The Ellis Island Museum Is Getting a $100M Makeover

The funds will go toward revitalizing more than 100,000 square feet of exhibit space and expanding access to historical immigration records.

Large empty hall with chandelier and American flags
The museum’s revitalization project will be completed by 2026. Courtesy Paul Seibert/Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation

Ellis Island was once home to the largest and busiest immigrant processing station in the U.S. Since 1990, the stories and impact of immigrants who passed through the island have been kept alive at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.

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But after 34 years, the museum is in dire need of a makeover. A $100 million campaign, announced today by the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation and National Park Service (NPS), will help revitalize the 19th-century building. The renovations will include essential systems upgrades, accessibility measures and an expansion of the museum’s exhibitions and records offerings.

“We are a nation of immigrants, and Ellis Island is the symbol of that history,” said Jesse Brackenbury, president of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, in a statement. “Our project will ensure that the National Museum of Immigration will welcome, educate and inspire visitors for decades to come.”

Black and white photograph of island
Ellis Island in 1892. Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration

During a period of mass migration from Europe in the 1800s, the U.S. government selected Ellis Island as the home of its first federal immigration processing station. Opening in 1892, it received more than 12 million immigrants over 62 years before the facility closed in 1954.

Nearly three decades later, President Ronald Reagan appointed automobile executive Lee Iacocca to oversee fundraising efforts to restore both Ellis Island and the nearby Statue of Liberty. This led to the creation of the private Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, which oversees both monuments alongside NPS and opened the Ellis Island museum in the main building of the former immigration complex. In the more than three decades since, it has welcomed some 50 million visitors.

Changes coming to Ellis Island

Digital rendering of people walking around large lobby-esque room
A rendering of the museum’s upcoming renovation. Courtesy Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation

Around $60 million has already been collected for the museum’s restoration project, which is expected to be completed by 2026. At the heart of the efforts will be the expansion of the museum’s Records Discovery Center, which allows visitors to explore their family’s immigration history through its database of 65 million Port of New York arrival records. By including records from ports of entry across the U.S., the project will grow to encompass around 154 million records.

The Ellis Island museum will also revitalize more than 100,000 square feet of exhibits, adding nearly 100 new media pieces, a video screen 120 feet wide and a display focused on the history of immigration before, during and post-Ellis Island’s immigration facility. And self-guided tours will be included with ferry tickets and available in a dozen languages, with options including American Sign Language (ASL) or descriptive audio for those who are blind or have low vision.

The project will coincide with an exterior rehabilitation of Ellis Island’s former immigration complex. Led by the NPS and funded by the 2020 Great American Outdoors Act, the upgrades will address structural issues and repair masonry facades, windows, skylights and roofing.

The museum’s facelift plans follow the 2019 opening of the Statue of Liberty Museum, also established by NPS and the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. Located next to the monument on Liberty Island, it welcomes four million visitors annually, according to a statement from the foundation’s chairman Luis Ubiñas. “When this project is completed, visitors to both islands will enjoy 21st-century museum experiences designed to inform and engage,” he said.

The Ellis Island Museum Is Getting a $100M Makeover