Emigration to the United States via Hamburg, Germany circa 1903

Mr. Hellmrich to Mr. Peirce

Emigration to the United States via Hamburg

consulate-General of the United States,
Hamburg, Germany, October 8, 1903

Emigrants embarking for the United States at Hamburg should be divided into three classes, viz:

(A) Emigrants arriving from or via Russia
(B) Emigrants arriving from or via Austria-Hungary
(C) Emigrants arriving from other European countries

(A) Emigrants passing the Russo-German border are taken to one of the control stations at Bajohren, Tilsit, Eydtkuhnen, Insterburg, Prostken, Illowo, Otloczyn, or Ostrowo, maintained mutually by the Hamburg America Line and the North German Lloyd, under the supervision of the Prussian Government.  At these control stations emigrants are bathed, all their clothes and baggage disinfected and labeled accordingly, and the passengers themselves medically examined and placed under medical observation until their departure.

At these stations there are ticket offices of the two steamship companies, by the officers of which emigrants are also examined as to their pecuniary affairs, with the purpose of avoiding the issuance of tickets to paupers and other persons likely to be deported on their landing in the United States.  Those admitted for transportation receive a passage pass, which is later exchanged in Hamburg for the steamship ticket proper.

Emigrants are obliged to remain at their respective control stations at least twenty-four hours, but as a rule they remain two, three or four days, until there are sufficient to fill a train, and thereupon they are transported directly to the railway terminal at the Hamburg America Line's emigrants' barracks in Hamburg, by a special emigrants' train, via Ruhleben, a similar control station near Berlin.

In Ruhleben, their papers are examined with a view to ascertain whether they have properly passed the examination, etc., at one of the control stations along the Russo-German frontier, as above described.  Those who are in possession of proof of having passed on of the latter stations are allowed to proceed immediately to Hamburg, but those of whom there exists doubt in this respect, or of whom it is evident that they have avoided or escaped examination on the frontier, are detained until they have undergone the same treatment as prescribed for the border stations, and sent on to Hamburg later.

This station at Ruhleben is also used for the purpose of receiving all emigrants -- immaterial as to their former residence -- found in any part of Prussia as "stragglers" (not in emigrants trains).  Whenever such emigrants are discovered they are invariably sent to Ruhleben for examination. 

It can easily be understood that several emigrants escape examination at the border stations, for the reason that Russia does not approve of emigration, except for Hebrews and Mennonites, and all emigrants arriving from Russia are smuggled across the frontier.

(B) Emigrants arriving from or via the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy are brought to either the control station at Ratibor or that at Myslowitz, in Silesia, where they undergo the same treatment as at the control stations along the Russian border, without, however, being bathed and quarantined, or being obliged to have their clothing and baggage disinfected, but being medically examined.  From the respective control stations, these emigrants are transported in special trains or cars directly to Hamburg.  They are not, as a rule, landed here at the terminal at the above-mentioned barracks, but at one of the regular railroad depots.

(C) Emigrants from other European countries than Russian and Austria-Hungary arrive in Hamburg at any railroad depot without having passed any control stations.


Emigrants of the A class, upon their arrival in Hamburg, are confined to the said Hamburg America Line's own emigrants' barracks on the Veddel, a suburb of the city of Hamburg.  These barracks are under the supervision of the Hamburg police department, having a resident police inspector, and are divided into two sections, "dirty" and the "Clean" sections. 

Upon leaving the train they are placed in the "dirty" section until they have passed examination by the official emigrants' surgeon of the Hamburg State government. This surgeon makes his examination every morning, and each and every emigrant is carefully examined undressed.

Those having favorably passed such examinations are allowed to enter the "clean" section after having been bathed and after having furnished proof that their clothes and effects have been properly disinfected before entering Germany at one of the previous control stations; otherwise such disinfection is done here.

After having entered the "clean" section of the barracks, emigrants are allowed to walk about of their own free will and to leave the barracks in daytime (I know that very few, however, make use of this permission), but they may still be considered as being under medical observation, because the said emigrants' surgeon visits the barracks daily, and it is the said police inspector's duty to report to him every day fully on the state of affairs, particularly as to the health of the emigrants.  (I may mention that this polic inspector here has held this position for more than ten years.  He is known to this office as a very careful and efficient officer.)

