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Total documented migration to the US 1820-1957

Approximately 41 million people immigrated to the United States of America between the years 1820 and 1957. During this time period, the United States expanded across North America, growing from 23 to 48 states, and the population grew from approximately 10 million people in 1820, to almost 180 million people by 1957. Economically, the US developed from being an agricultural and slavery-based economy in the 1820s, to having the highest GDP of any single country in the 1950s. Much of this expansion is due to the high numbers of farmers and agricultural workers who migrated from Europe, where the agricultural sector had been impacted greatly by industrialization and a series of blights and poor harvests in the second half of the nineteenth century. Despite these agricultural opportunities, many migrants also settled in urban centers instead, and this fueled the growth of the industrial sector (mass influxes of workers also removed the economy's dependency on slave-labor (particularly in the northern states), and many migrants who had fled persecution in their homeland also supported and contributed to the abolition movement). Over the course of the 137 years shown here, the United States grew to become the most powerful country in the world, largely due to the contribution made by migrant workers.

American industrialization and European rural unemployment fuel migration

The first major wave of migration came in the 1850s, and was fueled largely by Irish and German migrants, who were fleeing famine or agricultural depression at the time. The second boom came in the 1870s, as the country recovered from the American Civil War and the Second Industrial Revolution took off. The final boom of the nineteenth century came in the 1880s, as poor harvests and industrialization in Europe led to mass emigration. Improvements in steam ship technology and lower fares led to increased migration from Eastern and Southern Europe at the turn of the century (particularly from Italy), and this was when the highest levels of migration took place during the time period shown here (with levels exceeding one million migrants per year in many of these years).

War and depression reduces migration

There was a great reduction in migration levels during the First World War, as many men were conscripted into military service, naval warfare made trans-Atlantic journeys unsafe, and travelling within Europe was extremely difficult. Following the war's end, migration increased again, before the Great Depression caused it to fall to it's lowest recorded levels since 1831. The Second World War meant that these figures remained low, however the migration rate increased again in the late 1940s, particularly from Latin America and Asia. This high level of migration from Europe to the United States has meant that the most common ethnicity in the US has been non-Hispanic white since the early-colonial period, however increased migration from Latin America, Asia and Africa, and higher birth rates among ethnic minorities, have led to many scientists claiming that non-Hispanic whites will make up less than fifty percent of the US population by the middle of this century.

Total number of documented migrants to the United States between 1820 and 1957

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Release date

August 2019


United States

Survey time period

1820 to 1957

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