Ellis Island, opened on January 1, 1892, was the processing point for immigrants sailing to the United States from points east, mostly Europe. The facility processed only third class (steerage) passengers. First and Second-class passengers were processed on the ship and disembarked at the passenger terminals along the Hudson River. Upon arrival, immigrants were given a medical exam and their papers were examined by a government official. Although Ellis Island has been called the “Island of Tears” in reference to those immigrants sent back to their home countries, in truth, only about two percent of those passing through the facilities were denied admittance to the US. Most of those sent back were refused for medical reasons. The majority of passengers were processed and ferried to New York or New Jersey within several hours.
After 1924, Ellis Island was used only for detainees. Regular passengers were handled through other, more modern and convenient facilities. During World War II, the island was used as a military prison camp, and the place was finally retired in 1954. In 1966, it was designated as a National Historic Place and its maintenance was taken over by the US Park Service. The facility by this time, however, was in a state of disrepair, but through largely private contributions, the site was restored and opened in 1990 as a museum and historic site.