Greek Immigration from European Ports, Le Havre, until Greek Shipping Came Online

I was very surprised to see my paternal grandfather arriving in NYC on a ship via Le Havre, France. I have always assumed that anyone immigrating from Greece, left from the port of Piraeus.

It turns out that thousands of Greek immigrants arrived in America from various ports in Europe. Here is some cursory research on the subject. (These are from sources from the turn of the 19th century.)

In an earlier post, I showed the manifest with my grandfather’s arrival. Line 1 below.

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The name of the ship was “La Gascogne” for a company called “Compagnie Générale Transatlantique.” Passenger steamship companies like White-Star, Cunard, Hamburg America, and Compagnie Générale Transatlantique provided transportation to New York City, Boston, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Canada.

These companies had agents throughout Europe, including Greece. The agents scoured Europe, including Greece and the Ottoman Empire, propagating stories of a wonderful future in America. (Apparently, sounding much like newspapers in the eastern U. S. telling of a fantastic life awaiting those who ventured to the West.) The agents promoted ticket packages, which provided rail transport across Europe to port cities, such as Le Havre, France, and onto America. By 1905, 10 steamship companies had agencies in Greece.

Compagnie Générale Transatlantique transported immigrants by train to their company village in Le Havre. Company doctors examined newly arrived immigrants. They were given a strong bath of cleansers and antiseptics, and a short haircut. They were vaccinated, and quarantined for several days before being placed on a steamship to America. On top of all that, their luggage was fumigated with steam before boarding, often destroying many of their belongings.

Steamship companies screened their passengers carefully. They were fined as much as $100 for each passenger rejected by U. S. Immigration. Cunard, Holland-America, and Hamburg-America had similar port facilities. The terminals of Cunard and WhiteStar lines were in Liverpool and Southampton, those of Norddeutscher Lloyd andHamburg-America were in Bremen and Hamburg, and those of Compagnie Generale Transatlantique were in Le Havre and Cherbourg

As time went on, more shipping companies opened ports in the Mediterranean: Marseille, Genoa, Naples, and Trieste. This reflected the growing migratory population from Italy, Greece, and other eastern European areas.

In 1905, an Austrian company, Austroamericana, offered a direct trip to the United States, from Patras in western Peloponnese.

Greek steamship companies soon realized they could profit from the transatlantic migration. Since shipping was one of the major activities of Greeks both in the Greek kingdom and the diaspora, Greek shipping firms understood that immigration gave them the chance to expand their activities in a new and promising business.

The first Greek shipowner to initiate transatlantic trips from the port of Piraeus in 1907 was Dimitrios Moraitis. He had a steamship, the Moraitis, built especially for transatlantic journeys. It sailed from Piraeus and stopped in Calamata and Patras before sailing towards the Atlantic. In 1907, the year when the number of immigrants from Greece doubled, the ships of Austroamericana, the Prince Line, the Fabre Line, the Messageries Maritimes, and Moraitis’s Line had regular trips from Patras.

In 1908, Moraitis’s company was declared bankrupt, a result of accumulated debts from the economic crisis of 1907-1908. Nevertheless, Moraitis’s lenders founded the Greek TransoceanSteamship Line (Υπερωκεάνειος Ελληνική Ατμοπλοΐα) that continued carrying im-migrants to the United States with Moraitis’s ships, the Athenai and the Themistocles. In 1909, the Embeirikos brothers founded the National Greek Line, and in 1912, after the bankruptcy of the Greek Transocean Steamship Line, they acquired that company too. Until the end of the transatlantic migration flow from Greece by around1924, the National Greek Line remained the only Greek transatlantic shipping company. Three of its ships were sunk during the First World War. Despite their late entrance into the market, their lack of experience and their relative financial weakness, the Greek maritime carriers managed finally to prevail over most of their powerful northern European rivals.


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