Until the mid 19th century immigrants were instructed to bring along their food for the voyage across the Atlantic. Then in 1848 the US Congress required shipping lines to provide cooled food for their passengers. It was not until the 1880’s that ships were built specifically for carrying passengers. Previously converted cargo ships had been used.
Steamship lines promoted the American dream abroad including posters showing partying on board ship. The reality for steerage passengers was quite different. Steerage is that part of the ship assigned to passengers traveling at the cheapest rates. Steerage passengers were located in the lower decks, usually towards the bow where pitching and rolling were the worse; near engine noises, and in windowless areas. These poorer class immigrants were jammed into these areas as “two legged cattle” spending much of the time in narrow bunks in a very unhealthy atmosphere.
To make matters worse the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean was rarely a smooth one. The voyage took anywhere from 6-12 days depending upon the weather. There were frequent storms and high seas. Ships pitched back and forth. Seasickness effected all but a few.
"The story is told of some passengers coming on deck to get some fresh air. One fell asleep by the railing. The man next to him was not so lucky. Despite the fresh air he became seasick and vomited on the lap of the sleeping man. Aroused by something, the fellow awoke and saw himself covered by vomit. The perpetrator, too embarrassed to admit his being the cause-quickly turned to his victim and said, “Do you feel better now?"
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