Inspection of Immigrants at Bremen - Norddeutscher Lloyd (1903)

A Letter from Mr. Diederich to Mr. Peirce

Memorandum on the Consular Inspection of Emigrants At Bremen

On April I, 1903, the Hon. L. M. Shaw, Secretary of the Treasury, promulgated to the consular officers of the United States, and to medical officers serving at any foreign port, the rules and regulations to be used and complied with by vessels in foreign ports, for securing the best sanitary condition of such vessels, their cargoes, passengers, and crew, before their departure for any port in the United States.

In the following, I purpose briefly to set forth how said rules and regulations are enforced at the port of Bremen and Bremerhaven, and how the duty of inspection of emigrants is performed by this consulate:

A.-Inspection of Vessels and Crew


As the German Imperial Government has stationed at this port a commissioner whose special duty it is to rigidly inspect all vessels immediately before their departure, together with their crew. There is ordinarily no necessity for any further examination of vessels by this consulate.

However, the consul receives regularly a full medical report of each incoming vessel, signed by the captain and the surgeon (see Exhibit A), and when it is found that there was a case of a communicable disease on board the consular agent at Bremerhaven is instructed to make assurance doubly sure by satisfying himself that the vessel is not only mechanically clean, but that all portions liable to have been infected have been disinfected before he issues a bill of health.

B.-Inspection of Steerage Passengers

On this subject, I have reported fully at various times to the Department of State, viz, on October 15, 1900, November 29. 1901, and February 15, 1903.

To recapitulate: The great majority of emigrants bound for the United States via Bremen come from Russia and Austria-Hungary. From the start, every precaution is taken that only such of these people shall leave their country as may ultimately enter the United States under the American immigration laws.

The Hamburg America Line and the North German Lloyd have entered into an arrangement with the Prussian railway authorities under which these companies refuse transportation to persons from Russia and Austria who fail to meet certain requirements.

Accordingly, Russian emigrants must have a passport, a steamer ticket to an American port, and a certain sum of money. Besides, Every Russian emigrant is compelled, before crossing the border of his country, to submit to a physical examination, to take a bath, and to have his baggage disinfected at one of the following inspection'Stations: Memel, Tilsit, Eydtkuhnen, Prostken, Posen, Ottlotschin, Interburg, and Illowo.

The Austrian emigrant must also have a steamer ticket and a sum of money, but not a passport. In addition, he must also present a certificate from the medical examining agents of the steamship companies at Myslowitz or Ratibor.

At Ruhleben, near Berlin, these two streams of Russians and Austrians flow together, and once more every man, woman, and child must undergo a very strict examination, whereupon a part of them are taken to Hamburg for transportation to the United States and , the others come to Bremen to take a steamer here.

Upon their arrival in Bremen they are taken in hand by a number of boarding and lodging housemasters, who are obliged to do their business under very strict police regulations. And it certainly speaks well for the board of public health at Bremen to have succeeded in keeping up an excellent record of the sanitary condition of the city in spite of the fact that for decades this long, motley caravan of uncouth aliens, coming largely from countries infected with disease, has been passing through its gates and lodging within its walls.

On the day before the sailing of each steamer every one of these emigrants, who have already twice undergone the sifting process once on the border of their native country and again at Ruhlebenare most carefully inspected for the third time under the supervision of this consulate in the following manner: Three to four steamers of the North German Lloyd Steamship Company leave this port every week and each steamer requires from two to three inspections of the steerage passengers, making in all from nine to eleven sessions a week, each one lasting from two to three hours. My experience has been that three physicians cannot well look over more than 200 people in one hour.

At first, all baggage of the steerage passengers is inspected and labeled in accordance with section 39 of the United States quarantine laws, which alone require a great deal of time and painstaking care.

Then every man, woman, and child is inspected, the women and children coming first. With the left arm bared, each person approaches the line of physicians and is vaccinated according to the checkerboard or crisscross system.

Next, the general physical condition is carefully examined into, special care being taken to detect diseases of the eyes, skin, lungs, mind, etc. This examination takes place in the presence of Dr. Peltzer, a German physician and a sworn medical officer of this consulate, who is assisted by two physicians employed by the Lloyd Steamship Company. As soon as trachoma, lupus, pulmonary phthisis, and cert~in other diseases or any mental trouble is discovered the person so afflicted is rejected.

