The Steamship Historical Society of America’s three main themes of its collections are Trade, Immigration, and Leisure. We believe that the three themes provide direct links to, and impacts, every single person. It is our goal to demonstrate this connection to our collective history and provide a tangible example of this through the themes of our archival collections.
Steamship played a vital role in immigration to America. Even earlier, European colonists to America came on sailing vessels. Everyone in the United States has been impacted by immigration via waterways. Native Americans had their lands colonized and diseases brought from Europe permanently impacting their health and autonomy. Others fleeing violence or poverty found a safe haven in America. Steamship companies profited off the immigrant trade during the peak of immigration to America (1880-1920).
Today, in America, the majority of everything consumed, worn, and/or used arrived through a U.S. port. This means that American consumers’ purchases, nearly every product in every store, comes via our waterways. Prior to refrigeration on ships, which became more standard after 1877, you could not predict whether or not fruits, vegetables, and other products with a short shelf life would survive a transatlantic journey. Delivery time depended on prevailing seas, wind, and weather. With the development of steam-powered vessels, regularly scheduled transit was established and products arrived as scheduled, vastly changing the way Americans lived their lives.
Leisure on the water takes many forms. Some love to fish or sail, others from all over the world enjoy a modern vacation on the 7 seas via a contemporary cruise ship. More people are enjoying vacation holiday time on board ships today than in any other time in history.