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"For the people who are not in a hurry: The Danish Thingvalla Line and the transportation of......."

Vol. 13, Journal of American Ethnic History, 09-01-1993, pp 48
by Odd S. Lovoll

"It is not as fast as the other lines," a Norwegian traveler bound for America on the Danish passenger steamship the Thingvalla, wrote to the Christiania (Oslo) newspaper Morgenbladet (The Morning Journal) in 1890, but, he insisted, "one feels at home, hears nearly one's own language, and eats familiar food, and is," he continued, "treated in a friendly way, so that one is better off than on the other lines. "[1] The Thingvalla was the flagship of the Danish steamship line Thingvalla, begun in 1879.[2]

The Thingvalla Line represented a cooperative venture by a fusion of Danish shipping companies, bankers, and businessmen to capitalize on the lucrative Atlantic passenger transportation; they had in mind to break the near monopoly of British, and to a lesser degree North German, companies in the Scandinavian emigrant market by establishing direct steamship connection between Scandinavia and North America. It was an entrepreneurial venture with limited fiscal success. In 1898, in the words of one of the historians of the Thingvalla Line, it "died for lack of initiative in its leadership, and because Denmark was a small country and the competition so great."[3] The Danish direct line, as Thingvalla was referred to, was taken over by the United Steamship Company (Det Forenede Dampskibs-Selskab), which operated it as the Scandinavian-American Line until it was discontinued in 1936. The Thingvalla company's history, even though it had a duration of less than twenty years, provides a point of entry for a consideration of the development and competitive aspects of a transportation system that opened the door for mass emigration.[4]

From the 1860s a general development occurred in the carrying trade of all three Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The emigration routes changed so that there were gradually fewer and fewer direct passenger sailings to North America, until there were none. The reason was the intrusion of foreign shipping interests into the promising Scandinavian emigrant market. The small Scandinavian shipping companies, mainly Norwegian and Swedish, had dominated in this market from the mid-1830s and as long as sailing vessels engaged in the transportation of emigrants. It was the difficult transition from sail to steam that allowed large foreign lines to attain supremacy in the Nordic countries. Commercial interests in the North did not have at their command the vast amount of capital required and which foreign investors were able to raise. As the German scholar Erich Murken expressed in his detailed study of Atlantic shipping: "Transatlantic commerce had a powerful upturn following the American Civil War as new streams of emigrants sought the United States and gave impetus to the establishment of a string of new passenger lines."

Norwegian emigration leaped from 4,000 in 1865 to 15,726 in 1866; Swedish departures increased dramatically to 21,472 in 1868 from 5, 893 the previous year; and Danish emigration, though not as spectacular in terms of numbers, more than doubled from 1868 to 1869, from 2,019 to 4,359. What historian Marcus Lee Hansen termed "a folk migration" was obviously under way. In the course of the thirty-five years between 1865 and 1899 1,287,511 people emigrated to the United States alone from the three small Nordic countries, for an annual average of 36, 786 emigrants, though the movement fluctuated, following the pattern of the rest of Europe. The first great wave lasted until 1873, and then there was a second major exodus between 1879 and 1893. During this main era of mass migration from Scandinavia to the United States, in the period after the Civil War until the turn of the century, Sweden contributed 53.8 percent of the total, Norway 33.4 percent, and Denmark 12.7 percent. Foreign companies sought to capture this transportation market created by these America travelers.[5]

The shipping industry passed through a technological revolution in the second half of the century comparable to the earlier progress made in other industries. As the world's dominant maritime nation Great Britain took the lead. The most spectacular changes in size and speed of the vessels occurred in passenger liners. Liverpool and Glasgow became the major centers for the companies. The Cunard Line, with main offices in Liverpool, was organized in 1839 by Canadian- born Samuel Cunard, and it pioneered in the steam passenger communication across the Atlantic. In the 1850s Cunard demonstrated the reliability of passenger liners with regular sailings promulgated in advance. In 1855 this line advertised that it could make the passage by steam from New York to Liverpool in twelve days. It left sailing vessels far behind. In 1867 the average length of the voyage by sail between the same two points was in excess of forty-four days -- depending on favorable winds. Improvements did not reduce the time appreciably, whereas technological progress steadily shortened the passage by steam. Steam conquered the passenger trade rapidly. By the early 1860s almost the whole of the British traffic passed into the hands of the steamship companies. The transportation of immigrants was no longer fraught with the same suffering and serious menace to life that had prevailed under earlier conditions by sail. The Atlantic passenger trade had lost some of its old terrors and discomforts.[6]

The Cunard Line became an important rival in the Scandinavian market, but other British lines competed. The Inman Line was organized in 1850 by William Inman, an energetic member of a Liverpool shipping firm, and became Cunard's chief competitor; it played a dominant role in the emigrant market from 1867 to 1892 and won the much coveted Blue Ribbon from Cunard for setting a new record in the Atlantic crossing from Liverpool to New York. By the 1880s advancements in steam navigation shortened the passage to eight or nine days, and it was reduced to less than seven in the following decade.[7]

In a brief survey of British passenger transport, mention must be made of the National Line, which came into being in 1864 in response to the increase in emigrants with the improvement in the fortunes of the North in the Civil War. Most of the increase that Murken describes came, however, in the 1870s as competition for the emigrant traffic intensified. The Dominion Line was begun in 1870 by cotton merchants in Liverpool, who found it profitable to transport emigrants to Canada before going to the Gulf for cotton. The White Star Line established service in the following year, and with the Inman Line was the first to reduce the Atlantic crossing to less than eight days. Two American- financed companies operated on the competitive Liverpool-North American route; these were the American Line, which sailed to Philadelphia, and the Guion Line. The latter though owned by American investors, was British-manned and British-managed. On her maiden voyage in 1879 Guion's Arizona captured two records by reaching New York in 7 days, 10 hours, and 47 minutes. Three major lines were headquartered in Glasgow: the Allan Line, one of the pioneer companies with its roots in Canadian trading from the 1820s, was organized as a steamship passenger line in 1854 with service to Canada; the more recent Anchor Line, established in 1856, with Glasgow-New York as its main passenger route; and the State Line, which was the youngest of the Glasgow lines, dating from 1872; it had service both to New Orleans and to New York from Glasgow; the latter became an additional route for the Allan Line when in 1890 it purchased the State Line.[8]

