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Steerage Class - The Immigrant's Journey

Steerage Passengers on Deck

On steamships, Steerage (or Tween Decks) and Third Class was the default choice of many immigrants from the 1850s through the 1930s. The conditions varied by steamship line and were likely to be relatively harsh compared to modern standards.

Early steerage often housed hundreds of immigrants in one large room, often converted from cargo holds to hold what might have been described as human cattle.

The Steerage Experience – Enduring Hardships

Steerage Passengers on the Kaiser Wilhelm.

Steerage Conditions: An Intractable Problem

Steerage Passengers

Transatlantic Steamships seldom produced passenger lists for steerage passengers. Below are some exceptions from the North German Lloyd.

1885-06-03 Voyage of the S.S. Ems

1885-06-03 Voyage of the S.S. Ems

  • Steamship Line: Norddeutscher Lloyd (North German Lloyd)
  • Steamship: S.S. Ems
  • Class of Passengers: Cabin and Steerage
  • Date of Departure: 3 June 1885
  • Route: Bremen to New York
  • Commander: Captain W. Willigerod
1894-08-28 Voyage of the S.S. Lahn

1894-08-28 Voyage of the S.S. Lahn

  • Steamship Line: Norddeutscher Lloyd (North German Lloyd)
  • Steamship: S.S. Lahn
  • Class of Passengers: Steerage
  • Date of Departure: 28 August 1894
  • Route: Bremen to New York
  • Commander: Captain H. Hellmers
1895-09-07 Voyage of the S.S. Ems

1895-09-07 Voyage of the S.S. Ems

  • Steamship Line: Norddeutscher Lloyd (North German Lloyd)
  • Steamship: S.S. Ems
  • Class of Passengers: Steerage
  • Date of Departure: 7 September 1895
  • Route: Bremen to New York
  • Commander: Captain W. Reimkasten

Steerage Passage Contracts / Tickets

Prepaid Steerage Passage, German Immigrant Family, 1883, North German Lloyd

Prepaid Steerage Passage, German Immigrant Family, 1883, North German Lloyd

Received from Carl Nutchen the sum of Seventy-Two Dollars for the passage of Bealle Nutchen & party, as one in the steerage of one of the Steamers of the North German Lloyd from Bremen to New York.

Passenger Contract - Interims Billet - Cunard Line - Rotterdam to New York - 1895

Passenger Contract - Interims Billet - Cunard Line - Rotterdam to New York - 1895

Original steamship contract for passage for a German Immigrant, Heinrich Hermes, a 21-year-old laborer who undertook the voyage in steerage.

Steamship Passenger Contract, Swedish Immigrant, Gothenburg to New York, 1902

Steamship Passenger Contract, Swedish Immigrant, Gothenburg to New York, 1902

Original Steamship Contract from Gothenburg, Sweden to New York, 3rd Class Steerage Immigrant Ester Hilma Maria Magnuson of Stockholm on the White Star Line. The ensemble includes the detachable receipt located on the right-hand side (panel).

Steamship Ticket Record - Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company, Limited 1904

Steamship Ticket Record - Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company, Limited 1904

1904-10-08 Steamship Ticket Record - Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company, Limited - Counterpart of Steerage Passenger's Contract Ticket, R.M.S. Arundale Castle, Southampton to Cape Town.

Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co - Steerage Passenger's Contract Ticket 1906

Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co - Steerage Passenger's Contract Ticket 1906

Original Steerage Passenger's Contract Ticket for a 27-year-old man from Southampton, England for passage to Natal, South Africa in 1906. It provides rich details of the requirements of the steamship company regarding food, water, and other items supplied.

Steerage Prepaid Passage Contract, German Immigrant Family, 20 November 1907

Steerage Prepaid Passage Contract, German Immigrant Family, 20 November 1907

Steerage Prepaid Passage Contract issued by the Hamburg-American Line for passage from Hamburg, Germany to New York and a Train from New York to Ellsworth, Minnesota for a German Immigrant Family.

Steerage Prepaid Passage Contract, Hamburg-American Line, 1912

Steerage Prepaid Passage Contract, Hamburg-American Line, 1912

Receipt for the purchase of passage from Hamburg to New York via the Hamburg-American Line with inland passage to McFreesport, Pennsylvania dated 13 January 1913.

Immigrant Steamship Ticket, Third (Steerage) Class, Red Star Line 1912

Immigrant Steamship Ticket, Third (Steerage) Class, Red Star Line 1912

Original steamship ticket for a voyage undertaken on 10 August 1912. The 24-Year-Old Immigrant left Belgium in 1912 for New York in Third Class (Steerage).

