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How the Titanic Passengers Personified the Immigrant Story

The Titanic carried many immigrants headed from Europe to America. These immigrants, mostly third-class passengers in steerage, died in far greater numbers than the first- and second-class passengers on the upper decks.

The American dream was alive and well among the hopeful emigrating steerage passengers. Leaving their homelands with essentially everything they owned and the clothes on their back was the biggest decision of their lives. Many scrimped, saved, and borrowed to buy their third-class tickets on the Titanic. (A third-class ticket cost $15–$40, the equivalent of $350–$900 today.)

Immigrants in third class included about 113 Swedes, 120 Irish, 59 Finns, 27 Russians, 81 Syrians, and 8 Chinese. These immigrants to the United States carried all their worldly possessions with them — and managed to cram these possessions into their narrow third-class berths.

If the Titanic had arrived on schedule in New York on April 17, 1912, her immigrant third-class passengers, like immigrants before them, would have marveled at the sight of the Statue of Liberty. They would have been taken to New York Harbor’s immigrant inspection station on Ellis Island. If they were fortunate, they would have been admitted to the United States and become Americans.

The Titanic story is not just the story of the ship of dreams sinking to the bottom of the North Atlantic. It is also part of an older and ongoing story: the epic journey of people coming to the United States to live the American dream.

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