On the Water

Ocean Crossings, 1870–1969

Ocean liners were ships of transport for immigrants and machines of leisure, status, and national prestige.

In the late 1800s, ocean liners were mainly in the business of delivering immigrants across the Atlantic and Pacific to American shores. Only a few years later, they began to compete for the business of tourists and travelers—from ordinary families to the nation’s wealthiest citizens. Ocean travel became big business—safe and routine, except for horrifying exceptions like the Titanic.