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Records of the Industrial Removal Office

Identifier: I-91

Scope and Content Note

The records of the Industrial Removal Office document the efforts made on the part of this office and other agencies to assist immigrants arriving and living in New York City. A precious part of this collection is the immigrants' perceptions of their new life and the IRO's work. The complexity of material encompasses administrative, financial, statistical records; small town population and Jewish life conditions surveys; placement and removal records; correspondence of IRO traveling and local agents and potential employers; correspondence of overseas Jewish immigrant organizations and American Jewish aid societies, trade unions, courts, newspapers, and other agencies; correspondence between immigrants and the IRO staff; and correspondence from significant individuals in the IRO, politics, and Jewish social services.

The collection is particularly strong in regards to immigrant removal and placement records, correspondence of IRO staff, other organizations, and major individuals, and IRO financial records. It is less so concerning IRO administrative reports and committee minutes, where several time gaps exist.

Among the research areas available within the IRO material are genealogy, American immigration, Jewish philanthropic agencies, labor, demographic surveys, Jews in small towns in the early 1900s, and the relationship between German Jews and Eastern European Jewish immigrants.

It is recommended that genealogists begin with the ledgers in Series II, and then later research further into additional series.


  • Creation: undated, 1899-1922

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at

For reference questions, please email:

Historical Note

In 1901, following anti-Semitic decrees by the Romanian government, a large wave of Romanian Jews fled to New York. The Rumanian Committee was quickly formed in New York to distribute the immigrants to other towns where they might find employment. B'nai B'rith lodges in these towns and cities assisted the refugees upon their arrival. The Romanian Committee rapidly evolved into the Industrial Removal Office, which took over the work on a much larger scale and opened its availability to any unemployed Jewish immigrant, regardless of their origin.

The Industrial Removal Office was formally created as part of the Jewish Agricultural Society at the Society's January 24, 1901 Executive Committee meeting. The Society rented a store at 34 Stanton Street in New York and named it "The Industrial Removal Office." The office was later transferred to 174 Second Avenue. The process of procuring work for immigrants was done through traveling agents, who also obtained the cooperation of local Jewish organizations. Local committees, organized primarily by B'nai B'rith, obtained orders for workers and assisted the immigrants on their arrival. The New York bureau noted requests received from the traveling agents and local committees and matched up opportunities from their applicant lists. In the first year of the Industrial Removal Office's existence, nearly 2000 individuals were sent to 250 places throughout the United States.

The philosophy behind the IRO was to assimilate the immigrants into American Society, both economically and culturally. As David Bressler, IRO general manager for sixteen years, noted, the goal was to allow immigrants to find "their own salvation." Local committees were told to regard the arriving immigrant as a newcomer filling a definite place within the community, not as a charity case. The immigrant's work should be carefully chosen to fully use his abilities and closely correspond to his earning powers. Lastly, care should be made to make the immigrant comfortable in his new community. The IRO believed that individuals or families settling in their new lives would serve as magnets for immigrating relatives and friends.

The types of occupations and trades immigrants were placed in varied widely. The records list a total of 390 variations including: carpenters, shoemakers, butchers, blacksmiths, farmers, locksmiths, clerks, machinists, paperhangers, tanners, furriers, harness makers, printers, watchmakers, weavers, and wood carvers. A major success of the IRO was to encourage diverse occupations beyond those in the needletrades.

With the financial panic in 1907 and the ensuing industrial depression, the demand for labor decreased sharply. The IRO counteracted this crisis by sending traveling agents farther away from New York and by increasing its publicity. The result was a broader range of distribution that included the Southern, Rocky Mountain, and Pacific States. This year also marked an administrative autonomy from the auspices of the Jewish Agricultural Society. In 1909, the ongoing industrial depression produced the lowest distribution figures since 1902. Many IRO city offices suspended their operations. David Bressler organized offices in Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle, Spokane, and other agricultural centers that were not as affected by the depression. Two major distribution centers, Philadelphia and Boston, ceased their operations in 1911 and 1914, respectively.

With the onset of World War I, distributing IRO offices had so shrunk that only 3,500 immigrants were placed out of a total of 12,000 applicants. IRO's income also decreased and to maintain morale a bulletin "Distribution" began to be published in July 1914. The IRO preserved its core organization throughout the war. In 1921, with deepened US immigration restrictions, the IRO attempted to place immigrants in Mexico. The project was soon discontinued. IRO formally dissolved in 1922. From 1901 to 1922, the IRO distributed approximately 79,000 individuals throughout the United States and Canada. From 1901 to 1913, IRO distributions represented close to 6 or 7 per cent of the US total immigration figures.


Glazier, Jack. Dispersing the Ghetto: The Relocation of Jewish Immigrants Across America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Joseph, Samuel. History of the Baron de Hirsch Fund: the Americanization of the Jewish Immigrant. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1935.