None of these companies had direct traffic to any Nordic port. The transportation between Scandinavia and Great Britain was acquired by the British Wilson Line in agreements with the major trans-Atlantic lines. A son of the line's founder, John West Wilson, settled in Gothenburg to promote its interests in Scandinavia. Gothenburg was from 1850 the principal port in Swedish emigration and from 1869 it had a near monopoly in this traffic. Wilson's relationship with the agent of the American Emigrant Company, the Swedish-American Frederick Nelson, was decisive in future developments. In deciding on a route for Swedish emigrants Nelson chose an earlier one used by sailing ships--by boat from Gothenburg to Hull, train to Liverpool, and by steamer to America- and negotiated with Wilson for transportation to Hull. This agreement was the beginning of a near monopolistic position of the Wilson Line in this particular traffic for many years, not only from Gothenburg, but in the transportation of Nordic emigrants in general. The Wilson Line had steamship routes from Scandinavian ports to Great Britain from 1850. The Anchor Line tried to compete in 1868 by opening a weekly service on its ships Scotia and Scandinavia between Leith, the Norwegian cities of Kristiansand and Oslo, and Gothenburg, enabling passengers to reach Glasgow by rail from Leith in time to embark on its imposing New York ships, which, according to its agent in Norway, "guaranteed the passengers all benefits any respectable line can offer." By 1872 the traffic between Scandinavia and Scotland was, however, no longer profitable. losing out to the competition from the Wilson Line, and the service was discontinued.[9]

The three Nordic countries tried through legislative measures to regulate the activities of the foreign shipping companies and to protect their emigrating citizens in transit. During the late 1860s such laws and regulations were adopted, leaving as a result passenger and police lists as historical records. By using such sources, it is possible to get an idea of the relative success of the different lines in the indirect traffic. The Allan Line during that decade and also later captured a substantial part of the Norwegian and Danish market, and also entered with success into Swedish emigrant transportation. From Glasgow it landed its passengers in Halifax or Quebec, and from the 1870s even Montreal, for transportation to the United States. Departures in 1871 for Oslo, the major Norwegian port of embarkation, revealed that about one-third of all steamship passengers held tickets on this line. The previous year, nearly 18 percent of departures from Gothenburg were on the Allan Line, although that year the National Line sold more than 38 percent of the fares.[10]

Throughout the emigration era there was a shifting array of lines, and their fortunes in winning a share of the market fluctuated. A third of all Norwegians who emigrated to the United States in 1871 still shipped out on a Norwegian sailing vessel, but only four years later not a single direct emigrant ship left a Norwegian port. Direct transportation from Sweden had run its course by the end of the previous decade. Foreign commerce ruled supreme in the Atlantic transport of passengers, and it protected its investments. Moves by companies in Bergen and Oslo to set in steamships in competition with the Wilson Line on the route to Hull or Newcastle were, for example, in the words of Norwegian firms met with "improper business practices"; the Wilson Line presented the trans-Atlantic lines with an ultimatum to let it alone transport passengers from Norway or it would discontinue its service altogether. The agents for the foreign lines yielded. Not until 1889 could the Bergen Steamship Company (Det Bergenske Dampskibs- Selskab), and with state subsidy, make inroads into the traffic in competition with the Wilson company.[11]

It was into this harsh business environment that the founders of the Danish Thingvalla Line stepped. Norwegian commerce had failed in its efforts in the early 1870s to operate a direct steamship passenger line between the city of Bergen and New York, the Norwegian-American Steamship Company (Det Norsk-Amerikanske Dampskibs-Selskab). Motives were purely based on anticipated profit, then as with the Danish businessmen who some years later entered the competition for the emigrant trade. Both enterprises illustrated the extreme handicaps faced by the small financiers from Scandinavian countries when venturing into international commerce and finance. Norwegian emigration historian Ingrid Semmingsen insists, however, that "the Danish entrepreneurs had a much stronger commercial and organizational tradition than their Norwegian counterparts and had far larger capital resources at their disposal."[12] On the other hand, the Danes encountered more immediately the continental companies, in addition of course to those sailing from Liverpool and Glasgow. The North German lines did poorly in Norway and Sweden, while in Denmark the Hamburg-American Line (Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt Aktien-Gesellschaft), which had begun in 1847 as a sailing ship line and gone to steam in the 1850s, and the North German Lloyd (Norddeutscher Lloyd), established in Bremen in 1856, represented direct threats to British dominance in the emigrant traffic. They underbid the Liverpool companies and to their great annoyance even stopped to take passengers in Southampton. From 1874 the Hamburg and Bremen lines gained in the Danish market at the expense of the British; 22 percent of the emigrants took this route in 1874 and by 1879 44 percent, though their share declined greatly in the following years to only 13 percent in 1881, as the companies in the so-called Liverpool Circle reasserted themselves. The Thingvalla Line was also able to capture a considerable portion of the market on its direct route.[13]

The emigrant line Thingvalla emerged, as Semmingsen suggests, in an influential circle of men in Copenhagen, engaged in foreign trade, transportation, and finance. Not only the emigrant traffic, but the needs and potential of the expanding Danish agriculture held promises of profit in international shipping. The main promoter of the new company was the merchant F.W. Kjorboe, who founded it on the basis of the Sailing & Steamship Company (Seil og Dampskibsselskabet) created by a merger of smaller companies in 1873. In its fleet it had the steamship Thingvalla, that had engaged in trade with China and the United States. It made its initial crossing with emigrants in October 1879; "with sixty-seven emigrants and ten Chinese," who earlier were a part of the ship's crew. The Steamship Company Thingvalla (Dampskibsselskabet Thingvalla) was not officially organized, however, until 11 March 1880. Denmark's most prominent financier, C. F. Tietgen, who enjoyed an international reputation, had a direct voice in the founding of the new line; it was intended to transport both passengers and freight. In 1866 Tietgen had gathered most of the small Danish steamship companies in the United Steamship Company, which later tended to swallow new ones; this firm enjoyed a near hegemonic position in Denmark's domestic and international traffic. He was the president of Privatbanken (The Bank of Private Business), a premier Danish financial investment institution and Thingvalla's bank connection, and he was a major participant in the large shipyard Burmeister & Wain, as well as in numerous other enterprising ventures. Tietgen's reputation gained the confidence of shareholders and investors and guaranteed the company's fiscal credibility.[14]