Steerage Ticket for Passage, Swedish Immigrant, Sweden to America 1914

Steerage Ticket for Passage, Swedish Immigrant, Sweden to America 1914

Passenger contract for a voyage from Gothenburg, Sweden to Boston, Massachusetts for Alfred Person, 19 years of age, traveling alone. He paid SEK 178.50 for Steerage / third class accommodations.

Steerage Passenger Documents

Inspection Card - White Star Line Germanic - 1902 Hans Johansen Rosholt

Immigrant Inspection Card - White Star Line R.M.S. Germanic - 1902

Inspection Card issued to an immigrant traveling in Steerage by the White Star Line R.M.S. Germanic in April 1902 that provided information about the immigrant including Name, Last Residence, evidence of Immunization, Port of Departure and Steamship name.

Immigrant Inspection Card - RMS Carpathia 1904 Liverpool to New York

Immigrant Inspection Card - Cunard R.M.S. Carpathia - 1904

Inspection Card issued to an immigrant traveling in Steerage on board the R.M.S. Carpathia of the Cunard Line dated 18 October 1904 that provided information including Port and Date of Departure, Name of Ship, Name of Immigrant, Last Residence and evidence of Immunization.

Immigrant Inspection Card - Liverpool to New York - 1910

Immigrant Inspection Card - Cunard R.M.S. Lusitania - 1910

Immigrant Inspection Card issued by the Cunard Line R.M.S. Lusitania dated 9 July 1910 for Swedish Immigrant K. E. Paulson from Gothenburg, Sweden. The card was pinned to the coat or dress of the passenger in a prominent position after landing at New York.

Inspection Card - Austrian Immigrant - 1912

Inspection Card - Austrian Immigrant - 1912

An excellent example of an Immigrant and Steerage Passengers' Inspection Card issued on 24 April 1912 by the Hamburg-American Line for an Austrian Immigrant on board the S.S. President Grant that departed from Hamburg, Germany arriving in New York on 7 May 1912. Passed American Ellis Island Inspectors on 8 May 1912.

Inspection Card - Steerage Passenger, Allan Line S.S. Corsican, Canadian Immigrant

Canadian Immigrant Inspection Card - Steerage Passenger - 1912

Canadian Immigrant Inspection Card issued in 1912 to a steerage passenger on board the Allan Line S.S. Corsican. The card provided essential information including the name of immigrant, Steamship, port and date of departure. The card was intended to be kept by the immigrant for three years. It would be shown to government officials whenever required.

Inspection Card for Immigrants and Steerage Passengers - 1913

Immigrant Inspection Card - Cunard R.M.S. Laconia - 1913

Immigrant Inspection Card issued in 1913 by the Cunard Line on board the R.M.S. Laconia to a Norwegian Immigrant traveling in Steerage. The card provided relevant information including port and date of departure, the name of the ship, immigrant name, last residence, medical inspection stamps and evidence of immunization.

Inspection Card for Immigrant to Canada - 1915

Canadian Immigrant Inspection Card - S.S. Missanabie - 1915

Canadian Immigrant Inspection Card issued to a Steerage Passenger on board the Canadian Pacific steamship S.S. Missanabie departing from Liverpool 13 March 1915. This card represents a very rare immigrant document from a ship in service less than four years.

Steerage Passage for Five Dollars

“There was keen competition at this time.” Said Mr. Williams, “and I have known steerage passage to America to be given for a single sovereign—live dollars.”

The food was excellent in those days on the Atlantic liners, but very poor in the Mediterranean service, according to Mr. Williams.

He ascribed this to the fact that the American steamers were victualed by the company, while those plying through the Straits of Gibraltar were victualed by the captain, who received an appropriate allowance—and, apparently, did not expend it as judiciously as he might have done.

Mr. Mclver, one of the directors in the early days of the Cunard Line, happened to be at Malta on one occasion when there was a great deal of complaining going on. He instituted an inquiry, and things were soon put right.

It was while Mr. Williams was serving in the Algeria, in the “seventies,” that she burst a boiler tube one day out from Queenstown, westbound. He was then boilermakers mate, and it fell to his lot to plug up the burst tube.

To do this he had to crawl through the furnace into the smoke-box, and, the fire having only just been drawn, no great imagination is required to picture his condition when he had finished the job.

He had to be carried on deck, dosed with grog and put to bed for twenty-four hours. On the ship’s arrival in New York, the “Chief” sent for Mr. Williams and gave him a sovereign and a day off in which to spend it.

 “This,” concluded the veteran “shows that the Cunard Line knew how to treat its men, even in those long-departed days!”

Reported by the Shipping Magazine: Marine Transportation, Construction, Equipment, and Supplies, New York: Shipping Publishing Co, Volume 15, No. 5, March 10, 1922, p.14.

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