Artifact Corner: Trans-Atlantic Steamship Brochure

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a brochure from 1857. This brochure lists the departures and costs for traveling from the port of La Havre France to New York City. So, why is this in our collections? Well, our Fannie Delord Webb Hall and her husband Frank Hall were married in 1856, and went on a year long honeymoon in Europe. This must have been the schedule they got in La Havre, when they were booking their return voyage home. This brochure was found in a purse belonging to Fannie, just another souvenir from their time in Europe. The brochure is mostly in French, but there is some English sprinkled in the text to make it mostly legible for the British and American tourists. Let’s learn a bit more about Transatlantic travel in the 19th Century.

At the dawning of the 19th Century, crossing the Atlantic Ocean was quite an ordeal. Steam ships had not yet been invented, so your only option was sailing, which meant you were at the mercy of the winds. If you were lucky, you could make it across in 21 days, which was a screamingly fast journey. If you were unlucky the trip could take over a month, this would mainly be due to lack of sufficient wind. All of this changed in 1819, when the steamboat Savannah crossed the Atlantic. Originally fit out in New York as a sailing vessel, the engineer onboard also included a steam engine and a side paddle wheel. On May 24, she left the US bound for Liverpool. Her owners had so little faith that the vessel would arrive in tact that they had no passengers onboard, and zero cargo. It took her 29 and a half days to reach her destination, and the crew only used the engine for about 80 hours of the trip, due to how little coal they could carry on the Savannah. Still, this was a big deal in the history of crossing the Atlantic!

Almost 20 years would pass before another steam vessel crossed the Atlantic. In 1838 rival British and American companies deployed their top of the line steam vessels. The American ship Sirius, and the British vessel Great Western cruised across the Atlantic. The Sirius made it in 18 days, and the Great Western made it in just 15, a huge leap forward for people who were traveling across the ocean. As steam engines were improving, so were the times at which people could safely travel across the Atlantic. By 1855, it would take around 10 days, by 1880 you could make it in 7 to 8 days, and by 1920’s you could make it across the ocean in just four days. So in a hundred years time a journey that would have taken you over a month, was now down to 4 days. An incredible feat of ingenuity. Fannie and Frank’s journey likely took them around 8 to 10 days to cross. Fannie’s Mother and Father went to Europe in 1832 for their honeymoon. Thanks to a journal Fannie’s mother kept of their travels, we know that their journey across the ocean took 3 weeks! The cost listed on the brochure for a first class ticket was 730 Francs, which was the equivalent of $142 in 1857. In today’s money that ticket would cost you $4,860. A hefty price tag.

This brochure is in fair condition. The paper is quite flimsy, but given that this was meant to be something disposable, or what we would call today a throw away item, it’s actually shocking how well it’s held up. It is a glimpse into world travel in the mid 1800’s, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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