A thriving trans-Atlantic passenger line would obviously stimulate economic life and give a profit on investment. Two new ships were contracted by the end of 1880, the first full year of operation; one of these was to be built by Burmeister & Wain. They were, like the Thingvalla, given melodious Icelandic names, Hekla and Geiser.[15] The new company experienced misfortunes and loss throughout its existence; in 1883 the Hekla ran aground on a reef in the Oslo fjord and was lost. It was replaced by a vessel of the same name, Hekla II. The Thingvalla Line financed new acquisitions by expanding its share capital. It eventually owned eight emigrant ships, three of which it had built on its own account, and chartered others as need dictated. Adversity pursued the company. in 1888, to the incredulity of the world, two of the company's ships were involved in a catastrophic collision; Geiser collided with Thingvalla off Newfoundland and sank with a loss of 105 lives. Its ship Danmark became a victim of the waves in 1889 on its second Atlantic crossing in the service of the company; as in the Hekla catastrophe all passengers were rescued. Norge, which the Thingvalla Line bought that same year, represented the most shocking disaster when it sank in 1904--then in the possession of the United Steamship Company -- and 627 people, crew and passengers, drowned. Its two other ships were the Island and the Amerika, the latter when acquired by the company in 1892 from the White Star Line was the largest Danish ship. But it was also the oldest ship in the Thingvalla Line' s fleet and the cause of much economic woe during the final years of the company's life. From 1882 the Thingvalla Line had its offices, transport halls, and docking operations at Larsen Plads, in view of the royal palace, in Copenhagen.[16]

Its ships were designed to transport as many steerage passengers as possible. Even though the line prided itself on the luxury and elegance it gave its salon passengers, most of the ships had limited facilities for those who traveled in cabin class, but between decks had ample albeit crowded space for its third class ticket holders. Its smallest ship Danmark had only seven first class cabins and space for 233 in steerage; Hekla II could berth 67 first and second class passengers and 804 in steerage. Its largest ship Amerika had room for only a few more. The goal was to have regular departures from Copenhagen and New York every two weeks. However, this schedule was achieved only for three of the eighteen years of the line's history; a total of 433 voyages to New York and back were made. After leaving Larsen Plads in Copenhagen, the ships would call at Gothenburg, and Oslo and Kristiansand in Norway, before heading across the North Sea and the Atlantic. Its ships might also make stops at Frederikshavn on North Jutland to board passengers; calls at the latter city were intended to counteract the success of the North German lines in Jutland. Many sources reported that from 1879, when emigration again rose, agents for the Hamburg-American Line journeyed across Jutland to offer tickets to New York at unprecedented cheap rates.[17]

The steamship lines had at their disposal a network of general agents and subagents on both sides of the Atlantic; the system developed in Scandinavia shortly after 1865. The impact on the volume of emigration of this extensive sales organization of professional agents is in some scholarly dispute, though likely few would be convinced to emigrate by the agents' activities who were not already disposed to do so. Demonstrably, the agents did have some influence on the choice of transportation. Gosta Lext claimed concerning the influential Gothenburg agent Frederick Nelson that the fact "that he represented a line guaranteed it a large part of the emigrant stream." Thingvalla's general agent in Denmark was the Copenhagen merchant N. P. Frederiksen, earlier agent for British lines. The Danish prohibition against direct transportation of emigrants from Danish ports by foreign companies, protected Danish shipping. Thingvalla had general agents in Gothenburg and Oslo, and like the other lines, in the United States, and hundreds of subagents on both sides of the Atlantic. Its general agent in America was from 1880 A. Mortensen of Chicago, a Danish-American who engaged in the transfer of money, ticket sales, and land transactions; in 1886 he entered into a partnership with the Swedish-American A. E. Johnson, who operated a similar business in Minneapolis. Johnson also served as Scandinavian general agent for a long series of American railroad companies; he was from 1890 Thingvalla's sole general agent after Mortensen's departure. The firm opened offices across the United States, including one in New York. Thingvalla's contacts in America were heralded as a great advantage to its passengers, because "from the moment they step on board until their final destination in America they are under the protection of its general agent, and it does not cost a penny extra." Johnson's agency for American railroads clearly made him an important commercial relationship for Thingvalla in the heated contest for passengers.[18]

Still, the company faced great obstacles, among these its many mishaps at sea. These accidents, writes Aage Heinberg, "again brought Danish emigrants over to foreign ships in great numbers." He might have added the Swedish and Norwegian emigrants, whose business the company also obviously solicited. In the 1880s it launched a major publicity campaign, using colorful posters, advertisements, and brochures and the testimonials from agents and satisfied customers. One of its subagents in Alborg, N. Larsen, identified well the presumed advantages offered by the Thingvalla Line. The most obvious one was the direct connection, so that "luggage once stowed on board ship will not be moved from ship to ship and from train to train and on board ship again." In its advertising the line stressed this convenience, over and over again: "the ships bring their passengers without transshipment from Scandinavia to New York and without custom inspection of luggage" until the final destination. And there was even an appeal to Scandinavian commonality and scenery; its ships passed "The Most Beautiful Route." Its subagent Larsen bravely confronted what he had heard was a claim by some Scandinavian passengers who had chosen the German or British ships that "the Thingvalla Line' s ships cannot cross the Atlantic as fast as the other lines." This was of course indisputable, the crossing requiring about two weeks from Copenhagen. It was also disturbing, considering the extreme pride and importance the Atlantic lines placed in making the voyage in record time. Thingvalla's steamers simply could not compete; its flagship the Thingvalla made only 9 3/4 knots under favorable conditions, and the company's newer ships did not improve on this speed by much. Larsen rhetorically inquired of those who favored the foreign lines if time really was of the essence that they claimed it to be. "I do not think, " he pontificated, "that their situation in America is better because they arrived a couple of days sooner, if they have not had any joy or satisfaction from the voyage, but only dissatisfaction." A contributor to the Danish newspaper Nationaltidende (The National Times), who had "entrusted himself to" one of the ships of the Ham-burg-American Line in 1892, related what he found to be inhumane treatment of steerage passengers, and the line's disturbing policy "of striving to transport the dregs of society from Europe . . . so that the most miserable, ragged, and dirty individuals were . . . lodged among the well dressed and decent passengers."[19]

