Steerage Experience #general

Marc Hodies

Apart from the movies and some singular experiences, for the majority of immigrants from 1906 to 1924, I wondered what it was like to be in steerage for up to 3 weeks.


1.  How often could they come up to the deck to get fresh air? How long could they stay on the deck?
2. Did they sleep in hammocks or beds? How crowded was it?
3. Steerage temperatures for both summer or winter? 
4. How did they eat?  Was food supplied? Supplied on the top deck or in steerage?  3 meals a day?
5. Did most get sea sickness and eventually recover a few days to a week later while still at sea?
6. Bathroom facilities? Did they change clothes over the course of the voyage?
7.  Was the baggage always near them?


Mark Hodies


I have entertained the same questions. You can find a lot of answers among the pages linked to the following Web page:
This page in particular:
Miles Rind
Cambridge, Mass.


This link gives a fairly detailed account of the experience. 
David Belton

J Antrich

Dear Marc, - by searching "travelling steerage" you will find some answers to your questions, including contemporary accounts and pictures. Not very nice, as you can guess!
Jeremy Antrich
Surbiton, England

Harry Boonin

 AVOTAYNU: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy,” Volume XXIV, No. 1, Spring issue 2008, 
carried an article entitled, “Coming to America through Hamburg and Liverpool Part II: CROSSING THE ATLANTIC, pp. 28-30.

The entire article is about Crossing the Atlantic. There you will find many of your questions answered and others not. The story is told from the steerage deck, the dining room and the sleeping quarters on the S.S. Dominion in 1911. Earlier crossings, of course, might tell a wholly different story. This is the story of my family’s crossing.
Harry D. Boonin
Warrington, PA


Hi Mark,

The dates 1906-1924 cover a time of significant change in passenger travel conditions, so you'll find many different accounts. By 1906 newer ships were already constructed or re-fitted to have "third" or "tourist" class instead of steerage.  Tourist class typically meant a small cabin (often with toilet/sink) on the lower decks, basic dining room, etc.  Also the passage usually lasted only 5-12 days, depending on the departure/arrival ports' distance.  Their ticket price included meals.

By 1909 the comparison of the new ships to the old probably explains an explosion of news articles complaining of the "horrific" conditions in steerage.  If you read them you may find those stories relate to specific ships, or shipping lines, that are no longer meeting standard expectations for transatlantic travel.

My point is it may be easier to answer your question regarding the majority of passengers who sailed on a specific steamship line, or from a specific departure port, since those passengers would all share a more similar experience (though I'm sure it changed over time even within those parameters).

Marian Smith

Frederick Zlotkin <fzlotkin@...>

Though it's probably documented in a number of the sources cited, I recall reading that food posed an additional problem for the kosher steerage passengers.

Frederick Zlotkin

Bruce Drake

My grandfather, Samuel Drach, sald from Hamburg aboard the Patricia. He was described as a “Landmann, Tagelöhner.” “Landmann” is a peasant and “der Tagelöhner” is a day laborer. His accommodations on the ship were described as "Zwischendeck" – or, "between decks.”

A Thai Jones wrote a book about his great-grandfather who also took the Patricia from Hamburg to New York about three months before my grandfather did.

The author described passage on the Patricia like this:


It was a late December day when he clutched his ticket and climbed uncertainly up a narrow gangplank of the steamer Patricia. The ship's great black stack burped out a breath of coal smoke, and her twin screws started churning the greasy waters of the River Elbe. Philip leaned over the rail or, unused to the motion, lay in his berth as the vessel gathered way toward two European stops -- at Boulogne and Plymouth -- and then the open ocean. Patricia was one of the Hamburg-American Line's newest steamers, built a few years earlier with room for nearly 2,500 passengers. She offered a luxurious crossing for the lucky few who could spend at least fifty dollars for a private cabin. The remaining four-fifths, almost certainly including Steckler, settled for third-class berths on the lower decks, where they slept in bunks and ate in a common mess. At an average speed of thirteen knots, the passage, even during the rough winter months, was scheduled to take twenty days. Steckler's trip was marred by head winds and heavy seas, including a tidal wave that staggered the ship just as she was entering the Atlantic. Even Captain Reessing, a mariner with more than twenty years of salt in his blood, was rattled by the storm. "I have not known such weather for many years," he said. "The winter of 1882 was very similar to this, but none since then has been nearly so bad."
Bruce Drake
Silver Spring MD


Lorraine Minor

There was a report written in 1908 by the Immigration Commission describing steerage conditions in both the "old-type" and "new-type" steerage. The Immigration Commission was created by the US Congress to investigate different issues with regard to immigration. The report is available at the Internet Archive at
The report should answer all your questions if your ancestor traveled around 1908.

Lorraine Minor

David Harrison <djh_119@...>

I wonder if when Samuel Drach, sailed from Hamburg aboard the Patricia his "Zwischendeck" – or, "between decks.” is not more usually translated into the shipping "tweendeck" which is a specific deck.  This might help others without nautical experience.
David Harrison
Birmingham , England
Searching for various families from Leeuwarden in Friesland (Netherlands and Germany)


Lee Jaffe

On Tue, Aug 3, 2021 at 05:04 AM, Harry Boonin wrote:
“Coming to America through Hamburg and Liverpool

Surnames / Towns:  Jaffe / Suchowola, Poland ; Stein (Sztejnsapir) / Bialystok and Rajgrod, Poland ; Joroff (Jaroff, Zarov) / Chernigov, Ukraine ; Schwartz (Schwarzman?, Schwarzstein?) / ? ;  Koshkin / Snovsk, Ukraine ; Rappoport / ? ; Braun / Wizajny, Suwalki, Poland,  Ludwinowski / Wizajny, Suwalki, Poland