Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Line Begins Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

From its inception, the Hamburg-Amerika Line rapidly increased in size and scope, and it transported hundreds of thousands of Europeans emigrants to the New World, mostly the United States.

Summary of Event

Located at the mouth of Germany’s Weser River, Bremen pioneered transatlantic travel to the New World. It was the first German port for German Germany;emigration from emigrants, partly because the prohibitive tolls on the Weser and Rhine were mostly eliminated by 1840 and because Bremen had, in 1832, passed laws to protect emigrants from unscrupulous travel agents and local merchants. Hamburg, on the Elbe River and ideally situated to accommodate transatlantic shipping and travel, was, on the other hand, wary of the diseases and problems the emigrants brought with them. Between 1836 and 1846, 90 percent of the emigrants departing from Germany left from Bremen. Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Line[Hamburg Amerika Shipping Line] Steamships;Hamburg-Amerika line Ballin, Albert Germany;shipping companies [kw]Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Line Begins (1847) [kw]Amerika Shipping Line Begins, Hamburg- (1847) [kw]Shipping Line Begins, Hamburg-Amerika (1847) [kw]Line Begins, Hamburg-Amerika Shipping (1847) [kw]Begins, Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Line (1847) Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Line[Hamburg Amerika Shipping Line] Steamships;Hamburg-Amerika line Ballin, Albert Germany;shipping companies [g]Germany;1847: Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Line Begins[2490] [g]United States;1847: Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Line Begins[2490] [c]Transportation;1847: Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Line Begins[2490] [c]Immigration;1847: Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Line Begins[2490] [c]Trade and commerce;1847: Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Line Begins[2490] [c]Economics;1847: Hamburg-Amerika Shipping Line Begins[2490] Godeffroy, Adolph Bolten, August Laiesz, Ferdinand Halle, Adolph Meier, Hermann Heinrich

Hamburg, however, was aware of the economic advantages of foreign trade and so enacted legislation in 1855 to protect emigrants; Hamburg’s transatlantic trade would increase dramatically. Hapag (Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft), a company founded in 1847 by a group of Hamburg ship owners and ship brokers (Adolph Godeffroy, Godeffroy, Adolph August Bolten Bolten, August , and Ferdinand Laiesz Laiesz, Ferdinand ) and banker Adolph Halle was the prime beneficiary of increased trade and became by the 1880’s the largest passenger line on the Elbe, partly because profits were plowed back into the company, which desired to expand.

German emigrants embarking for the United States on a Hamburg-Amerika ship.

(National Archives)

The upstart Carr Line became a competitor on the Elbe because it offered direct passage from Germany to the United States(Hapag first offered indirect routing through Southampton, England) and because decks were added to its freighters, enabling the line to carry more passengers. After 1881, a price war raged between the two lines, but the conflict was resolved in 1886, when Hapag acquired not only Carr but also the chief of its passenger division, Albert Ballin, who had been responsible for Carr’s success. Before working for Carr, Ballin had been the sole owner of Morris & Company, Emigration Agents, which had signed up one-third of the passengers that were headed for the United States indirectly through England.

As a result of the acquisition of Carr in 1886, Hapag was twenty-second in tonnage among passenger and freight lines, behind companies Great Britain;shipping companies France;shipping companies Italy;shipping companies in Great Britain (Peninsula and Orient, British-India Line, J. A. Allan), France (Messageries Maritimes, Compagnie Générale Transatlantique) and Italy (Navigazione Generale). Its largest German rival was Bremen’s Norddeutscher Lloyd, founded by businessman Hermann Heinrich Meier Meier, Hermann Heinrich . After Lloyd launched its Schnelldampfer, a real ocean liner, Hapag followed suit with its Auguste Victoria and Fuerst Bismarck in 1889 and 1890, respectively. The shift from sail to steam increased the size and speed of the passenger ships, and the Hamburg-Amerika Line, which had gone to biweekly voyages in 1858, began weekly runs about ten years later.





Because of Hamburg-Amerika’s growth, more emigrants were able to depart Europe from Hamburg in 1891 than from Bremen. By 1900 more emigrants left from Hamburg than from any other European city, except for Liverpool, which was the port of choice for the Irish. The Hamburg-Amerika passenger ships were typically between 2,500 and 5,000 tons, 375 feet by 40 feet in size, and carried several hundred passengers; sometimes hundreds more were crowded onto the ships. Despite the overcrowding, the line lost about 150 passengers only—many of them infants, some born at sea—out of 100,000 passengers. The only significant loss at sea involved the Cimbria, which suffered a collision and sank in 1883.

