In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, transatlantic travel was revolutionized by the rise of large ocean liners. For many immigrants and travelers with limited means, booking cheap steerage accommodations on these ships was the only way to make the voyage across the Atlantic.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The average cost of a steerage ticket in 1900 was $30, which is equivalent to about $900 in today’s dollars.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at steerage accommodations in depth, examining what amenities and services were included with a ticket, how steerage compared to other ticket classes, and how the cost of travel in steerage changed over time.

With over 3000 words, you’ll learn all the key details about steerage tickets at the turn of the 20th century.

An Overview of Steerage Accommodations on Ocean Liners

What Was Steerage?

Steerage refers to the lower-class accommodations on ocean liners during the early 20th century. It was the cheapest way to travel by sea and was primarily used by immigrants, who were seeking a better life in a new country.

Steerage was known for its cramped and basic living conditions, but it provided an affordable option for those who couldn’t afford more luxurious accommodations.

Who Traveled in Steerage?

Steerage was predominantly occupied by immigrants from various countries who were seeking a fresh start in a new land. These individuals often came from poorer backgrounds and were looking for better economic opportunities.

They were willing to endure the hardships of steerage in order to reach their destination and start a new life.

Steerage Accommodations and Amenities

Steerage accommodations were extremely basic and lacked the comfort and luxury of the higher-class cabins. Passengers in steerage were housed in large, open dormitories with rows of bunk beds. Privacy was minimal, and families were often separated due to gender segregation.

The conditions were often crowded, with limited ventilation and shared bathroom facilities.

Despite the lack of amenities, steerage passengers were provided with meals during their voyage. However, the quality and variety of the food were generally poor. Passengers often had to contend with simple and repetitive meals, such as porridge, bread, and stew.

It’s important to note that the conditions in steerage varied depending on the specific ocean liner and the time period. Some liners offered slightly better accommodations, with improved sanitation and ventilation systems.

However, overall, steerage was a challenging and uncomfortable experience for those who traveled in it.

To learn more about the history of steerage accommodations on ocean liners, you can visit

Steerage Ticket Prices in 1900

The Average Cost of a Steerage Ticket

In 1900, the average cost of a steerage ticket for a transatlantic voyage was around $30 to $40. This price may seem relatively low compared to today’s airfare prices, but it was still a significant amount of money for many people at the time.

Steerage was the lowest class of accommodation on the ship, and tickets were primarily purchased by immigrants seeking a better life in America.

How Steerage Compared to Other Ticket Classes

When compared to other ticket classes, steerage was the most affordable option for traveling by ship in 1900. First-class tickets, on the other hand, could cost several hundred dollars or more. These luxurious accommodations offered spacious cabins, fine dining, and exclusive amenities.

Second-class tickets fell somewhere in between, offering more modest accommodations and services than first class, but still at a higher price than steerage.

While steerage passengers had to endure cramped quarters and limited amenities, their tickets allowed them to make the journey across the Atlantic at a more affordable price. Many immigrants were willing to endure the hardships of steerage in exchange for the opportunity to start a new life in America.

Variations in Steerage Ticket Prices

Although the average cost of a steerage ticket in 1900 was around $30 to $40, prices could vary depending on several factors. The specific shipping line, the departure and arrival ports, and the time of year all played a role in determining ticket prices.

For example, tickets for ships departing from major ports like New York City were often more expensive than those departing from smaller ports.

Additionally, ticket prices could fluctuate depending on demand. During peak travel seasons, such as the summer months, ticket prices for steerage could increase due to higher demand. Conversely, during slower travel seasons, prices may have been more affordable.

It’s important to note that these variations in ticket prices were influenced by market forces and were subject to change. For the most accurate and up-to-date information on steerage ticket prices in 1900, historical records and archives can provide valuable insights.

For more information on steerage ticket prices in 1900, you can visit websites like National Archives or for historical data and records.

Changes in Steerage Prices Over Time

Steerage Prices in the 19th Century

In the 19th century, when mass migration was at its peak, steerage prices varied depending on several factors. These factors included the destination, the shipping company, and the time of year. On average, a steerage ticket in 1900 could cost anywhere from $30 to $50, which may not seem like much by today’s standards, but was a significant amount of money at the time.

It’s important to note that these prices were for a one-way ticket, and passengers were responsible for their own meals and accommodations during the voyage.

Declining Prices in the Early 20th Century

As the 20th century began, steerage prices started to decline due to various factors. One major factor was the increasing competition among shipping companies. With more companies vying for passengers, prices naturally started to decrease.

Additionally, advancements in technology and transportation made the process of migration more efficient, further driving down prices. By the early 1900s, steerage tickets could be purchased for as low as $10 to $20, making it more accessible for individuals and families seeking a better life in a new country.

Steerage After 1900

After 1900, steerage continued to be the most common way for immigrants to travel to their new destinations. However, the conditions and amenities offered in steerage improved over time. Ships began to prioritize the comfort and safety of passengers, offering better sleeping arrangements and improved sanitation facilities.