Chronology of the Industrial Removal Office

Jewish Agricultural and Industrial Aid Society founded by the Baron de Hirsch Fund and the Jewish Colonization Association to encourage migration from NYC into the interior of the US and agricultural interest/education.
Romanian Relief Committee (RRC), with help of Jewish philanthropists and B'nai Brith lodges, helps large Romanian influx of immigrants find employment.
Industrial Removal Office created, taking over the duties of the RRC and applying them on a larger scale with more organization; courtesy of de Hirsch Fund, B'nai Brith, United Hebrew Charities, and other Jewish immigrant groups.
United Hebrew Charities and the de Hirsch Fund hire David Bressler as the IRO general manager. Before, Bressler had worked for the Romanian Aid Society and spent the majority of his adult life working with immigrants.
IRO hires and sends forth college educated young men to work as "traveling agents" to promote the IRO around the country, investigate employment opportunities, and establish local liaisons and committees.
IRO moves New York main office from store space at 34 Stanton St. to 174 2nd Avenue.
Congress passes the Galveston Plan, making Galveston, Texas an alternative entry station into the United States, furthering the effort to discourage new Jewish immigrants from settling in the Lower East Side.
Jewish Immigration Information Bureau (JIIB) founded as branch of IRO to receive immigrants through Galveston and send them to other communities in the US.
Relations between the JIIB and other Jewish organizations deteriorate and Jews are no longer sent through Galveston. Over 10,000 Jews were helped and settled through Galveston by the JIIB.
Burnett Immigration Law passed in Congress over President Wilson's 2nd veto; requiring a literacy test for new immigrants. Jewish lobby procures small victory in that literacy test is not applied to those seeking refuge from religious persecution.
David Bressler resigns from position of IRO general manager.
78,995 immigrants resettled by the IRO since 1901, by the end of the year.
Congress passes the Quota Act, limiting annual immigration to 3% of given national resident group already living in the United States.
Immigration reaches nearly a standstill and IRO activity ceases.


74.25 Linear Feet (115 manuscript boxes, 10 oversized boxes (20.5x17x3), 1 oversized folder)

Language of Materials




The Industrial Removal Office was created as part of the Jewish Agricultural Society to assimilate immigrants into American society, both economically and culturally. It worked to employ all Jewish immigrants. The collection contains administrative and financial records, immigrants' removal records, and correspondence. A database has been constructed to search for persons removed by the Industrial Removal Office.


The Industrial Removal Office Collection was donated to the American Jewish Historical Society in 1949 as part of the Baron de Hirsch Fund Records.

Digitization Note

Box 15 Folders 2 and 5, Box 16 Folders 1 and 4, and Box 17 Folders 1, 3, 5 and 8 have been digitized as part of an ongoing digitization-on-demand program at the Center for Jewish History.

Related Material

Related materials can be found in the Baron de Hirsch Fund Records, Max James Kohler papers, and the National Committee for the Relief of Sufferers by Russian Massacres Records at AJHS and the Jewish Agricultural Society Records at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.


Database A database indexing immigrants' names recorded in ledgers found in Series II: Removal Records, has been completed and is available online. PLEASE NOTE: By using this link you will be exiting the current Industrial Removal Office finding aid.

The names recorded in the database are listed in ledgers that are located in Box 6 through Box 12 of the collection. Please note that additional material concerning individual immigrants may also be found in other areas of the collection. The database provides the location of the immigrant's information in the ledger. The actual ledger record may include the following information: New York address, new destination, date of distribution, name and age of the wife and children, immigrant's occupation, country of birth, length of time in the U.S., present wages, IRO statistics, and status after his or her new residence.

Please note that the name indexing for this database was taken from handwritten entries, many of which were unclear. It is recommended that one search under various alternative spellings and possible incorrect letters of a name. For instance, one may wish to search for the last name Katzin as Kalzin or Kalzim.

The American Jewish Historical Society is deeply grateful for the support provided by the Estelle Guzik, the Jewish Genealogy Society of New York, and the efforts of the following volunteers:

Ronni Beer, Esther Brownstein, Bernard Cedar, Claire Cohen, Jacob Cohen, Jane Foss, Barbara Frank, Bobby Furst, Shirley Gerstel, Ava Gorkin, Estelle Guzick, Sheila Heitner, Eden Joachim, Phyllis Kramer, Ken Kravitz, Jeffrey Levin, Florette Lynn, Susan Mann, Robin Newman, Mark Polisar, Ann Rabinowitz, Carol Raspler, Renee Resky, Toby Sanchez, Claudia Schellenberg, Charlene Segot, Doug Seidman, Rebecca Simmons, Greta Tedoff, Bruce Zatz, Dorothy Zenilman, and Paula Zieselman.


Guide to the Records of the Industrial Removal Office, undated, 1899-1922
Processed by Various Staff Members
© 2003.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from IRO5.xml

Revision Statements

  • September 2003.: States and cities updated in Series V and Series X by Tanya Elder.
  • March 2004.: Updated to EAD 2002; updated Database note and Historical Note. Renamed IRO5. Added subject headings.
  • May 2005.: Finding aid was updated and reconverted in order to match other online finding aids by Dianne Ritchey Oummia.
  • January 2006.: Entities removed from EAD finding aid.
  • 20130809: Added link to database
  • January 2021: RJ: post-ASpace migration cleanup.

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States