The original island of Ellis Island was 3.5 acres, but it was increased in size two times. First was the addition of a three-acre Island, which included hospital wards and an administration building. Then a third island of five acres was added in 1910 with additional hospital facilities.
With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, immigration to America all but ceased. Many European nations closed their borders, seas were unsafe to travel and unemployment in America was on the rise. Ellis Island became host to those who could not be admitted to the United States yet could not be returned to their original homes. It served as an internment center for 1,500 German sailors and 2,200 suspected “aliens and spies.” The large hospital was turned over to the War and Navy departments for the care of almost 700 wounded soldiers and sailors. Then came a catastrophe to the island.
On July 30, 1916, Black Tom Wharf, a railroad yard and barge-loading area, located on the New Jersey shore had railroad cars and 14 barges loaded with dynamite and munitions awaiting transfer to freighters. At about 2 a.m., saboteurs exploded the cargo, which resulted in two separate shocks of such magnitude that they were felt in Philadelphia, 90 miles away. Bullets, bombs and shells exploded into the air for hours. Almost every window on Ellis Island was broken. Doors jammed inward and parts of roofs collapsed. No one was seriously injured, but the damage on Ellis Island amounted to $400,000. The saboteurs were never apprehended.
With the end of the “Great War,” many Americans were eager to see immigration restricted. In 1917, legislation was passed that specified 33 classes of foreigners who could not be admitted and also demanded literacy testing. The new law greatly reduced the number of immigrants for a while, but by 1921, the number of arrivals once again climbed to 500,000. New, stricter laws were enacted in 1921 and a quota system went into effect in 1924. Another provision of the new laws stated that every immigrant was now to be inspected at the American consular office in the immigrant’s country of origin, rather than on arrival in America. That changed the immigration system forever. Proposals to close Ellis Island were made as early as 1925, but immigrant processing did not cease entirely until the end of 1954.
During World War II, the island served as a detention center for enemy aliens. And in March 1955, Ellis Island was turned over to the General Services Administration.
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson officially pro-claimed Ellis Island part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan began a restoration process and The Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Foundation was formed. Ellis Island was reopened and dedicated on September 10, 1990, as a unit of the US Department of the Interior’s National Park Service.