SUMMARIES of published articles on mass migration, shipping, immigration policy by Drew Keeling

Articles are listed chronically below by order of publication date. Scroll down the page or use your browser to find the article title, and the summary which follows immediately. For access to or information on full copies of the articles go here.



Transatlantic Shipping Cartels and Migration between Europe and America, 1880-1914.Essays in Economic and Business History 17 (1999), pp. 195-213.



The greatest intercontinental migration in human history was also the first large-scale international transportation business. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, transnational shipping cartels helped make the oceanic transport of European migrants to America a widespread enterprise in which capacity management, not opportunistic exploitation, was the crucial element. The cartels' success underscores the overlapping interests of transportation companies, governments, and transatlantic job-seekers in the facilitation and limited regulation of mass migration.




“The Transportation Revolution and Transatlantic Migration, 1850-1914.” Research in Economic History 19 (1999), pp. 39-74. 



During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, innovations in the engines, propulsion, and hulls of transatlantic steamships enabled the increased speed and carrying capacity by which the greatest intercontinental migration in history was effected. Contradicting anecdotal emphasis on the opportunistic exploitation of migrants, more systematic analysis indicates instead that improvements to travel conditions were more important than fare reductions in facilitating population flows between the labor markets of Europe and the United States.




“Costs, Risks, and Migration Networks between Europe and the United States, 1900-1914.” In Maritime Transport and Migration: The Connections between Maritime and Migration Networks, edited by Torsten Feys, Lewis R. Fischer, Stéphane Hoste and Stephan Vanfraechem, pp. 113-173. Research in Maritime History 33. St. John’s: International Maritime Economic History Association, 2007.



The role of costs and risks in early twentieth century migration across the North Atlantic can be traced by examining the motives, interactions and outcomes of migrant networks, transport entities (shipping lines, agents, and their cartel groupings) and the various government regulators. Costs were less important than often assumed, in part because the total expense of transatlantic relocation from Europe could be financed, by the late nineteenth century, with the typical savings achievable after only a few months of low-skilled work in the United States. Shipping lines used technological innovations not to lower passenger fares or to use shipping space jointly for freight and migrants, but to improve travel conditions and use passenger quarters interchangeably between westbound migrants and eastbound tourists. Shipping agents facilitated mass migration but were not major instigators of it. The risk of cyclical recessions was significant because failing to find work, or losing it, in a U.S. recession would eliminate the main motive for Europeans relocating across the Atlantic, and the resulting wide swings in migrant traffic were the dominant factor shaping shipping companies’ financial results. U.S. politicians acted to curb the risk of migration being blocked by substantial quantitative restrictions but insisted upon shipping companies (whose core business depended on that relatively open U.S. border towards migration from Europe) helping to track and inspect the inflow and qualitatively reject a small percentage deemed to be unhealthy or otherwise not desirable additions to the low-cost labor force in America.




“Transport Capacity Management and Transatlantic Migration, 1900-1914.” Research in Economic History 25 (2008), pp. 225-283.



Early twentieth century transatlantic migration was both a massive transoceanic population transfer and a complex travel business. The successful growth of this multinational commerce was based not on fare reductions, but on risk management strategies. Shipping lines provided costly carrying capacity sufficient to accommodate severely fluctuating demand for transatlantic migration, and did so in a manner which improved the reliability and quality of travel for migrants




“The Voyage Abstracts of the Cunard Line as a Source of Transatlantic Passenger Fares, 1883-1914.” Business Archives Sources and History 96 (2008), pp. 15-36.



The Voyage Abstracts of the Cunard steamship line are an important, and in some respects unparalleled, source of accurate, detailed, consistent, and long-term financial and business data for the history of passenger shipping on the North Atlantic. As emphasized here, they can also be used to help fill a major gap in the history of travel and migration between Europe and the United States, by enabling the derivation of time series for average transatlantic fares. The fares did not decline over the 1883-1914 period as a whole, even though passenger volumes rose, and short term fare drops, especially for westbound third class (steerage), were more associated with decreases, not increases, in third class passenger volumes. These passenger and fare trends were fairly typical of the North Atlantic as a whole, although not necessarily before the 1880s, when the solid, consistent, and representative statistical picture provided by these Cunard voyage abstracts begins.




“Repeat Migration between Europe and the United States, 1870-1914.” In The Birth of Modern Europe: Culture and Economy, 1400-1800. Essays in Honor of Jan de Vries, edited by Laura Cruz and Joel Mokyr, pp. 157-86. Leiden: Brill, 2010. 



This is study is the first systematic quantitative analysis of repeat migration between Europe and the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the first such study to be based on mainly on actual movements of people, rather than estimated from census statistics or other indirect data sources, the first to comprehensive apply shipping line conference passenger records to the measurement of repeat relocation, and the first to directly distinguish crossers from crossings. The more commonly relied upon U.S. Immigration Bureau migration statistics inconsistently failed to include second class passengers before 1903 and short term repeat crossings after 1905, and did not measure return flows to Europe prior to 1908. The results presented here are that the overall migration volume was only slightly higher than that indicated by the official U.S. government records, and that prior estimates of the rate of return to Europe are approximately correct, but that the level of repeat migration was both considerably higher than previously suggested, and, contrary to prior indications, repeat movements were higher from northern Europe than from southern Europe. The growth of repeat migration across the North Atlantic was related to the strategies of migrant kinship networks to diversify the risks of migration across mutiple individuals increasingly making multiple crossings.