In order to avoid heartrending scenes, the unfortunate person does not receive the inspection card, but a red slip instead, stating that said person has been totally rejected and also for what reason. (See Exhibit B.) The bearer of this red card is then instructed by the interpreter to, show it to the lodging-house master, whose duty it is to explain the sad situation fully to the person condemned to return to a-in many cases-dismal home just deserted.

All steerage passengers who have been vaccinated and found to be in good physical condition are then passed by having their inspection card stamped with the consular seal. This card (Exhibit C) is very valuable to the bearer, as it not only admits him to the steamer, but also guarantees to him immunity from detention at the quarantine and on the railroads in the United States.

The consul regularly sends a list of all rejected aliens to the commissioners of immigration at New York, Baltimore, or Galveston; whither the steamer may be bound, together with a sworn statement of Dr. Peltzer. (See Exhibits D and E.) At the same time the steamship company is also at once notified as to which passengers have been rejected at the consular inspection, whereupon they may, if they choose, investigate the cases more closely and determine for themselves whether or not they will risk taking such rejected passengers to the American port.

 In return, the commissioners of immigration of New York and Baltimore send to me regularly the names of all deported immigrants, and in scanning those lists I have the satisfaction of seeing that among the deported steerage passengers there are but very few that have passed the consular inspection at Bremen. In looking over those lists, I rarely find a person returned to Bremen on account of some disease or physical disability, but in nine cases out of ten the causes for deportation mentioned are, "P. C." (public charge) and "C. L." (contract labor), which are matters which I do not look into.

That this inspection takes up much time and involves a great deal of arduous labor and grave responsibilities on the part of this consulate goes without saying. It is clear that, with each, step of this sifting-out process, more thorough and painstaking work and vigilance are required to discover the few undesirable cases that were not noticed before. But I think the records of the various United States immigration bureaus will show that the work done at this port by the present system of consular inspection of emigrants has been, in the main, successful.

C.-Inspection of Cargo or Freight


No bill of health is issued before the following requirements are complied with: All shippers are bound to produce at this consulate positive proof that their goods are above suspicion. After this is done a note is issued to them, on the strength of which the steamship company will receive their merchandise.

These notes are then sent to the consular agent at Bremerhaven, who is thereby enabled, in looking over the cargo manifests, to see at a glance whether or not all objectionable goods have been kept out of the vessel. And the last thing done by this consulate before the steamer train leaves Bremen for Bremerhaven is to examine the freight manifests and to authenticate the same.

Such is, in a nutshell, the work of inspection done at this consulate under the United States quarantine laws.

In conclusion, I desire, however, to emphasize the fact that most of this work has to be done outside of the consular office and outside of office hours, which are from 9 to 2. I am obliged to be on duty, not in my office, but in the Lloyd Halle at least three times a week from I to 3 p. m. and from 5 to 7 p. m., and also three times a week early in the morning before office hours, before the last steamer train pulls out, at any time from 5 to 9 a. m., to supervise the inspection of emigrants, to have their baggage disinfected and labeled, to examine and sign manifests of freight, to authenticate the sworn statement of Dr. Peltzer, to sign lists of rejected passengers, etc.

All this hard work is done-most of it so late in the day or so early in the morning-not from choice nor because my Government requires it, but simply to facilitate the business of, a foreign steamship company, which is making vast fortunes out of its traffic with the United States.

I have vainly tried to get the North German Lloyd Steamship Company to have all its inspection and such other business as requires my official presence done during my office hours, but I have become satisfied that such is impossible, because they depend entirely upon the tide for getting their large passenger steamers in and out of the harbor.

In view of these facts I am of opinion that, when the- business of a foreign steamship company requires the services of a United States consul at any and all hours of the day and night, outside of his office and office hours, he should be entitled to a compensation from "the company for extra services so rendered, as is being done in a regular business way in every other line of human activity.

R C 5--4
United States Consul.

Return to Top of Page