President’s Day

President’s Day

Happy President’s Day! Today, we celebrate and honor United States presidents from past and present.  Save Ellis Island would like to share a brief history of a few of our presidents who have influenced Ellis Island and have made historic visits to the island.


Beginning with President Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893) who designated Ellis Island as America’s first federal immigration center in 1890. Before that time, the processing of immigrants had been handled by individual states.


When Theodore Roosevelt was President (1901-1909), he took a great interest in events on Ellis Island. He visited the island in 1903 to inspect how immigrants were processed and was deeply moved thinking about the masses of immigrants who entered through Ellis Island. President Roosevelt signed the Immigration Act of 1907 in to law on February 20, 1907. The Act was part of a series of reforms aimed at restricting the number and groups of immigrants coming into the U.S. before and after World War I.


President William Howard Taft (1909-1913) visited Ellis Island on October 8, 1910 and performed a mental status examination on an immigrant. He asked the man, “Do you know who is President of the United States?” He said “William H. Taft.” Taft said “Would it surprise you to know that I am the president.” He said “So you are, sir.” In 1913 President Taft signed an act establishing the Department of Labor, just hours before Woodrow Wilson took office. All business of immigration and naturalization, including the Ellis Island processing station is transferred to the Department of Labor.

President Warren G. Harding (1921-1923) signed the Emergency Quota Act into law. The act limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted to 3% of the number of persons from that country living in the US in 1910. As a result, the number of immigrants processed at Ellis Island decreased from 560,971 in 1921 to 209,778 in 1922. This law marks the end of America’s “open door” immigration policy.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) moved the Immigration and Naturalization Service from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice in 1940. In February 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing relocation of people with “foreign enemy ancestry” living in the United States. Ellis Island served as an internment center throughout World War II, detaining thousands, mostly Germans along with some Italians and Japanese.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s (1953-1961) General Services Administration tried unsuccessfully to sell Ellis Island and its buildings to the highest bidder in 1956.  Private citizens and elected officials quickly spoke out against the sale. President Eisenhower’s office was inundated with letters from immigrants who had entered the United States through Ellis Island, pleading with the president to preserve the Island as a memorial.

He later suspended the planned sale to provide time to decide what to do with the historic site.


In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) issued Proclamation 3656 adding Ellis Island to the Statue of Liberty National Monument, thus placing Ellis Island under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) launched the restoration of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in 1982 appointing Chrysler Chairman, Lee A. Iacocca to lead a national fund raising campaign. These efforts resulted in the establishment of the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island Foundation and restoration of the Immigration Building which was opened in 1990 as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum.

In 2002, President George W. Bush (2001-2009) addressed the nation from Ellis Island commemorating the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

These are a few of the presidents who have visited Ellis Island or have had an impact of Ellis Island. Today we honor all presidents who helped to make America great!