Agents of the foreign companies naturally countered adverse publicity. They circulated their publicity in attractive publications, in Dano- Norwegian or Swedish, and, as stated by Heinberg, "with much energy tried to entice emigrants over to their lines." As an example, the Glasgow-based State Line emphasized the "superior quality of its ships and the care tendered its passengers in every respect -- so that no better ships cross the Atlantic." Playing on people's apprehensions, the line broadcast its "more southern course than other lines to avoid collisions and storms." It was, however, the Hamburg-American Line that the Thingvalla company "had it in for," according to Heinberg. This competitor even recruited emigrants by publishing booklets for the Scandinavian market with such titles as "Guide to a Happy Future for Emigrants Who Wish a Home in America for Themselves and Their Descendants." In 1893 it imperiled the very existence of the Danish line by creating the Scandia Line and beginning direct sailings to New York from Stettin with calls at Helsingborg and Gothenburg in Sweden, and Kristiansand in Norway (Danish law preventing its use of Danish ports). The ultimate purpose was to break the strong position of the British lines in the Nordic countries; a direct consequence for the Thingvalla Line was a dramatic decline in ticket sales, forcing the line to take ships out of service. In December, 1894, the Thingvalla Line concluded a satisfactory agreement with the German-owned entity to operate jointly in Scandinavia. The Scandia Line was, however, dissolved the next year as a result of one of the many cartel and pool agreements in the early 1890s between German and British passenger lines. Governments went to great lengths to protect national shipping interests. The well-known role of the German emigrant sanitary control stations is a telling example; these stations, in operation from 1894 because of a cholera epidemic, were entrusted to German shipping companies that consequently could obstruct transmigration from German ports and encourage passage on their direct routes. This tactic was a fiscal necessity since the epidemic left them "dividendenlos", (without stockholder dividends).[20]

Price wars were waged in the intense rivalry for the favor of potential customers. Of the means employed by the passenger lines to promote business, reduction in fares was likely the most effective in increasing the total emigration volume. The general impoverishment of the social classes most prone to go to America made financing the America ticket the major obstacle to leaving. Levels of income gradually came, as Hvidt has stated, into alignment with falling transport prices. During the final decades of the century real income rose in the laboring classes while Atlantic steerage fares fell, pressed down by technical improvements, but even more so by rivalry among the lines, and among their agents independently, since they worked with a margin on commission. [21]

Pound Sterling. But the large international shipping firms did not allow prices to fall freely. They developed international pool and conference systems intended to eliminate, or at the last minimize, harmful competition. In response to the new wave of European emigration form 1879, the old Liverpool Conference was revived in early 1880. Nine chief Danish agents of the British lines met in Copenhagen in February and declared the local Danish conference founded. They accepted the dictate from Liverpool that steerage fares between Copenhagen and New York should not drop below 105 crowns (kroner), 5.15.0, or a little more than $20. The Danish agents complained that the North German Lloyd conveyed passengers at 80 crowns. Internal rivalry among the large German lines was, however, more damaging to them than the British companies, which, aided by the lack of German solidarity, continued their dominance in the Scandinavian market. In 1885, however, the German lines united in their own conference and competed with the British one. Both cartels soon found that while the emigration boom lasted, price wars were damaging to all concerned, and in 1887 twelve Liverpool companies, three German, and the Thingvalla Line formed the North Atlantic Steamship Conference. While the agreed-upon fare for steerage was continued at 105 crowns, the Thingvalla Line, "as the smallest and most suppressed little brother," writes Hvidt, was obligated to maintain a price of 120 crowns, about $30. It was obviously damaging to its ability to compete, and deplored by Heinberg as an unfair act that the powerful international conference forcefully imposed. Thingvalla's interests were apparently ignored even more in the steerage pool agreement in 1895, encouraged by the dramatic rise in East European emigration; it was signed in London on 7 June 1898, as the British-Continental Steerage Pool, and included all the European emigrant lines. The pool agreement eliminated all real price and market competition. It strictly limited British access to the continental market, but on the other hand allotted the British lines Scandinavia as their special area.[22]

How then did the Thingvalla company do? In terms of profit it was a poor business for owners and stockholders alike. The highest dividends paid were 10 to 8 percent in 1888 and 1892 respectively, with the yield on investments fluctuating from 1 1/2 to 5 percent annually, and after 1893 investors received no returns. Fiscal loss or gain do not of course tell the whole story. The company clearly made a place for itself in the Scandinavian emigrant market in stiff competition with foreign lines. During the decade of the 1880s, as measured by departures from Gothenburg, more than 90 percent of Swedish emigrants, however, preferred the comfort and speed of a British liner -- the Cunard, White Star, and Inman lines together attracting 60 percent of the business. The Thingvalla Line did not begin independent bookings in the Swedish market until 1882, and transported close to 30,000 passengers from Sweden on its westbound route, equal to only 6.5 percent of the total emigration from 1882 to 1898. The total number from Norway was near 60,000, or almost 23 percent of the total emigration from 1881, when ticket offices were opened, and as long as the Thingvalla Line existed. Its growth in the Norwegian market gives evidence of some success. In 1882, only after one year of effort, approximately 17 percent of all westbound departures from Oslo were on one of its ships, and in 1892, ten years later, it carried one-third of all passengers on its direct traffic to America from the same port. In comparison, the British lines in both years shared roughly 60 percent of the market in their indirect transportation, with negligible showings by the continental companies.

