Immigration and the Titanic: 104 Years Later

Tue, Mar 01, 2016 at 9:25PM

Over a century ago, the RMS Titanic set out on its fateful maiden voyage—and today, the story has been told to all of us in some way, shape or form. But what many people may not know about the world’s famous ship is the true story of its passengers—namely, the diverse group of immigrants headed toward America who made up as much as half of the ship’s total population.

In today’s blog, we will be looking at the story of these immigrants and their voyage toward a new life in America.

It’s commonly known that the Titanic was an extravagant, luxurious ship offering passengers a trip unlike anything they’d experienced before—however, it was not just a wealthy few who got that chance. Third class passengers boarded the simpler, barer steerage—or lower deck—of the ship and were able to experience the voyage with lesser means. While steerage passengers may have come from modest backgrounds, the chance to travel abroad at all was something many—more than half the ship’s total passengers—took advantage of.

Of those passengers, the majority were immigrants looking to make a new life for themselves in the US or Canada. They were Irish, Bulgarian, Austro Hungarian, Swedish, Russian, and more—a diverse mix of travelers in search of generally the same thing, the promise of a new life overseas.

Unfortunately, the steerage passengers were the ones who saw the greatest loss of life when the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic. More than three quarters of these passengers lost their lives, a proportion significantly greater than that of either first or second class passengers.

Those passengers who did survive the sinking were brought to New York aboard the RMS Carpathia. Instead of going through the usual immigration process at Ellis Island, however, passengers were sent to hospitals and other locations for immediate help and relief. Afterward, some were able to carry on with their plans and set up a home in the US. However, not all immigrants who made it to here decided to stay. Some ultimately returned home following the disaster—one Italian woman, for example, survived the sinking but her husband did not. She had to return home only a month later after becoming unable to provide for herself in the new country.

While their fates may have varied, the immigrants on board the Titanic shared something key in common: a desire to set out and make a new life in the States, a goal that immigrants of any generation can share and appreciate. This Titanic Remembrance Day, take a moment to remember these immigrants—their lives, families and their journeys toward change.

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