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Steerage - Immigrant Journeys to Their New Home

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.


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.

Special Collections

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

Passage Contracts / Tickets / Receipts

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.

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

Insection Cards For Immigrants and Steerage Passengers

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.

1894-08-28 Voyage of the SS Lahn

Steerage Passenger Lists

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 likely was less than pleasant.

Immigrants Enduring Hardships

Steerage Passengers in their quarters.

Steerage Accommodations - 1879

A British reporter takes a voyage on the Cunard Steamship Line in steerage and reports on the horrible conditions endured by immigrants.

Midvoyage Scenes from the Steerage

The Immigrant Journey - 1888

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.

Steerage In Heavy Weather

Life in Steerage - 1890

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.

RMS Campania of the Cunard Line on the River Mersey circa 1900.

Life in the Steerage on the RMS Campania - 1895

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.

Steerage Passenger on the deck of a steamship.

Steerage Conditions in 1898 - A First-Hand Account

The lavishly illustrated article provides a historical account of what a transatlantic voyage in steerage was like.

Passengers of Steerage circa 1905

The Immigrant Journey - 1905

The women have lost the splendor which usually marks their attire. Their embroidered, stiffly starched petticoats, flowered aprons, and gay kerchiefs have disappeared, and instead, they have put on more somber garb, some cast-off clothing of our civilization.

Preparing to Serve Meals to Steerage Passengers on the SS Lahn 1904

Urgency of Improved Steerage Conditions - 1906

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.

Steerage Conditions: An Intractable Problem

Landing Immigrants at Castle Garden in 1871

Steerage Passengers' Journey from Northern Europe - 1871

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.

Steerage Passengers Experience During a Storm.

Observation of Steerage on the Cunard Line - 1881

If our naval architects who seek distinction in rendering vessels shot-proof, would give attention to making them discomfort, proof for the emigrants who crowd the steerage, it would be a great blessing.

Immigrants Landing at Castle Garden ca 1880

America's Open Gate: Castle Garden - 1890

Feb. 1, 1890 — Governor's Island will replace Castle Garden, New York, as the landing place of immigrants arriving in this country at the port of New York. It may take several days yet to determine the legal status of Governor's Island.

Notice To Booking Agents of the White Star Line - 1892

Stop Booking Steerage Passengers - White Star Line - 1892

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.

Scenes of the Steerage on the Prinzessin Irene

Immigrants and the Steamship Steerage Rate Wars - 1904

Further cuts in steerage rates went into effect on Monday.  Immigrants can now obtain passage from several English and Scottish ports to New York for $10, where formerly they paid $25.  This is the latest move in a rate war between rival steamship companies.

Arrival of Immigrants at Ellis Island 1906

An Interview with The Commissioner of Immigration - 1906

We cannot have too much of the right kind of immigration; we cannot have too little of the wrong kind. We are seeing to It that we get the right kind -- and we are getting the right kind, of that I am certain. Includes tables of facts of Admitted, Rejected and Debarred immigrants.

Photo 1705G: Steerage Passengers Taking Life Easy On An Clean Liner circa 1905 (3b06393u LOC)

Improvements in Conditions in Steerage Class and Increased Head Tax - 1907

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."

Women in Steerage on Ocean Liner early 1900s

Treatment of Women in Steerage - 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. There was no night before which the eye did not prefer to close. Conditions called Appalling - Newspaper account provides insight of traveling in Steerage a the turn of the century.

Girls Dancing in Steerage

Cases of Abuse Among Immigrant Passengers - 1910

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.

Steerage Passenger On the Deck of a Steamship

Steerage Conditions - 1911

A Report of the Immigration Commission - Excellent summary of the conditions and history of steerage.

Steerage Passengers (1905)

Steerage Conditions and Related Regulations - 1911

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. The Full Report. Covers and Describes both Old-Style and New-Style Steerage Conditions.

British steamer Orteric

Worse Case of Steerage Passenger Abuse - 1912

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.

Steerage Passengers Gathering near the Fantail.

Steerage Conditions on Steamships - 1913

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.

Racks of Beds in the Men's Section of Steerage

The Steerage Passenger - 1913

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.

The New York Detention Room

1916 Immigrants to the Melting Pot

Another critical article is "The Hopes of the Hyphenated," by George Creel, who asserts that the persistent refusal of the "melting pot" to melt, as exhibited in the "hyphenated" question of the moment, is mostly the fault of our own government and people. The Hopes of the Hyphenated - Richly illustrated report offers an extensive look at immigrants and steerage.

The Steerage, photograph by Alfred Stieglitz 1907

The Steerage: A Photograph by Alfred Stieglitz - 1907

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.

Examining Steerage Sleeping Accommodations in 1908

A Steerage Experience for Five Dollars - 1922

“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.”



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