The same lines as in Sweden dominated the Norwegian market, except for the Allan Line, which did much better in Norway than in Sweden. The Norwegian general agent for this line, A. Sharpe of Oslo, appears to have been particularly active, judging from his large number of subagents and close contact with them. The line had a long tradition as a reliable carrier, which was reinforced in immigrant letters sent back home and by various kinds of publicity. The situation in Scandinavia would suggest that the international pool agreement of 1898, giving British transportation the Scandinavian market, was merely the affirmation of an existing reality. In Denmark, of course, the Thingvalla Line, operating on its home market, did relatively speaking much better, transporting more than 48 percent of all emigrants to the United States between 1879 and 1898, though the actual number was somewhat smaller than the Norwegian figure. The company's appeal to national and ethnic loyalty in its recruitment of passengers met with most success among Danes, as one would expect; Norwegian travelers were apparently more receptive than Swedish ones to a pan-Scandinavian appeal. Joint historical memories and a common cultural and linguistic tradition promoted a sense of ethnic kinship between Norwegians and Danes that was not fully shared with Swedes. It is this Danish-Norwegian commonality that is alluded to by the commentator in the first paragraph of this article. A Norwegian would obviously feel more at home on a Danish ship than a Swede would, though the precise impact of this circumstance on the choice of conveyance remains open to question. The Thingvalla Line transported some 155,000 passengers from Scandinavia to the United States. The Danish scholar Niels Larsen concludes on the basis that 11 of 12 traveled in steerage, and only 1 of 12 in cabin, that most of them were indeed emigrants.[23]

The nationality of the emigrants cannot be determined simply by the port of embarkation; 40 percent of westbound passengers boarded in Denmark, 40 percent in Norway, and 20 percent in Sweden. The passenger lists reveal, for instance, that many Swedes left from Oslo and even much more so from Copenhagen instead of Gothenburg. This situation would also be the case for the British and German lines. Copenhagen was an especially convenient harbor; packet boats from Gothenburg or Malmo discharged their cargoes of emigrants in Nyhavn, the landing docks where the shipping companies had their offices. Nearly 43,000 Swedes departed from Copenhagen for the United States during the period 1881-1900. Hvidt explains an unusually high percentage of males among these emigrants by the fact that Copenhagen was the port of embarkation for "the more or less 'secret' Swedish emigration," especially for young men evading compulsory military service.[24]

The emigrant stream was fueled by prepaid tickets, fares paid by family, friends, or employers in the United States. These tickets expanded the social base of the emigration, permitting individuals without personal means to cross the Atlantic. Hvidt describes prepaid tickets as "the most direct form of pull in the emigration."[25] The different transport companies competed for this business through their local agents in the United States. The Allan Line's representatives in Madison, Wisconsin, Fleischer & Jurgens, solicited sale of prepaid tickets in 1869 in an advertisement in the Norwegian-language newspaper Skandinaven in Chicago, which claimed that the Allan Line was "the only passenger line emigrants had not complained about." By 1882 the Allan Line's sales organization in America accounted for 57.6 percent of its westbound passengers from Oslo that year. Only the American and National lines, albeit with far fewer total passengers, exceeded this percentage in prepaid tickets. In 1892 the Allan Line surpassed the American Line--the National Line had gone out of business in 1890-by a percentage of 73.9 in prepaid tickets. The American Line, with its obvious greater access to the American market, was only a few points behind. The other British lines combined had an average of 47 percent in prepaid ticket sales, but varying from 65 percent for the Dominion Line to 32.5 for the Anchor Line, both with small shares of the passengers, with the Cunard Line 47, White Star Line 42, and Inman Line 39 percent in prepaid tickets. Thingvalla's share of the prepaid market compared favorably with the British companies. Of its passengers from Oslo in 1882, 36 percent held tickets purchased in America and in 1892 the figure had risen to 42 percent. These numbers do credit to the company's sales apparatus in the United States, which in 1888 consisted of more than 400 subagents "around in the United States where Danishness was strongest, " who in cooperation with its general agent, then Mortensen and Johnson in partnership, effectively looked after the Thingvalla Line's commercial interests. In his cumulative statistics for Thingvalla, Larsen shows wide dissimilarities in how the use of prepaid tickets penetrated the Scandinavian market, with 28 percent of all westbound passengers from Denmark having prepaid tickets. 38.3 percent from Norway, and 46.6 percent from Sweden. Though no single explanation can be offered, Larsen suggests as one possibility the pride Danes had in a national line, making them more eager to choose it over the foreign ones. In Norway and Sweden the foreign ones were preferred, and people traveled by one of the Thingvalla liners more often only when someone else had decided for them, for example, a previously emigrated relative who sent a ticket home. Again, if Larsen's explanation is accepted and as submitted earlier, the Norwegians showed a greater preference for the Danish line than did the Swedes.[26]

The Norwegian author Knut Hamsun, later to achieve great fame, in August, 1886, went to America from Oslo on the Geiser, and shared his impressions with the readers of the Oslo newspaper Dagbladet (The Daily Journal). "On board there was a racket and an uproar," he observed as the ship left harbor. He continued: "Six hundred people pressed upon each other on deck as they dragged their loads of luggage down below into the hold! There were the impoverished mountain folk from Telemark, the bearded farmers from Denmark's inland, the stout hardworking Swedes -- dandies and paupers, failed merchants from the cities, craftsmen, old women and young girls." "It was," he concluded, "the emigrating Scandinavia." He paints a picture of travel in steerage, to be sure one influenced by his fertile mind, but yet one that captures the crowding and resulting tensions: the line's moralistic protection of the young women, who were berthed aft, with families in the middle, and single men fore; dissatisfaction with the food which was lowered into steerage, offering pork that Hamsun surmised "from its appearance had made the trip across the Atlantic before"; inadequate toilet facilities; the heavy seas and the inevitable debilitating seasickness; but also the dancing on deck that many emigrants wrote home about; and, not to forget, despite obstacles and enforced curfews, the many budding romances en route. "People were not at all satisfied with their stay on board Geiser," Hamsun concluded his lively account. A letter expressing gratitude to the captain formulated by a salon passenger, received, Hamsun stated as evidence, only one signature from steerage. The Thingvalla Line could, and did, counter such mixed reviews with positive ones, though its failure to revitalize the line with suitable new construction, eventually caused an unabated decline in its fortunes. [27]

