“Why Galveston?”

Recently a visitor to the Bryan posed to us an interesting question: He had heard that Galveston was second to New York as an immigration port of entry, so he asked, “Why Galveston?”

So, here is why!

Port activities provided employment. Texas commodities flowed through Galveston to New Orleans, New York and Great Britain. In 1912, Galveston’s Port was number two in the nation for business import and export value. And between 1906 and 1914, 50,000 immigrants arrived at the Galveston Port.

Jewish Immigrants from Eastern Europe were fleeing pogroms (organized massacres of an ethnic group) in Russia and conscription into Eastern European Armies. To disperse the new immigrants away from the crowded and congested northeast, immigration assistance programs were formed. The Jewish Immigration Information Bureau, The JIIB, was created to divert Jews to the interior of the United States, thus, The JIIB considered three ports of southern entry, away from the chaotic northeast: Charleston, New Orleans and Galveston. Charleston only wanted Anglo-Saxon immigrants. New Orleans feared the constant threat of Yellow Fever, leaving Galveston as the port of entry for JIIB sponsored immigrants. Besides its location, Galveston was already an arriving passenger port for Lloyds Shipping Company out of Bremen, Germany, the major port of European Embarkation.

The JIIB created the “Galveston Movement” to assist new immigrants from 1907 to 1914. By its close in 1914, with the advent of World War I, the JIIB brought 10,000 immigrants to and through Galveston. Many of those were absorbed into smaller Texas cities: Tyler, Palestine, Marshall and Texarkana. Galveston was also chosen due to transportation advances by rail to northern and western hinterlands which encouraged movement beyond Galveston with job opportunities in the West.

By 1880, with the threat of Indian attacks in the West subdued by the United States 4th Calvary and the Frontier Battalion led by Major John B. Jones, “immigrants poured in at a rate of 4,000 per year” to Galveston. The city’s population tripled from 7,300, pre-Civil War, to 22,740 in 1880. Even as early as 1874, a reporter from the New York Herald visited Galveston and called her “’the New York of the Gulf.’”

By 1911, the state administered port of entry for Galveston was replaced by a Federal program to process immigrants and redirect the flow of immigrants from the Northeast to Texas. Pelican Island became federal property. An immigration center and quarantine station were constructed. By 1915 Galveston was called a “Second Ellis Island.” Shortly, however, the flow of immigrants ceased due to World War I.

So, now you know why!


By: Randy McDonald, Docent (Since 2016)

Notes on sources:

  1. Gary Cartwright, Galveston: A History of the Island (New York: Atheneum, 1991), pp 117-126.
  2. Billy Jones, The Search for Maturity, The Saga of Texas, 1875 -1900 (Austin: Steck-Vaughn, 1965), pp 86-90.
  3. Davis G. McComb, Galveston: A History (Austin: U.T. Press, 1986), pp 47, 169 – 170.
  4. Handbook of Texas Online, Jane Manaster, “Galveston Movement,” modified on May 24, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.