In the event of the outbreak of a case of dangerous contagious disease -- such as measles, chicken pox, smallpox, etc. -- the person or persons affected are immediately transferred to a hospital and an extra disinfection of baggage and clothing of the other occupants of the respective pavilion or pavilions or of the entire barracks, according to the seriousness of the case, as well as isolation in a proper manner of the disease is ordered by the emigrants' surgeon and strictly carried out under the supervision of the said police inspector.

In the barracks is also a ticket office of the Hamburg America Line, and emigrants of the class herein referred to receive their steamship tickets there in exchange for the pass obtained at the respective control stations.

Emigrants of the B and C classes are admitted to the licensed "emigrants' lodging houses" in the ciy, which, however, are under constant control and supervision of the Hamburg bureau of emigration, the officers of which make tours of inspection of such lodging houses almost every night, thus preventing overcrowding and controlling sanitary conditions.

In case of outbreak of a contagious disease, the same steps are taken as indicated in the foregoing paragraph (with regard to the A class of emigrants), and the respective house is disinfected in all its parts. 

As there are heavy fines provided for in case of an infraction of the police regulations for such emigrants' lodging houses, the proprietors of such houses are very careful in strictly observing the rules in force, and especially so as their houses are always under the surveillance of the bureau of emigration, as above mentioned.

Emigrants staying in lodging houses in the city are not subjected to medical examination upon arrival in Hamburg prior to their embarkation, and they are allowed to leave the houses and walk about the streets as they please.
As these lodging houses only have room for a limited number of emigrants, the majority of the B and C classes are also sent to the emigrants' barracks, as if coming from Russia.


On the day before the sailing date, all steerage passengers for the respective vessel are taken to the passenger halls -- those from the lodging houses in the city in carriages, and those from the barracks on a tender.

Prior to the embarkation all the baggage is personally inspected by the baggage inspector of this office (who receives remuneration for his services indirectly from the Hamburg America Line, but otherwise is in no manner connected with that company or interested therein).

All beddings and bed feathers found are disinfected under his supervision, except those previously disinfected and as such indentified by the official label "disinfected" of one of the control stations. 

Thereupon every single piece of baggage of all steerage passengers is labeled by him either with a red label "inspected" or with a yellow label "disinfected," as prescribed by the United States Quarantine Regulations.

At the said passenger halls, the final medical examination takes place.  All emigrants pass the official emigrants' surgeon in single file, and if not rejected, he affixes an official stamp "medically examined" to each ticket, passes the ticket, to which are attached the "vaccination cards" required by the United States Quarantine Regulations, over to the baggage inspector, who then stamps the same with the official stamp of the office, "Passed, United States consulate-general, Hamburg," and returns the ticket to the respective emigrant.

Upon leaving the room in which this final examination takes place, the emigrants immediately go aboard the tender lying alongside the passenger halls, which tender takes them directly to the "large steamer" without be allowed to go ashore again.
Before boarding the tender at the passenger halls, emigrants have further to pass an examination on the part of the local police department. 

This examination also takes place at the passenger halls and is usually carried out by four or five officers of the criminal police (plain-clothes men) for the purpose of preventing the embarkation of German youths trying to escape military duty, army and navy deserters, fugitives from justice, minors leaving without permission of their parents or guardians, women abducted for the purpose of prostitution, for the detection of persons illegally or under false pretenses encouraging emigration, etc., thus rendering valuable services in preventing undesirable immigrants embarking for the United States.

Emigrants found at any of the above-described examinations, both medical and otherwise, physically, mentally, peculiarly, or otherwise unfit to embark, or likely to be deported by the officers of the United States Bureau of Immigration, are invariably sent back to their homes in Russia, Galicia, Hungary, Roumania, or wherever the same may be.

The Hamburg America Line makes it a principle not to allow persons to embark for the United States of whom there exists, as far as can be ascertained here, doubt as to their being admitted to the United States without difficulties.  The company will never take passengers at its own risk who have been objected to by the official Hamburg emigrants' surgeon or at one of the previous examinations.

