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Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.

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About the Foundation

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan asked Lee Iacocca, then Chairman of Chrysler Corporation, to head a private sector effort to raise funds for the restoration and preservation of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation (SOLEIF) was founded.

The Foundation's fundraising drive sparked a dramatic response. The American people contributed more than $600 million (and counting!) to the repair, restoration, and maintenance of these two great monuments to freedom. All funds for the Foundation’s projects have come from the American people – no government funds have been used.

Restoring The Statue

The Foundation, working with its public partner, the National Park Service, U. S. Department of the Interior, first tackled the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. After almost a century, weather, pollution, and sightseeing had left Lady Liberty in serious need of repair, including replacement of her torch and strengthening of her crown's rays. An army of architects, historians, engineers, and almost 1000 laborers embarked on the project--which also involved the installation of new elevators and an informative exhibit in the Statue's base.

July 4th weekend, 1986, saw a gala three-day event celebrating the restoration. Fireworks filled the night skies; tall ships flocked the Harbor. "Liberty Weekend," attended by President Reagan and President Francois Mitterand of France, was broadcast to 1.5 billion people in 51 countries. The Foundation, the National Park Service, and the American people had launched the most successful public-private partnership in the history of the United States.

Restoring Ellis Island

The Foundation then turned its attention to the restoration of Ellis Island--the largest historical restoration in the history of the United States. Ellis Island, our most potent symbol of the American immigrant experience, had become sadly deteriorated. Again the American people responded with passion and generosity.

When the Island opened in September of 1990--two years ahead of schedule--it unveiled the world-class Ellis Island Immigration Museum, where some rooms appeared as they had during the height of immigrant processing. Other areas housed theaters, libraries, an oral history recording studio, and exhibits on the immigration experience. In the 1990s, the Foundation restored two more buildings (for a total of 5 buildings saved and restored on Ellis Island), expanding and upgrading the Museum Library and Oral History Studio, and creating a Children’s Orientation Center and the Ellis Island Living Theatre. The Ellis Island Immigration Museum has welcomed nearly 40 million visitors since its opening in 1990.

Working to promote knowledge of the Island, the Statue, and immigration history, the Foundation has also published and made available to libraries and schools many books and curriculum guides, as well as a CD-ROM produced in collaboration with the History Channel.

The Foundation’s current project is a significant expansion of the Ellis Island Immigration Museum to be called The Peopling of America® Center. The Center will enlarge the story currently told of the Ellis Island Era (1892-1954) to include the entire panorama of the American immigration experience from this country’s earliest days right up to the present. It is expected to be completed in 2012.

The Wall of Honor

One of the most inspiring Foundation projects is The American Immigrant Wall of Honor®. Located on the restored Ellis Island, the Wall proudly bears the names of over 700,000 immigrants and families whose descendants memorialized them by having their names inscribed there. Registrations are now being accepted for a new phase of the Wall. More about the Wall of Honor.

The American Family Immigration History Center® (AFIHC)

On April 17, 2001 the Foundation launched the American Family Immigration History Center® (AFIHC), on Ellis Island and the World Wide Web, which makes the 25 million arrival records and over 900 ships of passage pictures in the Ellis Island Archives available to everyone. More about AFIHC

Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards

In celebration of the first annual Ellis Island Family History Day and the launch of the American Family Immigration History Center® on April 17, 2001, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. instituted the Ellis Island Family Heritage Awards. This award celebrates Ellis Island as the Golden Door to America for the 17 million immigrants who first set foot on American soil there. Forty percent of Americans today can trace their roots to an ancestor who was among those brave and determined individuals. Each year a select number of Ellis Island immigrants or their descendants are chosen to be honored. By presenting a copy of the original ship’s passenger manifest documenting their, or their ancestors’, arrival at Ellis Island, we reflect on their journey, their courage and determination, and honor the unique contribution they have made to this "Nation of Immigrants." The B.C. Forbes Peopling of America® Award, sponsored by the Forbes Family, honors the lives of immigrants who arrived at another time or through another port of entry. Honorees are selected through a process that is guided by an Awards Committee of the Foundation’s Board of Directors.


The Foundation promised to its donors in the 1980s and early 1990s and established in 1993 an endowment under the auspices of its board of directors that would help the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior maintain the Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island and Ellis Island, and enhance the visitor experience for years to come. Since the endowment’s inception, proceeds have funded over 200 projects at the islands for a total of $17.3 million.

The Golden Door Society

The Golden Door Society encourages individuals to make the Foundation the beneficiary of their estate planning. When you make a planned gift to The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation by designating a charitable bequest in your will, the Foundation will honor you with membership in our Golden Door Society. The purpose of the Golden Door Society is to recognize those individuals and families that have made a very special contribution to the Foundation. Please contact the Foundation’s Office of Development to discuss these opportunities further.

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