Steerage - Immigrant Journeys to Their New Home
Steerage Passengers on the Deck of an Ocean Liner circa Early 1900s. Photograph from a Postcard. GGA Image ID # 154782ffc3
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.
The expression "steerage passenger" means all passengers except cabin passengers, and persons shall not be deemed cabin passengers unless the space allotted to their exclusive use is in the proportion of at least thirty-six clear superficial feet to each passenger.
Pre World War 1 Conditions
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. These potential new citizens were emigrants from many countries around the world who endured a journey unlike any other.
Westbound versus Eastbound Voyages in Steerage
The steerage from Liverpool to New York is one thing, the steerage from New York to Liverpool another. It is on the first-named voyage that one sees the wretched creatures huddling in groups like animals, shivering in abject terror at the motion of the water, croaking hoarsely in the obscure patois of remote European villages, and mumbling prayers at impromptu shrines.
Special Collections Related to Steerage
The GG Archives has an assortment of steerage class contracts, steamship tickets, and agent receipts that can assist you in identifying the type of document you have. These can also be used to illustrate your family history book as an example of what the contract may have looked like.
The Steerage Passenger collected a number of documents on their way to the new world. The GG Archives has a number of documents including Inspection Cards for Immigrants and Steerage Passengers, provided to steerage passengers and retained by them for identification through to their final destination.
Steerage souvenir passenger lists are exceedingly rare. With few exceptions, most steamship lines did not produce passenger lists for steerage passengers, as immigrants were unlikely to be a regular customer, nor was there any demand for a souvenir of a voyage that was likely far less than pleasant.
Books, brochures, articles, and other ephemera provided many illustrations of the conditions and experiences of immigrants traveling in steerage from the late 1800s through World War I. Students and Family Historians are welcome to use these illustrations in your reports and family histories.
Books, brochures, articles, and other ephemera provided many photographs of the conditions and experiences of immigrants traveling in steerage from the late 1800s through World War I. Students and Family Historians are welcome to use these photographs to illustrate your reports and family histories.
Immigrants Enduring Hardships
- Their Journey in Steerage
- Steerage Conditions: An Intractable Problem
In company with about forty other Steerage-passengers, the writer embarked at Liverpool on the 28th of March 1832, and on the 4th of May following landed at New York. The first week after leaving Liverpool we made but little progress, being detained by contrary winds; but upon the whole it was called a favorable voyage.
Various steamship lines are enumerated; with details concerning their management as far as steerage passengers, that is, emigrants, are concerned. The article includes information on Ports of Call and Rates Charged for Steerage.
As the object of this inquiry is not immediately connected with the physical condition of emigrants on embarkation, but with accommodation given, and treatment received.
A British reporter takes a voyage on the Cunard Steamship Line in steerage and reports on the horrible conditions endured by immigrants.
In the steerage, where the heaving is greatest-that part of the ship often rises out of the water and, of course, goes down again-sickness is prevalent; yet children recover from sickness much sooner than their parents.
The passenger act, before referred to, affords protection to passengers against overcrowding, makes it obligatory to give them proper and sufficient food, air space, and in many respects promotes their comfort and safety.
The following racy (sic) sketch of the experiences of a steerage passenger (belonging to Montrose), in crossing the Atlantic in an Ocean Liner, will be of interest to many of our readers.
As a record of conditions already dead as the dodo, this honest account of a voyage from Liverpool to New 'York in 1888 is worthy of preservation in more convenient and enduring form than that in which it first appeared.
First-class passengers, accustomed to the excellent food of their cabin table, often speak of the fine odors arising from the cook's galley, where the ragouts and the "haricot de mouton" for the steerage are prepared.
Banking in with the Emigrants -- Uninviting Surroundings -- Some of the Noises, Smells, and Other Discomforts the Steerage Affords. The vast majority of immigrants to North America arrived via steerage. These are the conditions found in 1890.
Often, steamship companies used flyers such as these to notify agents of changes in rates or announcing that certain classes of passengers for a voyage that is booked full.
The arrangements for steerage passengers on one of the best ocean steamers, the Campania, are as follows. The steerage quarters, which are situated on the lower deck, are divided into seven different sleeping apartments for the accommodation of some 700 or 800 passengers.
The lavishly illustrated article provides a historical account of what a transatlantic voyage in steerage was like.
A comprehensive review of the Steerage Rate War between the Hamburg-American Line, Norddeutscher Lloyd, White Star Line, Dominion Line, Allan Line, Anchor Line, Canadian Pacific Railway, and Cunard Line during 1904.
Every American citizen knows that the American immigration system is faulty. He knows that the designing steamship officials dump the refuse of the world on our shores, despite futile restrictions and laws too easy to evade.
The day of embarkation finds an excited crowd with heavy packs and heavier hearts, climbing the gangplank. An uncivil crew directs the bewildered travellers to their quarters, which in the older ships are far too inadequate, and in the newer ships are, if anything, worse.
It can hardly be possible that the fare of those passengers, who are forced to sleep in the dining rooms in full view of the entire ship, is necessary to the profitable running of the ship.
With the improvement in the steerage, which has taken place within the last few years, many companies have dropped the name steerage and now designate it as the "third class."
The effect of Section 42 of the new Immigration Act which has just passed both branches of Congress is an increase after Jan. 1, 1909, by nearly 25 percent in the minimum space allowed for each steerage passenger on ocean steamers coming from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and South America.
IN 1907 Alfred Stieglitz, in the photograph (above) which we publish in the present number of “291 " under the title “The Steerage,” obtained the verification of a fact.
At the present time, the treatment of men, women, and children in the steerage of certain ships coming from German, Mediterranean and Adriatic ports is far below this standard.
Section 42 of the new immigration law was approved on February 20,1907, the purpose of which is to provide greater air space and better accommodations for immigrants. Section 42 does not take effect till January 1, 1909.
The vile language of the men, the screams of the women defending themselves, the crying of children, wretched because of their surroundings, and practically every sound that reached the ears Irritated beyond endurance.
London Agents Call the U. S. Commission's Findings "Absurd" and "False." DENY MISTREATING ALIENS. The Immigration Commissioner Here Thinks Some of the Charges May Be Exaggerated.
Abuses among immigrant passengers who come to this country through the ports of New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, have recently been the subject of a "silent" inspection by immigrant officers connected with the department of commerce and labor.
A Report of the Immigration Commission - Excellent summary of the conditions and history of steerage.
The report of the Immigration Commission on steerage conditions resulted from investigations by agents of the Commission who, in the guise of immigrants, traveled in the steerage of 12 trans-Atlantic ships.
Emigrants who came to America in sailing vessels previous to the sixties of the last century, can never forget the steerage conditions under which they came.
Among her 1,242 steerage passengers, there were in the eight weeks of her voyage 58 deaths, 57 were children; the births numbered 14. Fines were levied against the steamship owners.
It is doubtful if anywhere else in the entire civilized world can such vile and disgraceful treatment of human beings in masses be found as on the majority of the steamships which carry our immigrants to us.
Ernest C. Cotterill Reports on the Bad State of Affairs Among the Immigrants on Some Ships and Offers Recommendations for Improvement of Conditions at the time of the Titanic.
“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 — five dollars.”