Atlantic Crossings

By 1870, more than 90 percent of immigrants to America arrived by steamship. As vessels grew safer, larger, sturdier, and faster, ocean crossings became less of an ordeal.

In the same period, the American economy prospered and a class of wealthy Americans was eager to travel in luxury. Steamship companies designed their finest accommodations with these passengers in mind. High style and high society made ocean liners famous, but the ships relied on the immigrant trade as their main source of income into the 1920s. Rich and poor crossed the ocean just a few decks apart.




German passenger liner Frisia

Built at Greenock, Scotland, 1872

Passenger capacity as built: 90 first class, 130 second, 600 third & steerage

Crew: 125

Immigrant Ship Frisia

In 1871, Hamburg-America Line steamers alone carried 4,200 cabin passengers and 24,500 steerage passengers into New York. The Frisia, launched by the company the following year, brought nearly 47,000 immigrants to the United States between 1872 and 1885.

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Courtesy of Bob L. Berschauer

From Kratzke to Kansas

Jacob and Maria Magdalena Berschauer were among the immigrants from Kratzke, Russia, who sailed aboard the Frisia in 1876.

A century after many German Lutherans settled along Russia’s Volga River, a group of about 70 left the village of Kratzke for the United States. They were escaping rumors of war and restrictions on land ownership. With half the group made up of children, they traveled by train to the port of Hamburg, then sailed aboard the Frisia to New York. After heading west by train, they established Bender Hill, a village about ten miles south of Russell, Kansas, in October 1876.


Immigrants at the rail of a steamship, early 1900s


Travelers’ Trunks

These trunks and others nearby are transoceanic travelers. They journeyed on ocean liners, to and from the United States, protecting the belongings of people from different eras and different nations.

Swedish immigrant’s trunk, 1867

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Gift of Edward C. Swanson and Barbara A. Swanson

French Horsehair Trunk

A Dominican nun brought this horsehair-covered trunk from France when she sailed across the Atlantic to join the Monastery of St. Dominic in Newark, N.J., in 1881.