Business with the Emigrants

Besides the costs for the actual passage, the emigrants were also charged a landing fee at the port of embarkation then there was the cost for the food during the journey plus the cost of the travel from the port to the final destination. The landing fee in New York was higher than in Quebec which is one of the reasons why Quebec became more popular with the emigrants.

Another decisive factor for the cost of the crossing was the age. An adult paid the most, a child between the ages of 7 and 15 approximately half of it and children between the ages of 1 to 6 years a third of the adult fare. Children under the age of 1 travelled for free.

Business with the emigrants was very lucrative for the ship owners. Too many chose quantity over safety. Since the vessels were also used to transport cargo back on the way from overseas to Europe it was a very profitable business. Then there were those vessels which on the way over had both passengers and cargo on board. The USA had very strict restrictions with regard to how many persons per each 5 tons of cargo loaded were permitted; Canada did not have these requirements. This allowed the cruise liners to carry even more passengers under questionable conditions. As a result, more emigrants arrived with illnesses or even worse, did not survive the crossing, due to the decline in hygienic conditions.

S.S. ANGELO leaving Christiana, Norway, with emigrants for America, ca. 1905 S.S. ANGELO leaving Christiana, Norway, with emigrants for America, ca. 1905
Source: Library of Congress

In 1863, the Norwegian government introduced a law which put an end to this practice: the number of passengers to foreign destinations was strictly regulated and a minimum space per emigrant had to be ensured.

The following were the decisive factors for the start of the mass emigration: the Norwegian cruise line used agents to book the passengers and the Norwegian newspapers were filled with advertisements. The end of the American Civil War in 1865 attracted more emigrants and the ship lines discharged their sailing vessels and upgraded their fleets to steam vessels. This allowed for more reliable schedules and shorter travel times.

In Bergen, the Norwegian American Steamship Co. was established which offered a direct steam ship connection between Norway and New York. In 1875, after only 4 years the service was discontinued as it was not profitable since the number of emigrants dropped in 1874. Only in the 1880s did this number pick up again. No Norwegian ship owner, however, was courageous enough to build up an emigration business again. Instead the Danish cruise line Thingvalla Line aimed for the Norwegian market and offered direct services between Copenhagen, Christiania, Kristiansand and New York.

This changed again with the Norwegian America Line which was established in 1913. Finally the direct service from Oslo to New York via Kristiansand, Stavanger and Bergen was offered again. The service aboard was excellent and catered to the needs of the emigrants. WW1 brought the emigration to a halt. The change in the US immigration laws resulted in restrictions of the number of emigrants permitted to enter the USA. Although initially right after the war the numbers of emigration slightly increased in the long run the shipping lines were not able to match their former passenger numbers.

The emigrant shipping lines adjusted their business increasingly to cruises as many former emigrants now also travelled back to their home country visiting with family members who stayed behind. The Norwegian America Line was able to make the transition and continued to offer direct service to North America.

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