Statistics for migration across the North Atlantic

(For numbers by shipping line, for numbers by ethnic group, and for 1815-1914 summary totals, scroll down further on this page)


1. Background: Using shipping data to augment and adjust for deficiencies of official U.S. annual immigration statistics


Migration movements between Europe and the United States can be tracked by overall passenger movement patterns (since over 95 per cent of second and steerage class passengers were migrants). Using passenger movement data to estimate migration flows is an effective means of overcoming long-standing…shortcomings of official government migration statistics…In a 1980 study, Günter Moltmann observed that ‘historical research on return migration faces many obstacles because of a lack of systematic source material.’ Walter Kamphoefner concurred in 1991, as in 1992 did Walter Nugent, saying that ‘attempts to count return and repeat migrants confront a statistical morass.’ In his 1993 book on return migration, Mark Wyman concluded that ‘historians must either speak in broad generalities when discussing return migration or admit the uncertainties of their statistics.’ “1908,” pp. 247-4.    See also here.



2.  Shipping companies on which steerage passengers traveled to Ellis Island, 1900-1913.


The 4 largest lines (embark. ports noted), brought (approx.):

North German Lloyd (Bremen, Italy)              1.61  million

Hamburg American (Hamburg, Italy)             1.45  million

Cunard (Liverpool, Hungary)                           .91  million

White Star (Liverpool, Southampton, Italy)      .69   million

Steerage Passengers to New York
Steerage Passengers to Ellis Island, 1900-1913, by shipping line (with founding year)

Sources:  Embarkation ports and steerage passenger flows from Keeling, Business, Voyage Database. Founding years: Keeling, Business, pp. 28, 97.



3.  U.S. Immigrants by ethnic group ("race"), 1900-14


(Note that "race" in the U.S. Bureau of Immigration classifications was a separate category from national citizenship or origin or resident country. "Germans," for example, included residents of Austria and Switzerland as well as citizens of the German Empire. "Polish" immigrants came from Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary. The main criteria for determining race was "native tongue"; this led to some inconsistencies because the designations were made, in the first instance, by clerks or pursers working in diverse locations for many different shipping lines to fill out U.S. Bureau of Immigration passenger lists.)

Immigrants by race, 1900-1914


4.  Summary statistics, US immigration from Europe, 1815-1914

     (in millions; "immigration" as defined in US gov't reports)


                   1815-19        .109

                   1820-69      6.389

                   1870-99    10.622

                   1900-14    12.159


    Total, 1815-1914:   29.279


     Sources:  For 1819-1914, Historical Statistics of the United States,  

                     For 1815-19,  Grabbe, p. 93