The total loss of the Geiser in 1888 was a heavy blow, financially as well as to the line's reputation. The steamer left New York on 11 August, carrying seven cabin passengers and seventy-two in steerage --28 Swedes, 30 Norwegians, and 21 Danes -- and a crew of 26, all of whom perished in the shocking collision with Thingvalla on 14 August. Geiser sank in the course of only five minutes. The ensuing settlement dragged on, and even though by modern standards compensations were totally inadequate, they did affect the company adversely. As late as 1892 a Swede, Nils Nilsson, after exhausting his options, settled for the loss of his daughter Ellen, one of the seven salon passengers, in an amount of 187.50 crowns, less than fifty dollars, which covered the price of her ticket, the value of her luggage, and cash in her possession, since, as he wrote, "it is in no one's power to compensate for her life."[28]

The eastbound service transported some 65,000 passengers, which when added to the number of prepaid tickets, show that 55 percent of total ticket sales were made in the United States. In 1894 the number of those traveling from New York to Scandinavia exceeded the westbound traffic. Most of the eastbound passengers were, in the opinion of Larsen, remigrants. The industrial depression beginning in 1893 may to a large extent explain both a decline in emigration and an increase in remigration in 1894, which like the movement out was sensitive to shifting economic circumstances. Larsen maintains that the Thingvalla Line had a firmer hold on people relocating in Scandinavia than on those moving overseas; no fully satisfactory explanation can be offered, except perhaps that in addition to the obvious advantage of a direct connection pan-Scandinavian sentiments surfaced more easily when returning than when departing. Tourism and Scandinavians paying a visit home would account for the remainder.

The Thingvalla Line's poor financial performance was less a consequence of insufficient traffic than the many misfortunes it suffered, which left little capital for a renewal of its fleet. The line yielded a profit in less than half of its years of operation, and then only a small margin. Its passenger traffic consistently revealed a deficit. A positive balance was achieved only from its second source of income, freight and goods, which accounted for from one-half to three-fourths of total earnings. Its ships transported mainly grain and fodder to Scandinavia and miscellaneous cargo in return. The Thingvalla Line also enjoyed a monopoly on mail conveyance between the United States and Scandinavia. Some commentators have blamed the opening of the free port in Copenhagen in 1894 as a contributing cause of its demise. The company could not take advantage of the opportunities it created in international commerce, and Danish shipping, which experienced major growth, directed its resources to more promising investments than the Danish direct line. It was Thingvalla itself that contacted the United Steamship Company to negotiate a sale. These two lines were actually closely allied, in part owned by the same shareholders, even though they competed in the Atlantic freight market. By the end of 1897 acceptable terms had been concluded, and on 1 January 1898, the line, in the words of Heinberg, "praised in verse and prose, " ceased all independent activity.[29]

The Scandinavian-American Line, which was operated by the United Steamship Company within the financial sphere of interest of Privatbanken, began direct service to America in October, 1898, with four of the ships of the defunct Thingvalla Line. It entered the transAtlantic passenger and freight trade at a fortunate time; there was a world shortage of tonnage from which the United Steamship Company could benefit. The passenger service continued to meet stiff competition and economic crisis. Until new ships could be acquired, the line's ships could not even attain a speed of 11 knots. It survived the bitter price wars originating in John Pierpont Morgan's monopolistic endeavors to dictate Atlantic passenger and freight tariffs through his International Mercantile Marine Company. The contest lasted through the final great wave of European emigration.[30]

Norwegian and Swedish shipping interests had long envied the Danes' direct line, and, likely "it was a thorn in their eye," as an historian has suggested.[31] Not all Swedes or Norwegians agreed; opponents of the loss of citizens through emigration viewed an escalation of the exodus as an inevitable result of direct passenger service by nationally owned lines. It was, they claimed, as if people were encouraged to depart their homelands. For whatever reasons -- likely most of them were economic in nature -- the failure of Norway and Sweden, with far larger emigrations than Denmark, to participate in the passenger transit by steam was a fact of the nineteenth century movement. Scandinavian emigration in this century peaked in 1903, but was still high in 1907, when America reached a peak in the immigration of that period.

Only after that time, when the overseas exodus had run its course, did Norway and Sweden successfully emulate the Danes, and then apparently only with the assistance of a maturing and enthusiastic Scandinavian- American community. Initiatives came from Scandinavia. Half of the capital for the Norwegian America Line, which began direct sailings between Norway and the United States in 1913, had been raised among Norwegian Americans. The Swedish American Line, founded the following year, conducted the maiden voyage of its passenger liner the Stockholm in 1915; like the Norwegian line it met with much good will as it sought to sell shares to emigrated compatriots. A convention of ministers in the Swedish Augustana Lutheran Church even passed a motion for its members to support the firm in its "struggle to effect the establishment of a direct mail and passenger route between Sweden and North America. " The two new Nordic direct lines were a source of national and ethnic pride on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet, their late arrival on the scene, the interruption of service during World War I, as well as the relatively modest emigration from Scandinavia during the 1920s, reduced their involvement in the transportation of emigrants. Instead, joining the Danish Scandinavian-American Line, they catered just as much to tourism. There was a near balance in the number of passengers in both directions. Some were obviously remigrants. But, clearly, immigrants residing permanently in the United States, some perhaps having invested in the new lines, the descendants of immigrants, as well as American tourists, discovered Scandinavia. The three Scandinavian lines became, as Algot Mattsson states about the Swedish one, "a real link between the children and grandchildren of Sweden's first emigrant generation and the country of their origin." It created a profitable two-way transportation of passengers. The Thingvalla Line's main concern had been the one-way traffic west. In the latter contest for a share of the transportation market the Danish direct line had achieved only modest success and ultimately failed in the intense competition with powerful international mercantile establishments.[32]


1. Morgenbladet, 29 June 1890. The quote in the title is also from this source. The contributor apparently was not an emigrant and traveled as a cabin passenger. Perhaps he was an agent for the Thingvalla Line, employed as a promoter under the so-called "Yankee system," whereby earlier emigrants were given free passes and commissions to encourage their compatriots to buy tickets on the line they represented. He is identified only as "f." All translations are the author's.