I may mention that a considerable number of emigrants is daily rejected at the several control stations along the frontier; a like number is daily objected to by the Hamburg emigrants' surgeon in the course of his daily inspections of the emigrants' barracks; furthermore, still other emigrants are refused embarkation in the course of the final medical examination at the passenger halls, above mentioned.  All of such rejected emigrants are refused permission to embark for the United States and are returned home.

Emigrants from Hamburg are vaccinated on board by the ship's surgeon as soon after embarkation as practicable -- generally before the vessel leaves the River Elbe.  The ship's surgeon certifies to such vaccination by endorsing, either by stamp or signature, each passenger's vaccination card, as prescribed by the quarantine laws.


Attending Medical Examinations

The medical examinations of emigrants at the passenger halls, immediately prior to their boarding the steamer, are invariably attended, from beginning to end, by one of the consular officers here.  Besides the official emigrants' examining surgeon, the baggage inspector (who stamps the vaccination cards), and the consular officer, there are present at such examinations the ship's surgeon and second officer, an employee of the passage department of the Hamburg America Line, and one or two officers of the Hamburg bureau of emigration, acting occasionally as interpreters.

The Hamburg America Line is required by this office to present at said examination the full emigrants' manifest to the inspecting consular officer for perusal.  Although the authentication of these manifests by consular officers is no longer required, according to the recent immigration act, we carefully examine the manifests as to correctness, completeness, etc., striking out all emigrants rejected and drawing our pen over the blank lines of the last sheet of the manifest, thus avoiding possible irregularities, such as adding passengers on the lists who have not passed medical and consular examination.

We also count the number of passengers as per manifest, for the purpose of obtaining the correct number of passengers for the bill of health.  As the emigrants pass the examining surgeon in single file, as above stated, and in the presence of a consular officer, almost all of them carrying their baggage, we can also easily satisfy ourselves that all baggage has been inspected and properly labeled.

Consular Inspections of Vessels

To properly explain the consular duties as performed in Hamburg in connection with this requirement, I deem it proper to divide the Hamburg America Line's and Sloman-Union Line's passenger steamers plying between Hamburg and New York (no steamers leaving from Hamburg for other ports of the United States with passengers) into four classes, viz;

1) Express steamers (Auguste Victoria, Columbia, Fürst Bismarck, Deutschland, Moltke, and Blücher).
2) Passenger steamers of the so-called "P" class (Pennsylvania, Pretoria, Graf Waldersee, and Patricia).
3) Steamers of the so-called "B" class (Bulgaria, Belgravia, and Batavia)
4) Steamers belonging to the Sloman-Union Line (Albano, Pisa, Barcelona, and Pallanza).

The express steamers (1) are generally dispatched from Cuxhaven on Thursdays, remaining in port there during the time from the date of arrival until the date of sailingl.  The inspections of these vessels are made by the consular agent at Cuxhaven.  Emigrants therefore, however, are examined in Hamburg on the day before the sailing date and sent down to Cuxhaven on a tender, a trip of about five hours from Hamburg.

On the tender they receive bread, meat, and coffee free of charge.  Cabin passengers for these vessels leave Hamburg for Cuxhaven by special train on the morning of the sailing date (Thursdays), such train leaving teh depot here, as a rule, before 9 am.  These vessels receive the bill of health at Cuxhaven in the same manner as is the practice in Bremerhaven for the vessels of the North German Lloyd.

The "P" steamers (2) are dispatched from Hamburg on Saturdays, receiving the greatest part of their cargo, as well as the entire food and water supply, in this port. On account of shallow water in the Elbe between Hamburg and Brunshausen, these steamers, as a rule, cannot complete their cargoes here, and therefore leave the port of Hamburg on Thursdays, anchoring again at Brunshausen or Krautsand, on the Elbe, where they receive the rest of the cargo from lighters.

As at the time of leaving the port of Hamburg, the steerage compartments of these vessels are not yet properly fixed up -- this being done at Brunshausen or Krautsand -- it is necessary for us, in this event, to inspect these vessels there, going down the Elbe on Friday afternoons by tender with the steerage passengers.

After having taken aboard the steerage passengers on Friday evening, the vessel starts for Cuxhaven, where it remains until the next morning, to take over the cabin passengers arriving by special train from Hamburg, same as for express steamers, and leaving the Hamburg depot at the same hour.

