Royal Mail Line Cruises poster from The Chase Poster Collection at the SSHSA Archives.

With stricter immigration laws in the early 1920s, many steamship companies began re-evaluating their marketing strategies for gaining passengers. Steamship companies had greatly benefitted from immigration to the United States. Although many focused on the first-class accommodations, food and service, steerage was what really kept many steamship companies economically afloat. Looking for a new customer base, steamship companies targeted the middle class, who could afford to travel. “Tourist third cabin,” later referred to as “tourist,” replaced steerage. Steamship companies  updated their cabins to accommodate teachers, students and tourists who wanted to explore Europe and other exotic places.

Transatlantic travel itineraries now included “pleasure cruising,” the idea of adventure with minimal safety risks. Early cruises sought to cater to a wealthy clientele with time and money to spare. Throughout the 1920s, cruise fares were priced to assure prospective travelers that they were would on board with social equals. This new interest in tourism on both sides of the Atlantic came as a byproduct of the economic gains connected to the Industrial Revolution. The new middle class sought leisure like the upper class. Middle-class families could now afford trips that were once only available to upper-class, like summer vacations by the sea. Resorts began catering to this new audience.

Glass plate image of children playing on a first class deck.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Thomas Cook came up with a new idea, conducted tours, with the goal of making travel easier and cheaper. Travel guides became increasingly popular. By the 1920s, this equality in classes had taken hold in all forms of travel, including by steamship. But even with the democratization of travel and tourism, class distinctions still held strong. Each class of passengers had a separate entrance, set of public rooms, and deck space. This class consciousness even extended to pets on board. Pets whose owners traveled first-class were often better off than those passengers traveling third-class.

Today, the cruise industry is one of the fastest growing leisure markets. The million immigrants that came through Ellis Island in New York in 1905 pale in comparison to the nearly 4 million cruise passengers of 1990 or the record 22.1 million passengers are estimated to have cruised globally in 2014.

Posts on Leisure

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Ventilation and AC

Life On Board – Charles Dickens

Additional Resources on Leisure

Smithsonian Museum of American History’s online exhibit, Comfort, Courtesy, Safety, Speed.


Lorraine Coons and Alexander Varias, Tourist Third Cabin: Steamship Travel in the Interwar Years (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2003).

John Maxtone-Graham, Crossing & Cruising: From the Goldern Era of Ocean Liners to the Luxury Cruise Ships of Today (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1992).

“Cruise Industry Overview,” Florida Caribbean Cruise Association, 2015.