“Amerikanische Arbeitsmärkte und die Einwanderung von den Britischen Inseln und Deutschland, 1700-1914.” In Perspektiven in der Fremde? Arbeitsmarkt und Migration von der frühen Neuzeit bis zur Gegenwart, edited by Dittmar Dahlmann und Margrit Schulte Beerbühl, pp. 171-89, Migration in Geschichte und Gegenwart, vol. 6, Gesellschaft für Historische Migrationsforschung, Essen: Klartext, 2011.



Potential movers to North America faced not only the challenge of financing the various costs of relocation, they also stood to incur the risks of getting to and surviving in America, particularly the risk of being unable to find a satisfactory job or other reliable means of supporting themselves in the New World. These reasons were more than enough to keep most Europeans -even those in the most demographically and economically suitable subsets of the most migration-prone British and German regions- from attempting a move abroad. Those who did move west across the Atlantic either found their own means to cover their migration costs and risks, or signed commitments to work for several years as servants to overseas masters, in return for oceanic passage and a multi-year period of transition to a new, more independent life in an American colony or the young post-colonial republic.




“North Atlantic Shipping Cartels and the effects of the 1904 Fare War upon Migration between Europe and the United States.” In Regulierte Märkte: Zünfte und Kartelle, edited by Magrit Müller, Heinrich R. Schmidt, and Laurent Tissot, pp. 359-75. Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte, vol. 26. Zurich: Chronos, 2011.



Turn of the twentieth century North Atlantic passenger shipping was marked by high fixed costs, strongly fluctuating demand, and chronic capacity making it vulnerable to price wars breaking out during cyclical downturns. The 1904 fare war was atypical, however, because it occurred towards the end of relatively mild recession in the United States, and because of the unusually large resulting surge in migrant passenger traffic along the routes affected by the cut in ticket prices. Nevertheless, most of that increase in passenger travel was due to migrants in the steerage class changing the timing, routing, or frequency of their transatlantic moves. Only a small fraction of the increased traffic can be attributed to Europeans deciding to move to America because of the reduced fares in 1904.




“Return Migration from the United States to Europe During the Recession of 1907-1908.” In Krisen – Ursachen, Deutngen und Folgen, edited by Thomas David, Jon Mathieu, Janick Marina Schaufelbuehl and Tobias Straumann,  pp. 245-60. Schweizerisches Jahrbuch für Wirtschafts- und Sozialgeschichte, vol. 27. Zurich: Chronos, 2012. 



The financial “Panic of 1907”, and the business setback that followed, occurred during a peak period for European migration to the United States. It is estimated that about a quarter of European immigrant workers who lost U.S. jobs in that 1907-1908 recession returned to Europe, where the cost of living was lower. Probably the fraction returning was higher for more recently-arrived migrants who were more prone to go back anyway, and more likely to have become unemployed in that cyclical downturn. For these calculations, a new time series based on passenger shipping data was developed and used in place of the often inconsistent and incomplete official U.S. government migration statistics more  typically relied upon to quantify migration flows in this historical period. This evidence of cyclical return migration on a large scale underscores the importance of the U.S. job market generally, and the related management of unemployment risks through family networks, in shaping the repetitive movement patterns of the massive and long-lasting two-way relocation of people across the North Atlantic prior to the First World War.




“Patterns and Processes of Migration.” In Settler Economies in World History, edited by Christopher Lloyd, Jacob Metzer and Richard Sutch, pp. 273-95. Leiden: Brill, 2012



Part of a broader collection explicating the world-wide historical development of settler economies, this survey focuses on Europeans who relocated to the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, between 1860 and 1914, largely in response to high labor demand and low land prices in those overseas “neo-Europes.” The general pattern of these mass migrations was one involving permanent resettlement, albeit with an increasing subcomponent of “sojourners” in “circular” movement. The processes of these long-lasting population transfers were dominated by chain migration networks that motivated the relocation, financed it, and helped reduce its risks, reinforced by institutional and economic path dependency.




“The Improvement of Travel Conditions for Migrants crossing the North Atlantic, 1900-1914.” In Points of Passage: Jewish Transmigrants from Eastern Europe in Germany, Britain and Scandinavia, edited by Tobias Brinkmann, pp. 107-29. New York: Berghahn, 2013.



Improvements to oceanic travel conditions for American immigrants, prior to the First World War, reflected North Atlantic shipping lines’ strategies for managing costly passenger capacity. By 1900, roughly 20% of second and steerage class capacity was in closed berth cabins for two to eight passengers each, instead of the older “open berth” dormitory-style quarters. By 1914, it was 35%. Steerage alone went from about 10% to 24% closed berths. Prior suggestions attributing the pace of the conversion to competitive impediments, and to discrimination against southern European passengers, are not corroborated. Instead, closed berths were significantly related to the incidence of tourist traffic (highest for north Europe, and seasonally somewhat opposite to migration because capacity utilization could be raised by using the same quarters for tourists and migrants, provided that the thus interchanged units were closed berth cabins). Growing rates of repeat migration seem to have been mostly a (further contributing) cause, but also partly an effect, of the gradual conversion from open to closed berths.




“The Business of Migration since 1815.” In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 1, edited by Marianne S. Wokeck. German Historical Institute, Washington DC, 2016. 



Millions of American immigrants, working in business or entrepreneurs themselves, also relied on the services of businesses and intermediaries in order to reach America in the first place. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, mass transatlantic migration was the core segment of the world’s first major intercontinental travel industry, a business in which large German shipping lines played a leading role.




This page last updated 21-November-2016