Abstract: The Battle for the Migrants: The Introduction of Steamshipping on the North Atlantic and Its Impact on the European Exodus

Torsten Feys


The presentation will summarize two chapters of my recent book, which looks at how steamshipping transformed the transatlantic migrant transport market into big business. Based on shipping company archives, the organization of the market is discussed on three different levels based on the company's relations with: 1) the independent migrant-agent network in Europe and the United States which sold transport tickets and constituted the direct link to the migrant; 2) other shipping companies, with the rise and functioning of shipping cartels; 3) the state, and its role as middlemen between authorities and the individual migrant. I will argue that the shipping conferences originated on the North Atlantic and not on the Calcutta route. Besides mitigating cut-throat competition by concluding price agreements, sailing routes, advertising, and so forth, cartelization was spurred by the need to get control over the independent migrant agents. This gave rise to the establishment of three sub-cartels regulating the North Atlantic passenger market according to three geographic areas: the Mediterranean, Continental, and British-Scandinavian. I show how continental lines took over the dominance of the third-class passenger market from British lines by introducing pool agreements. The paper underlines that conversely to the findings on the unsuccessful pre–World War I freight shipping cartels, the North Atlantic passenger conference managed to create relative market and price stability.