The Removal Office
In the annals of American history, there are few immigrant stories that are as successful as that of the Jews. Generally, it only took two or three generations for immigrant families to become financially secure, if not successful, in America. Aside from uncommon devotion to education, one of the important factors in the success of Jewish immigration was the tradition of helping other Jews.
Numerous Jewish organizations were formed to help immigrants succeed. Most often these organizations were focused on caring for those in their local areas. But, some, like the “Industrial Removal Office,” managed to accomplish their efforts on a national scale.
In 1901, a large wave of Romanian Jews arrived in New York (fleeing Romanian anti-Semitism). The emergency “Romanian Committee,” which was formed by the Jewish Agricultural Society to help these Jews find work outside of the city, developed into the “Industrial Removal Office” (IRO), perhaps called so because it “removed” immigrants from the overcrowded city). The IRO worked as a network: local committees and traveling agents found employers seeking employees. They then informed the head office in New York, which would then match immigrant applicants with available positions. In 1901, nearly 2,000 immigrants were placed in jobs in 250 different towns. And the jobs were not always traditional “Jewish jobs.” The IRO sent Jewish immigrants to be shoemakers, blacksmiths, clerks, furriers, and wood carvers (to name just a few).
Job placement was not always easy. The economic crisis of 1907 forced the IRO to open offices along the West Coast, where the economic crisis had had little effect. This expansion allowed the IRO to continue its work through World War I.
The work of the IRO came to an end after Congress passed the 1921 Immigration Quota Act, which stifled the influx of Jewish immigration. The IRO formally dissolved in 1922, after having found employment for approximately 79,000 immigrants during its 20 year history.
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