Europe was the primary source of immigration to the United States during this time period. Immigrants from Ireland, Germany and other countries in northern Europe were drawn by job opportunities in factories and farms throughout the country. Many immigrants also came from Italy, Poland and other parts of southern Europe.
During this era, many people left their homelands in search of better economic opportunities or political freedom elsewhere. For example, many Irish people fled Ireland during potato famines in which millions of people died from starvation or disease (Klein). African Americans also began migrating northward after slavery was abolished so they could seek better jobs and education opportunities (Buccino).
Many Americans feared that newcomers would take away jobs or overwhelm public services like health care (Foner). They also worried that immigrants would not assimilate into American culture because they spoke different languages or practiced different religions than most Americans did (Klein). These concerns often led to discrimination against immigrants.
In 1820, only about 5 percent of the total population of what would become the United States was foreign-born. By 1860 this percentage had increased to nearly 20 percent; by 1900 it had risen to about 13 percent.
Immigrants made significant contributions to the United States during the 1800s. They built railroads, canals and skyscrapers; they worked in factories that produced goods for sale; they opened businesses; and some became doctors, lawyers and teachers who provided services for other citizens of their communities.