|Most ships carrying Emslanders to America departed from the port of
Bremerhaven. The harbor in the city of Bremen had been silting up since the 16th century
and by the beginning of the 19th century large ships could no longer reach the city docks
but had to put in at smaller harbors along the Elbe north of Bremen instead. Bremerhaven,
as a port for the city of Bremen, was established at the mouth of the Weser ca 1827 and
was opened for business a few years later. Emigrants would go first to Bremen where
business was transacted and then down the Weser River to its mouth where they boarded
their ship at Bremerhaven. When Bremerhaven first opened, the journey from city to ship
was made on river barges, often overcroweded and taking 3 days. The final stretch to ship
could only be accomplished during the ebb tide when water from the arm of the Weser flowed
in the direction of the North Sea. In the 1840s water transport from city to port was made
on connected barges towed to the mouth of the river by a steam-powered tugboat, which
shortened the journey to one day. Then in 1862 a rail connection was completed between
Bremen and Bremerhaven making the journey even easier.
Trade between Bremen and America
had already been established by the time the port of Bremerhaven opened. There was a trade
imbalence, however, due to the fact that Bremen had little to export with its undeveloped
hinterland and poor transportation network to get what goods there were to harbor.
Transporting emigrants, therefore, played an important role for Bremen shipping which at
that time had as its primary goal importing American goods to Germany. They picked up
tobacco and flour in Baltimore and tobacco, cotton and sugar in New Orleans.
Bremen was the first port city to make any attempt to improve the quality of life for
emigrants during their stay their and also on-board ships which departed from her ports.
The Bremen Senate, hoping to establish a reputation for their port as the most favorable
place from which to emigrate, set up rules in 1832 requiring each ship departing from her
harbors to be sea-worthy, to have a minimum amount of space available per passenger and to
have provisions on board for 90 days at sea. Before that the emigrants had to bring their
own food for the voyage. Toilets and wash places were regularly inspected and a doctor had
to be on board each voyage. A list of passengers had to be supplied by the ship owners to
Bremen authorities for each voyage and it was establsihed that any emigrant not admitted
into the US by American authorities would be transported back to Germany at the ship
owner's expense. These porvisions paid off for Bremen and she became a leader in the
emigration trade. While Bremen was very much involved in promoting the industry in the
1840s, Hamburg made no serious effort to improve conditions at her harbor until 1851.
Hamburg's improvement, however, had little impact on the emigrants from Emsland because
Bremen was the closer of the two ports for them.
Building in Bremrehaven, built in 1849
Image and caption from the book The German-Americans, An Ethnic
Experience by Paul Adams, Max Kade German-American Center, Indiana Univ Press, 1993
Die Zeit (newspaper), Jul 27, 1990, page 13-14,
Auf nach Amerika by Godehard Weyerer
Fame, Fortune and Sweet Liberty; The Great European
Emigration, Dirk Hoerder and Diethelm Knauf, editors,
Edition Temmen, 1992.
How They Came; German Immigration from Prussia to
Missouri by Anita M Mallinckrodt, 1988
A short history (in English) of emigration from Bremerhaven
can be found by clicking on "Emigration to North
America" at website: http://www.deutsche-auswanderer-datenbank.de/
> German Emigrants Database > Information > History.