In case a steamer of this class leaves Hamburg not before the eve of the sailing date, which, however, very seldom happens, the inspection takes place here in port, alongside the quay.

The inspection is done in the manner prescribed by the United States Quarantine Laws and Regulations -- inspecting steerage compartments, hospitals, water-closets and wash rooms, crew's quarters, and examining food and water supply. 

A similar inspection is prescribed by the German emigration laws, and for this purpose, four official inspectors are employed in Hamburg -- former ship captains -- being engaged and salaried by the Hamburg State government.  they are very careful and exacting in their duties, so that we generally inspect vessels at the same time, if feasible, that siad inspectors make their inspections.

The "P" steamers receive bills of health in Hamburg and supplemental bills of health at Cuxhaven.

The "B" steamers (3) and the Sloman-Union steamers (4), as a rule, carry only steerage passengers -- no cabin passengers.  These steamers are generally dispatched from Hamburg directly, without calling at Cuxhaven, and are, therefore, usually inspected here. 

Sometimes, however, for the same reasons as obtain in connection with the "P" steamers, it is necessary for the "B" steamers to leave the port a day or two prior to the sailing date, in which event we inspect the vessels at Brunshausen or Krautsand in the same manner as explained with regard to the "P" class of vessels.

Examination of Cargo Manifests

Finally, to satisfy ourselves with regard to the sanitary condition of the cargo, the Hamburg America Line presents to one of us at the depot, about an hour before the cabin passengers' special train leaves, a full copy of the cargo manifest of the respective vessel, accompanied by duplicates of all certificates of disinfection issued for all goods on board requiring disinfection, such as cattle hides not dry salted or arsenically cured, cattle glue stock, used bed feathers, and rags.

Before taking such goods on board, the Hamburg America Line, incompliance with instructions from this office, requires the shippers to present to us, at the office of the consulate, the "Schiffszettel" (order to take goods on board) and a duplicate of the respective certificate of disinfection, which is thereupon stamped "passed."

In a similar manner, all Schiffszettel for goods which only require disinfection if coming from a distrct where an epidemic disease prevails are presented to us beforehand, together with a proof of origin, and stamped by us as above, if approved, or ordered to be disinfected. 

This requirement refers to articles like sheep and goat skins, horse hides, raw fur skins, bristles, guts, bladders, old rubber shoes, etc.

This system enables us to satisfy ourselves, in examining a cargo manifest, that there are no goods on board the respective vessel which should have been properly disinfected prior to their shipment.

Upon approval of the manifest, presented to one of us -- at the depot, as above mentioned -- together with all stamped Schiffszettel, the same being generally found to be in perfect order, it is subscribed and marked "approved," and thereupon the bill of health is issued.

The cargo manifests for the Sloman-Union steamers (4) are generally presented to us at the office. When one of the "B" steamers is being dispatched, carrying steerage passengers exclusively, the vessel remains in port or at Brunshausen or Krautsand -- wherever the cargo is being completed -- until the manifest can be sent aboard. 

Under such circumstances it is necessary for us to examine that manifest in the office of the Hamburg America Line, generally as late as 1 or 2 O'clock in the night, as it is impossible for the company to complete cargo manifests for the New York steamers sooner, and for obvious reasons it is impracticable to keep the vessel waiting until the next morning, the bill of health being required to be issued prior to the vessel leaving the Elbe.

In addition to the foregoing description of the consular duties performed here in connection with emigrant steamers, I would respectfully refer to Consult-General Pitcairn's Dispatch No. 272 (May 18, 1903) to the Department of State, of which the following is an extract:

According to the Quarantine Laws and Regulations, inspections are required of all vessels carrying steerage passengers, and this means that it is necessary for me to board all such vessels.  This is generally done on the day of departure, as such inspections shoud be made as late as practicable before sailing. 

The Hamburg America Line's passenger steamers are generally docked at a quay in the remotest part of the harbor of Hamburg; it takes about three-quarters of an hour's time from the office of this consulate which is situated in the center of the city , to reach the locations of the vessel. 

The inspection itself consumes at least an hour and a half, as a careful examination is made of all the holds to be occupied by steerage passengers, the washhouses, water-closets, compartments for crew, hospitals, provisions, water supply, etc.

