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.
How many people arrived in America via water from overseas? If you are not Native American, chances are your ancestors came to America on a ship. And if your ancestors came here between 1850 and 1950, there is a good chance they came on a steamship. Even earlier, most European settlers came via water, aboard sailing vessels.
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. Do we realize how much commerce through our ports affects our lives? 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.
If one loves to fish, water ski or take a Caribbean cruise, then life on the water takes on a whole new role. That role is the life of leisure. Many people all over the world enjoy a modern vacation on the 7 seas via a contemporary cruise ship. More people are enjoying vacation holiday time onboard ships today than in any other time in history.