Ballin, who was instrumental in the decision to produce true ocean liners, was added to the board of directors in 1888 and became managing director the following year. He had faced a serious outbreak of cholera Cholera among emigrants in 1892. When almost ten thousand people died in Hamburg because of cholera, which was believed to have been brought there by Russian emigrants, the line almost closed down for two years. As a stopgap measure, a kind of barracks arrangement was erected at the Hamburg port; poorer emigrants stayed there, and richer emigrants were lodged within the city.

Hamburg-Amerika and Lloyd also cooperated in establishing checkpoints at the border cities, where prospective emigrants were checked for finances and also subjected to disinfectants. Only emigrants with tickets on the Hamburg-Amerika and Lloyd lines were allowed to cross the border, enabling the two lines to have a virtual monopoly on the emigrant trade.

Two years later the line and the Hamburg officials increased the size of the port facilities by building the Auswandererhallen, a passenger depot that provided baths, lodging, restaurants, churches, and synagogues. Quarantines were strictly enforced, and disinfection facilities were made available. Ballin, who pushed the original Hapag motto “Mein Feld ist die Welt” (my field is the world), encouraged the creation of the North Atlantic Steamship Association, which included Hapag, Lloyd, the Belgian Red Star Line, and the Holland-America Line. The association was to create a kind of cartel; members would agree on common pricing and would apportion shares of transatlantic travel. In 1893, Hapag became the Hamburg-Amerika Line.

Aware of shifting economic conditions, Ballin saw that freight, and not passengers, would be the base of the company’s transatlantic fortune. He then created the Pennsylvania, the largest ship afloat in 1896 and one that could accommodate a great deal of freight. Despite having labor problems, by 1900 the Hamburg-Amerika Line was the largest steamship company in the world, with more tonnage than the entire merchant marine of any continental company.


The Hamburg-Amerika Line played an essential role in transporting Immigration;to United States[United States] European emigrants, especially those from Russia, Sweden, Romania, Romania;emigration from Denmark, Denmark;emigration from and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Of the 1.5 million Russian Jews Jews;in Russia[Russia] Jews;immigrants who emigrated between 1881 and 1914, 50 percent left Europe from Hamburg, and 82 percent emigrated to the United States. The company provided relatively inexpensive transportation for the thousands of Europeans fleeing their countries because of repression, financial hardships, and starvation. They came in droves to the United States, which promised them a new start. The incredible surge in the population of the United States is directly attributable to the immigrants who came to the United States during these latter years of the nineteenth century and the years preceding World War I.

Under Ballin’s leadership, the Hamburg-Amerika Line was noted for its luxury ocean liners as well. By 1918—the year Ballin committed suicide—it was a world leader in transatlantic travel. The German Reich would be the majority shareholder of the line (and of Norddeutscher Lloyd) beginning in 1934 and through World War II. The line, which had come under the control of Americans sympathetic to the Nazis and intent on doing business with the Germans despite the war, was seized by the U.S. government in 1942, albeit temporarily. In 1970, the Hamburg-Amerika Line and its longtime competitor Norddeutscher Lloyd merged and became Hapag-Lloyd.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brinnin, John Malcolm, and Kenneth Gaulin. Grand Luxe: The Transatlantic Style. New York: Henry Holt, 1988. Discusses the ocean liners that the Hamburg-Amerika Line developed in the 1890’s. Well illustrated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cecil, Lamar. Albert Ballin: Business and Politics in Imperial Germany, 1888-1918. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1967. A thorough treatment, almost a biography, of Albert Ballin, considered the architect of the Hamburg-Amerika Line. The only extended history of the line in English.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft. Sixty Years of Ocean Navigation and the Half Century Anniversary of the Establishment of the First Line of Steamships Flying a German Flag. New York: Hamburg-American Line, 1906. An early publication by the Hamburg-Amerika Line. Includes photographs of the line’s ships.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hansen, Marcus Lee. The Atlantic Migration, 1607-1860: A History of the Continuing Settlement of the United States. New York: Harper & Bros., 1961. The chapter “The Great Migration” discusses the emigrants from Germany and Ireland and examines the problems involving transatlantic travel and government restrictions on emigration.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nugent, Walter. Crossings: The Great Transatlantic Migrations, 1870-1914. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992. Discusses the development of the Hamburg-Amerika Line and the changes the company made to accommodate emigrants preparing for the transatlantic voyage.

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Categories: History