Transatlantic Passengers and the Buildup of Fleets - Ocean Passenger Travel

Following is an exhibit of the number of cabin passengers that arrived at this port during the years between 1881 and 1890, inclusive :

  • 1881, 51,229
  • 1882, 57,947
  • 1883, 58,596
  • 1884, 59,503
  • 1885, 55,160
  • 1886, 68,742
  • 1887, 78,792
  • 1888, 86,302
  • 1889, 96,686
  • 1890, 99,189

From one point of view, at least, these figures are very striking. In 1889 there was a great show in Paris that attracted world-wide attention and interest. In the spring of that year every steamship agent announced to prospective passengers that all vessels would be crowded, and that the volume of passenger traffic between the continents would swamp the capacity of every line. But the figures speak for themselves.

Viewing the increase of oceanic travel it appears that the financial depression of 1884 kept many people at home who otherwise might have crossed the ocean.

After that distressing season had passed travel resumed its normal condition, and an increase may be noted with each year. When finances in this country had been somewhat adjusted we find that 86,302 cabin passengers landed at New York in 1888.

Then came the Paris Exposition, and the record for 1889 is 96,686. That was the greatest year for ocean travel known theretofore. Yet 1890 came along, and the record of 1889 had been broken. The total number of arrivals of cabin passengers for that year being 99,189.

These figures mean that Americans are getting rich enough to travel; nothing more. An agent of an excursion company said to me during 1889 :

"It doesn't need an Exposition in Paris to induce travel. Europe is the load-stone ! All we have to do is to show people that they can get to Europe at a moderate cost, and that fetches 'em."

The same men who keep these records at the Barge Office say that at least eighty per cent. of the arrivals from Europe represent people who live in this country; that is, that not more than 20,000 people during 1890 arrived in New York who did not live here, or who were not returning to their homes.

Furthermore, it should be noted here that New York has become to so great a degree the port to which transatlantic business tends, that not more than fifteen per cent. of either immigrants or cabin passengers land at any other port. A few go to Boston, or Philadelphia, or Baltimore; and a few come in via Quebec and the northern border; but the figures at New York really represent the volume of passenger traffic.

It is not possible to give an exact comparison between the traffic now and when passenger steamships first began to run between this country and Europe; but it will be remembered that the Cunards, beginning in 1840, had only four regular vessels.

Now there are twelve steamship lines who have regular sailing days each week, and some have sailings twice and three times a week; they all terminate or begin in New York, and on these lines there are eighty-four steamships which carry saloon and passengers.

These lines make landings at Queenstown, Liverpool, Southampton, Havre, Bremen, Hamburg, Moville (Londonderry), Glasgow, Antwerp, Boulogne, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen.

No line employs less than four boats, and the Hamburg America Line keeps twenty-one in commission. The North German Lloyd Company has the largest fleet of express steamships; there are twelve in commission between New York, Southampton, and Bremen.

This great fleet of eighty-four vessels is composed of the following lines, given in the order in which they were established : Cunard Line, 1840; Inman Line, 1850; Hamburg America Line, 1856; Anchor Line, 1856; North German Lloyd Line, 1857; French Line (Compagnie Generale Transatlantique), 1862; Guion Line, 1864; White Star Line, 1870; Netherlands Line, 1872; State Line, 1872; Red Star Line, 1873; Thingvalla Line, 1879.

Besides these lines there is also the Anchor Line, Fabre Line, and the Florio Line to Mediterranean ports; Wilson Line to London, and also to Hull; National Line to London, and also to Liverpool; Hill Line to London; Union Line to Hamburg; Bordeaux Line to Bordeaux, and Baltic Line to Stettin. All these lines carry passengers.

This record, of course, takes no account of the lines to the South American continent or to Pacific ports. Freight lines, of which there are several, are out of the question for the moment.

The French Line has some remarkable features of its own. Baggage may be checked by it to any point in France. The company provides a special train that waits on the steamship dock in Havre, and on the arrival of the vessel from New York takes the passengers and baggage to Paris at once, and puts them in close connection with trains for other parts of the continent.

Smoking Room of a French Liner circa 1890

Smoking Room of a French Liner circa 1890

This system of transfer and checking baggage applies not only to cabin passengers, but to those in the as well, and the French line is the only line that makes such arrangements.

It is also the only line that supplies immigrants with all necessary utensils, including bedding; and, more than that, it provides a wholesome wine at all meals in the , and cognac once a day.

French festivals and American holidays are celebrated on board by concerts, balls, dinner parties, and extra luxuries at the regular meals. Entertainment is provided for the passengers, and a special menu is furnished for the festal days. On such occasions, too, the ships are gayly decorated with bunting from stem to stern.

Another unique and pleasant feature of the voyage on a French line is the " Captain's Dinner." This takes place just previous to the termination of the trip, and it is regarded as a farewell celebration in token of good-will between the passengers and the officers who have safely conducted them over the ocean. Champagne is furnished by the company without extra charge at this dinner, and toast and speech-making follow.

On the British lines Sunday is suitably observed; the captain, in full uniform, supported by his officers, reads the Church of England services, to which all on board are invited.

American and British holidays are also observed in a fitting manner, the vessels being always " dressed " for the occasion. These lines also have a parting dinner, usually one or two evenings before arrival in port.

Ocean Passenger Travel - 1891


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Ocean Travel Steamship Voyages
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Transatlantic Ships and Voyages

1886 Development of the Steamship

Ocean Passenger Travel (1891)

Ocean Steamships (1882)

1901 Story of the Steamship (1901)


The Dry Years - The Eighteenth Admendment

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