Abstract

Between the 1870s and 1914, millions of Eastern Europeans moved to the United States. Little is known about the actual journeys of Polish, Jewish, and other migrants. A closer look at the experiences of transmigrants reveals a sophisticated system that was managed by Germany's two largest steamship lines, the Hamburg-America Line and the Bremen-based North German Lloyd. In the early 1880s, the United States shifted to a more thorough screening of arriving migrants, refusing admission to a growing number of “undesirables.” In 1885, Germany's largest state, Prussia, implemented a restrictive immigration policy, much earlier than other states in and beyond Europe. The steamship lines convinced the Prussian state not to prevent migrants from Eastern Europe from crossing its territory. Before 1914, migrant aid associations also established a good accord with different state agencies in Europe and North America. They intervened on behalf of migrants who had been detained, often successfully. State officials embraced non-state actors because they solved protracted problems and relieved states of a financial burden. The article examines the origins of the privately handled transmigration system in Imperial Germany and raises the question whether it was beneficial for average migrants.

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