This is an advertisement encouraging Jewish immigrants to buy steerage tickets at Sender Jarmulowsky’s bank on the Lower East Side. Jarmulowsky began his passage and exchange business in Europe in 1868 before moving to America and opening his bank on Canal Street in 1873. The advertisement, written in Yiddish, assures readers that the business is, “Solid! Secure! Honest!” and that ship tickets are offered at the cheapest prices. The translation for the ad reads:
Most immigrants purchased steerage tickets – the cheapest available. Steerage referred to the lowest decks of a ship where the control lines of the ship’s rudder literally steered the ship. Steerage class was a grueling, crowded, and often frightening way to travel. While first class passengers enjoyed good food, fresh air, and comfortable cabins on the upper decks, travel in steerage class was typified by poor food, no privacy, and limited toilet use.
- Look closely at the advertisement. What can you tell about what is being marketed and for whom it is intended?
- The ad emphasizes the business qualities of solid, secure, and honest. Why do you think these words were chosen? What words would encourage you to buy a ticket for a long, uncertain journey?
- What was it like to travel in steerage?
- How do immigrants travel today? How might their experience compare and contrast to the immigrant journey on steerage advertised here?
- This advertisement offers travel from two port cities. Locate the cities on a map.
- Visit the website of the BallinStadt Museum, located in Hamburg, to learn more about what it was like leaving from Europe. Visit Ellis Island to learn more about what it is like when the immigrants came off the ships upon arriving to America.
- Read and discuss the following description of steerage travel in 1905 provided by the Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives
…the 900 steerage passengers crowded into the hold of so elegant and roomy a steamer as the Kaiser Wilhelm II, of the North German Lloyd line, are positively packed like cattle, making a walk on deck when the weather is good, absolutely impossible, while to breathe clean air below in rough weather, when the hatches are down is an equal impossibility. The stenches become unbearable, and many of the emigrants have to be driven down; for they prefer the bitterness and danger of the storm to the pestilential air below. The division between the sexes is not carefully looked after, and the young women who are quartered among the married passengers have neither the privacy to which they are entitled nor are they much more protected than if they were living promiscuously.
The food, which is miserable, is dealt out of huge kettles into the dinner pails provided by the steamship company. When it is distributed, the stronger push and crowd, so that meals are anything but orderly procedures. On the whole, the steerage of the modern ship ought to be condemned as unfit for the transportation of human beings…Take for example, the second cabin which costs about twice as much as the steerage and sometimes not twice so much; yet the second cabin passenger on the Kaiser Wilhelm II has six times as much deck room, much better located and well protected against inclement weather. Two to four sleep in one cabin, which is well and comfortably furnished; while in the steerage from 200 to 400 sleep in one compartment on bunks, one above the other, with little light and no comforts. In the second cabin the food is excellent, is partaken of in a luxuriantly appointed dining-room, is well cooked and well served; while in the steerage the unsavory rations are not served, but doled out, with less courtesy than one would find in a charity soup kitchen.
The steerage ought to be and could be abolished by law…On many ships, even drinking water is grudgingly given, and on the steamer Staatendam, four years ago, we had literally to steal water for the steerage from the second cabin, and that of course at night. On many journeys, particularly on the SS Fürst Bismarck, of the Hamburg American Line, five years ago, the bread was absolutely uneatable, and was thrown into the water by the irate emigrants.
In providing better accommodations, the English steamship companies have always led; and while the discipline on board of ship is always stricter than on other lines, the care bestowed upon the emigrants is correspondingly greater.