For the convenience of the Hamburg America Line, with a purpose of avoiding delay in the dispatching of steamers on account of low water in the river, passenger steamers are frequently -- in fact, were throughout the entire summer, last year -- dispatched from Brunshausen-on-the-Elbe, about 36 miles beyond Hamburg, and it is in such cases necessary to go down the river on a tender to inspect the vessel there.  This consumes, on the average, from seven to ten hours, and frequently more, often returning to the city as late as 1 or 2 o'clock in the night.

The inspections of the steerage passengers take place at the "Passagier-Hallen" (passenger halls), about half an hour from this office, where they are also medically examined by the surgeon employed by the Hamburg bureau of emigration, whom they have to pass in a single file, in my presence and that of the ship's surgeon and one of its officers, thus enabling me to inspect them properly and to see that those who have been found diseased, disabled, or otherwise unfit to emigrate to the United States are stricken from the manifests and prevented from boarding the steamer. 

Such inspections consume from one to five hours and more, and they often take place outside of office hours.  Frequently, the time for the embarkation and inspection of a steamer is set at the same hour, thus requiring one of us to attend to the embarkation and another to the inspection.

The cabin passengers of the Hamburg America Line's steamers invariably board the vessel in Cuxhaven, leaving Hamburg on a special train early in the morning -- always outside of office hours.  On this train are also forwarded the cargo manifests, because the same cannot be completed before a late hour in the previous night. 

These manifests are always carefully examined by one of us, with a view of ascertaining that there are no goods undiscinfected on board which require disinfection under the quarantine laws of the United States, such as rags, hides, skins, glue stock, etc.

In the last moment before the departure of the train an official of the steamship company gives me the number of cabin passengers, and only after having thus been enabled to complete the statements required in the bill of health can I deliver the same. 

This work is done at the railroad depot from which the company's special train starts from Cuxhaven, and consumes about an hour's time.

Three of the Hamburg America Line's regular passenger steamers, the Bulgaria, Batavia, and Belgravia, only carry steerage passenger, and when one of these steamers is dispatched, it must wait in port for the cargo manifest, which can only be taken on board after its completion late in the night, as above indicated. 

We frequently had to go to the office of the Hamburg America Line as late as 1 or 2 o'clock in the night to examine there a freight manifest for one of these steamers.

Although this extract repeats a great part of what I have said before, I have deemed it proper to include the same in this report, as it fully indicates the time consumed in carrying out the quarantine laws and regulations here.

The foregoing, I trust, clearly explains the amount of trouble and loss of time incurred in the fulfillment of the many consular duties performed here in connection with emigrant steamers.  Furthermore, it must be admitted that the performance of these duties is connected with certain danger to the consular officers.

We have to be present at medical examinations in the course of which many emigrants are being rejected on account of dangerous contagious diseases, such as trachoma, favus, syphilis, eczema, measles, chicken pox, sometimes smallpox, scarlet and typhoid fever, etc.  The tickets of such rejected emigrants are given to us, and we strike their names from the manifest.

The room in which these examinations take place has open doors at both ends, constantly admitting draft.  In the worst kind of weather, we are often compelled to go down the river on a tender to inspect a vessel.  Occasionally we are obliged to climb on board a steamer by means of a primitive pilot ladder, which, in rain and storm, is alwys connected with danger for persons not accustomed to such gymnastics, not to speak of the soiled clothes.

By the system adopted in Hamburg by this office and the Hamburg America Line, quarantine and immigration regulations are enforced to the best of our ability.  In consideration of local conditions this system could certainly not be simplified in any manner.

It is absolutely necessary that the services required be performed outside of the office, and it is the Hamburg America Line's special desire, in the interest of a prompt dispatch of its steamers, that most of these services be performed outside of office hours, the company having repeatedly expressed its willingness to pay to the consulate a reasonable remuneration therefore, which, of course, we have always refused, and we have never accepted any pay from the company beyond the old fee of $1 per manifest, which charge was discontinued immediately upon receipt of instructions from the Department of State.

O. W. Hellmrich,
Deputy Consul-General
Report to the Honorable John Hay, Secretary of Statek, upon...

Return to Top of Page