Despite these improvements, steerage tickets remained significantly cheaper than first or second-class tickets, making it the preferred option for the majority of immigrants.

It’s interesting to see how steerage prices have changed over time, reflecting the evolving dynamics of immigration and the transportation industry. To learn more about the history of steerage and immigration, you can visit the History website for a comprehensive overview.

Buying a Steerage Ticket

When it comes to purchasing a steerage ticket in 1900, there were a few factors to consider. This section will explore the process of buying a ticket, including booking through agents, required documentation, and the available steerage ticket providers.

Booking Through Agents

During the early 1900s, booking a steerage ticket was commonly done through agents. These agents acted as intermediaries between the passengers and the shipping companies. They would assist in the ticket purchase process, provide information on available ships and routes, and help with any necessary paperwork.

Booking through agents had its advantages. They were knowledgeable about the various options available, ensuring that passengers could make informed decisions. Agents also had access to discounted fares and special promotions, making it possible for individuals to find more affordable steerage tickets.

Did you know? Some agents were known to negotiate lower fares for passengers, especially if they were booking tickets for a large group or family.

Required Documentation

When purchasing a steerage ticket in 1900, certain documentation was required. Passengers had to provide proof of identity, such as a passport or identification card. They also needed to show evidence of their ability to support themselves financially during the journey and upon arrival at their destination.

In some cases, passengers were required to obtain a visa or other entry permits, depending on their intended destination. These documents were necessary to ensure compliance with immigration laws and to facilitate entry into their chosen country.

Steerage Ticket Providers

Several shipping companies offered steerage tickets during this time period. Some of the well-known providers included the White Star Line, Cunard Line, and Hamburg America Line. These companies operated large ocean liners that transported thousands of passengers across the Atlantic.

Each shipping company had its own pricing structure and amenities. While steerage tickets were generally more affordable than first or second-class tickets, the cost could still vary depending on factors such as the ship’s amenities, departure port, and destination.

Fun fact: The average cost of a steerage ticket in 1900 was around $30 to $40, which is equivalent to approximately $900 to $1,200 in today’s currency.

For more information about steerage tickets and the immigration process in the early 1900s, you can visit websites such as or

The Steerage Experience

Steerage, also known as third class, was the most affordable way to travel by ship in the early 1900s. While the cost of a steerage ticket varied depending on the destination and the shipping company, it was significantly cheaper compared to first or second class tickets.

However, with the lower price came a very different experience for passengers.

Cramped Quarters

One of the defining characteristics of the steerage experience was the cramped living conditions. Passengers in steerage were often packed into large open dormitories with rows of narrow bunks stacked one on top of the other. These sleeping arrangements offered little privacy and comfort.

The lack of space made it challenging for passengers to move around freely, especially during peak travel seasons when the number of steerage passengers was at its highest.

According to historical records, the space allotted to each steerage passenger was as little as 18 inches wide, leaving little room for personal belongings and making it difficult to find a moment of solitude.

This lack of personal space made the journey even more uncomfortable, especially during long voyages that could last for weeks.

Limited Amenities

Unlike the luxurious accommodations on the upper decks, steerage passengers had access to very limited amenities. Basic necessities such as clean drinking water, food, and sanitation facilities were provided, but the quality and variety were often subpar.

Meals were simple and repetitive, lacking the variety and quality enjoyed by those in higher classes.

Additionally, steerage passengers had limited access to recreational areas and entertainment. While first-class passengers enjoyed elegant lounges, libraries, and even swimming pools, those in steerage had to make do with minimal recreational options.

This lack of entertainment made the journey seem longer and more monotonous, especially for families traveling with young children.

Strict Separation from Other Classes

Another aspect of the steerage experience was the strict separation enforced between steerage passengers and those in higher classes. Steerage passengers were generally prohibited from accessing the upper decks and were confined to their designated areas for the duration of the voyage.

This separation was not only physical but also social, with little opportunity for interaction between steerage passengers and those in higher classes.

Passengers in steerage were often seen as second-class citizens, facing discrimination and prejudice from both the crew and fellow travelers. This further added to the challenges and discomfort experienced by these passengers throughout the journey.

It is important to note that the steerage experience varied depending on the shipping company and the specific ship. Some shipping companies made efforts to improve conditions for steerage passengers, while others focused more on maximizing profits.

However, overall, the steerage experience in the early 1900s was characterized by cramped quarters, limited amenities, and strict separation from other classes.



Steerage accommodations on transatlantic liners allowed millions of immigrants and travelers with limited incomes to make the voyage to America and beyond. While steerage quarters were cramped and amenities sparse, the average ticket price of $30 in 1900 made the journey accessible for many.

Next time you look at photos of the grand ocean liners of the past, consider the diverse groups of people traveling in steerage below decks. Though largely forgotten today, their stories are an important part of our global history.

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