150 Years Of Immigration In America, Visualized

An interactive map shows how waves of diasporas from all over the world arrived in the U.S., from the 1850s to today.

Amid a flurry of anti-immigration rhetoric coming from certain GOP presidential candidates, a new interactive map reminds us just how much of our country’s foundation was built on the backs of foreign-born citizens.


Foreign-Born Population: A Nation of Overlapping Diasporas visualizes America’s history of immigration from the 1850s to 2010. By clicking on a particular area of the country and shifting your cursor along the timeline below, you can see where people were migrating from during a particular period, and how immigration has shifted over time.

See the interactive graphic hereUniversity of Richmond/Digital Scholarship Lab

The visualization is part of a larger project called American Panorama at University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab. It takes its cues from Charles Paullin’s 1932 tome Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, a sweeping collection of over 700 maps that charted everything from European settlement to the spread of railroads. Richmond’s researchers are adding an interactive layer to their own digital atlas, allowing users to take a closer look at moments in this ongoing historical panorama. So far, the project includes maps like The Forced Immigration of Enslaved People, The Overland Trails, and Canals.

Unlike other interactive maps that simply animate data or offer hover-over statistical revelations, these maps allows you to dig deep into the immigration history of a specific area. Take Bedford, Virginia, for example, the part of the state that my ancestors migrated to in the 1800s. In the 1880s, my German ancestors would have been in good company; according to the map, 1,961,597 people migrated from Germany during that decade, the largest population coming in from any foreign country. In the 1920s, most immigrants came from England, while today the majority of foreign-born citizens are Canadian.

Looking at the country as a whole reveals immigration trends that reflect the political climate of the decade. In the 1910s, for example, tens of thousands of persecuted Jews fleeing from persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe settled in the U.S. In the 1920s, when Congress instituted a national origins quota system designed to curtail immigration from Asia and Eastern Europe, immigration levels dropped, and stayed low through the Great Depression.

To explore the foreign-born map yourself, and check out Digital Scholarship Lab’s other atlas visualizations, go here.

Cover Photo: Flickr user David Fulmer


About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.