2. The main sources are the Thingvalla Line Archives and the Scandinavian- American Line Archives in the Danish National Archives for Labor and Industry (Statens erhvervshistoriske arkiv) in Arhus. I wish to thank the staff for generous assistance and hospitality. See also Niels Larsen, "The Danish Atlantic Transport System 1880-1900" in From Scandinavia to America: Proceedings from a Conference Held at Gl. Holtegaard, ed. Steefen Helmet Jorgensen, Lars Scheving, and Niels Peter Stilling (Odense, Denmark, 1987), pp. 117-132, Holger Munchaus Petersen and Jens Lorentzen, Rejsen til Amerika -- med Thingvalla liniens undvandrerskibe for 1898 (Copenhagen, 1977), and Aage Heinberg, Over Atlanten fraog til Danmark gennem tiderne (Copenhagen, 1936).

3. Heinberg, Over Atlanten, p. 176.

4. Petersen and Lorentzen, Rejsen til Amerika, pp. 29-34; Thomas W. Page, "The Transportation of Immigrants and Reception Arrangements in the Nineteenth Century," The Journal of Political Economy, 19 (1911): 732-749; Stanley C. Johnson, A History of Emigration from the United Kingdom to North America 1763-1912 (London, 1966), pp. 120-122.

5. Gosta Lext, Studier rorande svensk emigration till Nordamerika 1850-1880 (Gothenburg, 1977), pp. 212-213; Erich Murken, Die grossen transatlantischen Linienreederei-Verbande, Pools und Interessengemeinschaften bis zum Ausbruch des Weltkrieges (Jena, 1922), p. 12; Odd S. Lovoll, The Promise of America: A History of the Norwegian-American People (Minneapolis, 1984), pp. 16, 28; Sten Carlsson, "Chronology and Composition of Swedish Emigration to America," in From Sweden to America: A History of the Migration, ed. Harald Runblom and Hans Norman (Minneapolis, 1976), pp. 117-118; Helmer Pedersen, "Danish Emigration History," in >From Scandinavia to America, ed. Jorgensen, Scheving, and Stilling, p. 15; Kristian Hvidt, Flugten til Amerika (Arhus, 1971), pp. 80- 95. See also Marcus Lee Hansen, The Atlantic Migration, 1607-1860 (Cambridge, Mass., 1940), the chapter titled "The Great Migration, " pp. 280-306.

6. Johnson, History of Emigration, p. 122, shows that in 1863, when steam carried six-sevenths of all British passengers, the death rate during the crossing had fallen from 1.005 percent in 1840 to .19 percent. Page, "Transportation of Immigrants," p. 737; H.J. Dyos and D.H. Aldcroft, British Transport: An Economic Survey from the Seventeenth Century to the Twentieth (Leicester, 1971), pp. 243-244; C.R. Vernon Gibbs, British Passenger Liners of the Five Oceans (London, 1963), pp. 173-179.

7. D.B. Tyler, Steam Conquers the Atlantic (New York, 1939), p. 197; Dyos and Aldcroft, British Transport, pp. 243-247; Gibbs, British Passenger Liners, pp. 210214.

8. Murken, Die grossen transatlantischen Linienreederei-Verbande, pp. 215-218; Tyler, Steam Conquers the Atlantic, pp. 306-307, 338- 339, 343, 352-353, 358-359, 360, 370; Gibbs, British Passenger Liners, pp. 271-272, 286; Lext, Studier rorande svensk emigration, pp. 255, 258-259.

R.S. McLellan, Anchor Line 1856-1956 (Glasgow, 1956), p. 28; Ingrid Semmingsen, Veien not vest, 2 vols. (Oslo, 1941, 1950), 2:158-165; Hvidt, Flugten til Amerika, p. 361; Lext, Studier rorande svensk emigration, pp. 98-99; Norsk Folkeblad (Oslo), 3 June 1871.

Hvidt, Flugten til Amerika, pp. 361, 417; Lars-Goran Tedebrand, "Sources for the History of Swedish Emigration," in From Sweden to America, ed. Runblom and Norman, pp. 88-91; "Kristiania Politikammer Journal over Agenter, 18671910" and "Kristiania Politikammer Emigrantprotokoller, " both in the State Archives in Oslo.

Semmingsen, Veien mot vest, 2:159; Lext, Studier rorande svensk emigration, p. 227; Tyler, Steam Conquers the Atlantic, p. 359; Odd Lovoll, A Century of Urban Life: The Norwegians in Chicago before 1930 (Northfield, Minn., 1988), p. 77.

Semmingsen, Veien mos vest, 2:141-144. Quote on p. 144.

Tyler, Steam Conquers the Atlantic, pp. 253, 359; Hvidt, Flugten til Amerika, pp. 251, 461, 467-468; Murken, Die grossen transatlantischen Linienreederei-Verbande, p. 150; Gibbs, British Passenger Liners, pp. 271-272; Lext, Studier rorande svensk emigration, pp. 262, 265- 266. There were also the Holland-American Line, founded in 1872, and the Red Star Line from 1873; the latter, though sailing under the Belgian flag, was American-owned, and was like the Guion Line evidence of how the Civil War had placed the United States at a tremendous disadvantage in international shipping. Financing and controlling foreign steamship lines were ways to benefit from the transportation needs created by the mass European emigration to its shores.

Hvidt, Flugten til Amerika, p. 362; Petersen and Lorentzen, Rejsen til Amerika, pp. 17-22; Heinberg, Over Atlanten, pp. 76-9, 332; Sv. Cedergreen Bech, ed., Dansk biografisk leksikon, vol. 14 (Copenhagen, 1983), pp. 607-613; Poul Graae, Hundrede a pa havene. Der Forenede Dampskibs-Selskab 1866-1966 (Copenhagen, 1966), pp. 93-94.

The "Thingvalla" was built in 1874, at a time when Iceland celebrated the millenium of Norse settlement. As the first Danish king to do so, King Christian IX on that occasion paid a visit to his Icelandic subjects. The Icelandic parliament (Althing), established in 930, convened on the Thingvalla plains. These circumstances may explain the choice of name. See Petersen and Lorentzen, Rejsen til Amerika, p. 20.

