How much did this 1919 ship journey cost my ancestor?
February 20, 2023 11:00 PM   Subscribe

I have an ancestor who arrived in New York from Naples on October 4th or 5th, 1919, on a ship operated by Cosulich Lines called Presidente Wilson. How much was the ticket?

The ship had been known as the Kaiser Franz Joseph I before the end of the First World War. I found this ticket for a few passengers on the same ship but in 1928 for a Boston-Naples journey.

It would be amazing to find the price list (an advertisement? a poster?) for this exact trip, but I'm not sure where to start - perhaps an Italian archive somewhere?
posted by mdonley to Society & Culture (2 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've found some 1919 press ads from American, Canadian and Italian papers suggesting he could have paid anywhere from $75 in steerage to $250 in first class. Adjusted for inflation, these sums would be worth roughly $1,300 and $4,300 respectively.

On the ads I've seen, Cosulich seems to have been sailing to NYC from Trieste rather than Naples, but there are rival lines listed as using the New York-Naples route. The prices from one company to another don't vary that much, which makes sense when you bear in mind they were competing against each other.

MeMail me if you'd like copies of the ads and some more info.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:57 AM on February 21 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Tangent: uniform prices might also be observed if shipping companies had formed a cartel, instead of competing! Marc Levinson's book The Box discusses companies forming a cartel to set prices for transatlantic freight.

It looks like there was also cartel behaviour in passenger shipping, at least during some periods: Keeling, D. (1999). Transatlantic shipping cartels and migration between Europe and America, 1880-1914. Essays in Economic & Business History, 17, 195-213 (pdf). That essay contains some interesting stuff: "shipping conferences", groups of nominally competing shipping companies, avoid race-to-the-bottom price wars by agreeing with each other on what their shares of the passenger market will be. Each participating company agrees to compensate their rival companies by a per passenger fee for every excess passenger they carry above their agreed share of passengers.

There's also discussion of the different classes of passenger:

> In the 1 880s [... the] cost of a second cabin ticket averaged about $50, versus $25 for steerage, and $125 for a first cabin booking. Compared with steerage travel, a migrant in second cabin received not only a higher deck, more space, better ventilation, and better food, but, perhaps most importantly, a semi-private “closed berth” — accommodation in an enclosed room with two to eight bunks — instead of a slot in a large “open-berth” steerage bunkroom.

> Price floors, instead of volume quotas, were also applied to second cabin because this procedure helped protect the integrity of steerage pools. The conferences needed a price wedge between second cabin fares and steerage; otherwise companies could book migrants in second cabin without regard to agreed-upon steerage shares. However, even with cartel rules fostering an average $25 price difference between steerage and second cabin, the more than correspondingly better service of the latter attracted a growing percentage of transatlantic migrants after 1900.
posted by are-coral-made at 2:50 AM on February 21 [5 favorites]

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