This is a copy of a brochure posted by Cathy J. Flamholtz of Lawrenceville, GA on the Jewishgen user forum on July 28, 2001 that dates to the late 1880s or early 1890s (shortly before Ellis Island opened) for the White Star Line. This is one of the few brochures that talks at length about steerage costs and accomodations that our ancestors encountered on their voyage to North America. Most brochures contain a great deal of data about 1st and 2nd class, but little about steerage. This should give everyone a clearer picture of what traveling was like and may provide a clue to why some of our ancestors may have lied about their ages.

Note: "Saloon" is the term that the White Star Line used for 1st and 2nd class.

As we know, those that came in steerage to NY had to go through the Ellis Island examinations. Those that arrived in 1st or 2nd class were given perfunctory examinations on board ship and disembarked directly at the piers, skipping the trip through Ellis Island. Sometimes people who failed the Ellis Island exams and were sent back to Europe then bought 2nd class tickets and, with the less stringent examination, were admitted to the US.

Here's one other item that may help you envision what the trip was like for your ancestors. If you go to this website, you'll see a rare postcard which shows an actual steerage berth. The card says, "Views of a new type of berth, combining privacy and perfect ventilation, patented by the White Star Line... It doesn't look very comfy, but the White Star Line was one of the first to stress creature comforts (rather than speed) on their vessels.

White Star Line
United States Mail Steamers


These well-known, fast mail steamers sail from Liverpool to New York every Thursday (gives dates in Aug. to Nov.)

These splendid, full-powered, First-class Iron Screw Steamers are among the largest and most powerful vessels afloat, and are distinguished for the shortness and regularity of their passages, and the completeness and comfort of their passenger accomodation.

Saloon Passage 15, 18, and 21 guineas each berth. According to State Room selected, all having equal privileges in Saloon. Children under 12 years, half-fare. Infants Free. Return tickets, available for one year, issued at reduced rates.

These rates include a liberal table and steward's fee, without wines or liquors, which can be obtained on board. 5 [pound] deposit is required to secure cabin berths, the balance to be paid before sailing. Luggage will go on board with the passengers in the tender that leaves the landing stage for the steamer on the day of sailing.

Steerage Fare to New York, Boston or Philadelphia:
Six guineas (6 [pounds] 6s.) including a plentiful supply of cooked provisions. Children under 8 years half-fare, and infants under 12 months 1 pound, 1s.

The Steerage accomodation in these steamers is of the very highest character, the rooms are unusually spacious, well lighted, ventilated and warmed, and passengers of this class will find their comfort carefully studied.

Passengers will be provided with berths to sleep in, each adult having a separate berth; but they have to provide themselves with a plate, mug, knife, fork, spoon and water can, also bedding -- all of which can be purchased on shore for about 10/- Marries couples, with their children, will be berthed together. Females will be berthed in rooms by themselves.

Bill Of Fare. Each passenger will be supplied with 8 quarts of water daily, and with as much Provisions as he can eat, which are all of the best quality, and which are examined and put on board under the inspection of Her Majesty's Emigration Officers, and cooked and served out by he Company's servants.

Breakfast At Eight O'Clock. Coffee, sugar, and fresh bread and butter, or biscuit and butter, or oatmeal porridge and molasses.

Dinner At One O'Clock. Soup and beef, pork or fish, according to the day of the week, with bread and potatoes, and on Sunday pudding will be added.

Supper At Six O'Clock. Tea, sugar, biscuit and butter. Oatmeal gruel will be supplied at 8 pm when necessary.

Luggage. Ten cubic feet will be allowed for each adult steerage passenger, and 20 cubic feed for each adult saloon passenger, free; for all over that quantity a charge of 1s. 6d. for each cubic foot will be made. Steerage passengers must have their luggage ready to go on board the Steamer on the day of sailing.

Passengers are landed at the Government Depot, Castle Garden, New York, where they can purchase tickets for, and receive every information respecting the departure of trains, steamboats, etc.

These Steamers run in conjunction with the Erie Railway from New York -- the shortest and best route to the West, North and South-Western states; and Passengers are booked through at low rates, to all parts of the States, Canada, Aspinwall and San Francisco, also to Australia, New Zealand, China and Japan, by the Pacific Railway and Mail Steamship Company.

All passengers are liable to be rejected, who, upon examination, are found to be lunatic, idiot, deaf, dumb, blind, maimed, or infirm, or above the age of 60 years; or widow with a child or children; or any woman without a husband with a child or children; or any person unable to take care of himself (or herself) without becoming a public charge, or who from any attending circumstances are likely to become a public charge, or who from sickness or disease, existing at the time of departure, are likely soon to become a public charge. Sick persons or widows with children cannot be taken, nor lame persons, unless full security be given for the bonds to be entered into by the steamer to the United States Government, that the parties will not become chargeable to the State.

All Steerage Passengers embarking at Liverpool must be at the Office of the Agents, 10 Water Street, Liverpool, not later than 6 pm of the day before the advertised date of sailing, when the balance of the passage money must be paid or the deposit forfeited.

All Steerage Passengers embarking at Queenstown must be at the Office of the Agent at Queenstown (Cork) not later than six o'clock pm of the day before sailing when the balance of he passage money must be paid or the deposit forfeited, and all passengers will have strictly to conform to the rules laid down by the company.

In order to meet the requirements of the Government Emigration Officer, Contract tickets will be leased for the noon of the day previous to the advertised date of sailing.

An Experienced Surgeon Is Carried On Each Steamer.

Stewardesses In Steerage To Attend The Women And Children. No Fees Or Extra Charges.

Passage can be engaged and tickets obtained from any agent of the "White Star" Line, or by sending name, age, and occupation, together with a deposit of One Pound on each berth, to...

Price War Lowers Steamship Rates

For those wondering what it cost to travel as steerage, Vivian Zelvin of Eastchester, NY found the following in the New York Times of August 13, 1886 and posted it on the JewishGen forum on Aug 26, 2001.

"The Hamburg-American Packet Company has followed the example of several of the other Continental lines which are fighting the Red Star Line by making an extensive cut in its steerage rates. According to a circular just issued by the Hamburg Company, its rates have been reduced from $2 to $4 on the outward and from $10 to $13 on the homeward passage. The new Hamburg Lines outward rates are $12 to Plymouth, $16.50 to London, $21 to Hamburg, Cherbourg, Copenhagen, Stockholm. Gothenburg, and several other Continental ports, and $25.25 to Paris. The prepaid homeward rates are: From London $13.50; from Paris $18; from Hamburg, Havre, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Gothamburg, &c., $15. The figures by the Baltic service of the Hamburg Line are $21 outward and $15 return. The French Line is the only Continental conference company which has not yet reduced its rates."