Petersen and Lortentzen, Rejsen til Amerika, pp. 22, 23, 26, 76- 85; Larsen, "The Danish Atlantic Transport System," p. 119; Heinberg, Over Atlanten, p. 107.

Hvidt, "Emigration Agents," in Scandinavian Journal of History, 3, 2 (1978): 197; Petersen and Lorentzen, Rejsen til Amerika, pp. 32, 76-85, 95; Heinberg, Over Atlanten, pp. 105, 135; Soren Wust, ed., I am fodt i Danmark--en beskrivelse af den danske udvandring til Amerika i perioden 1868 til 1814 (Copenhagen, 1984), pp. 1-4.

Lext, Studier rorande Svensk emigration, p. 263; Heinberg, Over Atlanten, pp. 78-79, 106; Hvidt, Flugten til Amerika, p. 431, 480. Agent Johnson's connection with both the Thingvalla Line and American railroads suggests the mutual economic interests of the steamship and railroad companies in the emigrant traffic. Extensive cooperation developed between them.

For a discussion of the impact of the agent system, see Semmingsen, Veien mot vest, 2:86-139, and Hvidt, "Emigration Agents," pp. 179- 202, which tend to emphasize its significance in encouraging emigration, and the two studies, Berit Brattne, Broderna Larsson. En studie i svensk emigrantagentverksamhet under 1880--talet (Uppsala, 1973), and Hans Norman, Fran Bergslagen till Nordamerika (Uppsala, 1974), which both stress that the agent system had a minimal impact on the volume of emigration since the spread of information about America existed independently of the system. The author's own study of the activity of a subagent in Norway, "En utvandringsagent pa Ringsaker, " Heimen, 18 (1979): 149-156, supports the latter view.

19. Heinberg, Over Atlanten, pp. 105-107, 136-137; Petersen and Lorentzen, Rejsen til Amerika, pp. 27, 39; Graae, Hundrede ar pa havene, p. 108.

20. Heinberg, Over Atlanten, pp. 156-159; Petersen and Lorentzen, Rejsen til Amerika, p. 29; Murken, Die grossen transatlantischen Linienreederei- Verbande, pp. 35, 45, 61; Hvidt, "Emigration Agents," pp. 201-202; Arvid Frihagen, Linjekonferanser og kartellovgivning (Oslo, 1963), pp. 43-47; Osborne Mance, International Sea Transport (London, 1945), pp. 111-112.

21. Hvidt, "Emigration Agents," pp. 192-194; Murken, Die grossen transatlantischen Linienreederei-Verbande, p. 16.

22. Hvidt, Flugten til Amerika, p. 476; Murken, Die grossen transatlantischen Linienreederei-Verbande, pp. 18-19, 68; Heinberg, Over Atlanten, p. 105. The British lines were limited to 6 percent of all emigration from continental ports between Cronstadt and Bordeaux.

23. Emigration from Sweden, 1882-1898, was about 456,000, from Norway 1881-1898, 264,000, and from Denmark 1880-1898, 123,000. See Carlsson, "Chronology and Composition," pp. 117-118; Julie E. Backer, Ekteskap, fodsler og vandringer i Norge 1856-1960 (Oslo, 1965), p. 158, and Larsen, "The Danish Atlantic Transport System," p. 127.

Brattne, Broderna Larsson, pp. 98-99; Petersen and Lorentzen, Rejsen til Amerika, p. 33; Larsen, "The Danish Atlantic Transport System, " pp. 124-128. I examined the passenger lists for the Thingvalla Line for 1886 and its accounting book for the years 1886-1888, "1886-88 rejsebog," at Erhvervsarkivet in Arhus, which support Larsen's conclusions. It would, however, be possible, using these same sources, to arrive at a more precise identification of the passengers as to status and nationality.

The figures for Norway are based on an analysis of the information in the emigrant police protocols in the State Archives in Oslo. A. Sharpe, as general agent in Norway for the Allan Line, had, for instance, in 1881 as many as 619 subagents throughout the country. His correspondence with his subagent at Ringsaker, north of Oslo, has been examined, giving much evidence of effective promotion of the Allan Line. This correspondence is in the Emigrant Museum archives at Hamar.

24. Larsen, "The Danish Atlantic Transport System," p. 128; Hvidt, Flugten til Amerika, p. 189; Hvidt, "Emigration Agents," p. 181.

25. Hvidt, Flugten til Amerika, p. 478.

26. "Kristiania Politikammer Emigrantprotokoller." The calculations on prepaid tickets for 1882 and 1892 are based on westbound passages only. Skandinaven, 6 October 1869; Gibbs, British Passenger Liners, p. 239; Larsen, "The Danish Atlantic Transport System," pp. 126-127; Hvidt, Flugten til Amerika, p. 480.

27. Dagbladet (Oslo), 1.4, 21 November 1886.

28. Erhvervsarkivet in Arhus has a large and valuable collection on the "Geiser" shipwreck and pursuant settlements. This collection includes passenger lists, correspondence, and a detailed accounting of compensations. There are also copies of "Agents Advice," or the tickets as issued, for all passengers, showing price and commission, as well as destination in Scandinavia.

29. Larsen, "The Danish Atlantic Transport System," pp. 123, 127, 129, 130; Petersen and Lorentzen, Rejsen til Amerika, pp. 29-34; Graae, Hundrede ar pa havene, pp. 105-106; Heinberg, Over Atlanten, p. 176.

30. Graae, Hundrede ar pa havene, pp. 105, 108-117; Hvidt, Flugten til Amerika, p. 367.

31. Petersen and Lorentzen, Rejsen til Amerika, p. 16.

32. Lovoll, A Century of Urban Life, p. 245; Birger Osland, A Long Pull from Stayanger : The Reminiscences of a Norwegian Immigrant (Northfield, Minn., 1945), pp. 70-101; Algot Mattsson, Vagen mot Vaster. En bok om emigrationen och Svenska Amerika Linien (Stockholm, 1982), pp. 103-107, 125; Algot Mattsson, De flytande palatsen, The White Viking Line, tr. David Jones (Gothenburg, 1987), p. 9.


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