discuss the differences between the two and learn about the push and pull factors that contributed to these two major influxes of immigrants and the impact they had on U.S. policy.

As we have discussed in earlier topics The United States is a nation of immigrants. Every American is either an immigrant or has ancestors who were immigrants. Even the Native Americans are immigrants their ancestors having traveled to North America over the Bering Strait thousands of years ago.

One of the greatest periods of immigration occurred during the 1800s to the 1920s, when two waves of immigrants came to American shores from Europe. The Old Immigrants arrived in the mid-1800s, coming mostly from northwestern Europe, while the New Immigrants arrived a generation later, traveling mostly from southeastern Europe. Immigrants migrated to escape problems in their native countries or in search of new opportunities. For the purpose of this topic, it is important for you to know that America was thriving during this period of time in part because of the industrial revolution and would have looked very attractive to immigrants from around the world.

Push and Pull Factors

Why people migrate can been simplified by two main factors. One the push factors, something happening in the home country to push people out, and pull factors, a draw towards a new place for security, prosperity or both.

In the nineteenth century, Europe underwent a transformation due to the Industrial Revolution. Economic expansion followed, but the rapid changes also caused political dissention and social revolution in industrialized nations. Some people wanted to leave their native countries due to unemployment, repressive governments, or a lack of opportunity. Others were trying to avoid compulsory military service or escape religious persecution. People were also attracted to the possibility of a better life in the United States.

American settlers wrote letters to family members and friends abroad describing the streets as paved with gold. Many immigrants were pulled to America with visions of wealth and the promise of freedom, equality, and opportunity.

The Old Immigrants

Most of the old immigrants migrated from England, France, Ireland, and Germany. Many of these immigrants were culturally similar to each other, literate, and had some wealth. Most were Protestant, believed in democracy, and resembled each other physically. Due to the similarities among these groups, old immigrants were able to adapt to Americans more easily.

A sharp increase in immigration from northwestern Europe occurred in the 1840s and 1850s. In the 1840s, a disease destroyed a majority of the potato crop in Ireland. The Irish relied on the potato as a staple food, and the destruction of this crop resulted in a widespread famine across the nation, the Push Factor.

Because of the American Industrial Revolution, the growth of factories and the demand for unskilled labor, primarily young men in the working years, made America the ideal destination for immigrants looking for prosperity and a new home, the Pull Factor.

The Irish Potato Famine led to the mass exodus of Irish citizens to America. Most of these immigrants settled along the East Coast since they were too poor to buy land or travel elsewhere. They initially encountered discrimination, but eventually, because there similarities to the American people, they were able to overcome prejudice and assimilate into local communities.

In Germany, a failed revolution in 1848 and economic hardship, the Push Factor, caused more than a million Germans to migrate to America in the following decade. Many Germans had enough money to travel to the Midwest and purchase farmland, settling in places like Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Milwaukee.

Everything appeared to be working in perfect harmony. So, what when wrong?

The New Immigrants

With the American revolution and the opportunities for prosperity in full swing, America continued to be a Pull Factor for the worlds immigrants. Immigration to America reached a high point between 1880 and 1920. Many of the new immigrants who migrated during this period were from southern and eastern European nations, such as Greece, Italy, Poland, and Russia. They were culturally different from the old immigrants, and this made it more difficult for them to assimilate into American culture and life. They settled in urban ethnic neighborhoods, often living in poor housing called tenements, where they could speak their native language, observe their own traditions, and freely practice their religion. Unlike the earlier immigrant groups, the new immigrants were poorer, often illiterate in their own language, and had fled from countries that were undemocratic.

Tensions Between Old and New Immigrants

As more immigrants flooded into America, hostilities increased among various groups. The increase in immigration coincided with a revolution in industry, and more Americans left the farms to live and work in the cities. This led to overcrowding and competition for jobs and resources. Many people who had been born in America resented the influx of new immigrants because they often worked for lower wages. Tensions also occurred due to cultural differences between old and new immigrants. These tensions and the upcoming World War prompted congress to take a closer look at immigration policies.

Immigration Restrictions

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Congress attempted to restrict immigration by requiring a literacy test. Then in 1924, Congress established national quotas meant to preserve the ethnic balance according to the 1890 census, which favored white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Immigrants from Asia were excluded entirely from entering the United States.

The interwar period in America was characterized by a period of isolationism, in which the U.S. tried to stay out of the conflicts happening in European and Asian countries. World War II would draw America out of isolationism, but the policies limiting immigration would remain.

Additional legislation was passed in the 1950s during the height of the Cold War. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 would eliminate many of the earlier quotas and open the borders to immigrants from countries in Latin America and Asia.

In Summary

The United States experienced a sharp increase in European immigration in the late 1800s to the 1920s. Immigrants came to America due to push and pull factors. In some cases, they were pushed out of their native lands for reasons such as war, economic hardship, or religious persecution. Pull factors included seeking to join family or acquire wealth in America.

There were two major waves of immigration during this period. The old immigrants, who came in the mid-1800s, were typically from northwestern Europe and assimilated into mainstream America rather easily due to shared culture and traditions. The new immigrants, who came at the turn of the 20th century, were usually from southeastern Europe and had a harder time adjusting to the dominant American culture. In time, however, the cultural differences would fade, and a new American identity, forged from the disparate nations from which the immigrants came, would emerge.

Old Immigrants vs. New Immigrants

Old ImmigrantsNew Immigrants
*Came from England, Ireland, France, and Germany
*Culturally and physically similar, literate, had some wealth
*Escaping persecution, seeking wealth, religious freedom, economic hardship, and famine
*Assimilated easily
*From southern and eastern European nations
*Often poor and illiterate
*Different culturally and lived in cultural settlements
*Did not assimilate easily due to differences with old immigrants