Crossing the Atlantic: The Ships and Trips of Swedish Immigrants
Exhibit on view February–June 2015
The Swedish American Line (Svenska Amerika Linjen) transported millions of people, mostly Swedes and Americans, across the Atlantic. The Line began its operations on December 11, 1915, with its first ship, the SS Stockholm, traveling from Gothenburg to New York--the first direct line between Sweden and America which saved time, money, and allowed passengers to travel on a ship that had a Swedish crew. The Swedish American Line is often associated with Swedish emigration, transatlantic tourism, and later, luxury cruises.
While the Swedish American Line is associated with emigration from Sweden, it did not play a very large role in that endeavor. Most of the 1.4 million Swedes who came to the United States did so on other lines before the Swedish American Line existed. Only during the “final wave” of Swedish emigration in the 1920s did the Swedish American Line carry Swedes to the United States.
Early Swedish emigrants traveled via other lines such as the Scandinavian American Line, which operated between several ports in Europe, notably Copenhagen, and the United States.
Emigrants also traveled via the White Star Line, from Liverpool to New York City. The White Star Line was one of the first shipping lines to focus on emigration with low-cost fares for third-class passengers. The White Star Line specifically advertised for emigrant passengers and had much success obtaining passengers from Sweden and Norway.
The Swedish American Line played an important role in tourism and family visits across the Atlantic. In the 1920s, immigrants and their children and grandchildren returned to the “old country” as tourists. They brought with them different expectations for ship accommodations and the Swedish American Line responded accordingly, expanding the cabin sizes and entertainment options.
The Swedish American Line became one of the preeminent cruise lines in the world during the late 1930s. A new ship named Stockholm was built to accommodate a growing number of American tourists. The Swedish American Line later transitioned to small cruise ships due to new competition from air travel. These ships traveled to places like the Caribbean, Nassau, and Bermuda. In the 1950s, the Gripsholm--a floating palace complete with lavish lounges and the largest swimming pool on a ship of its size--made a number of cruises to places like the South Pacific, Africa, and around South America.
The End of the Line
In 1975, the Swedish American Line sold its remaining modern ships, the Kungsholm and Gripsholm, and closed its operations. The Gothenburg office of the Swedish American Line noted diminishing sales and projected loses as the reason for closing operations. However, the New York City office of the Swedish American Line was experiencing strong advanced sales for their Christmas cruises.
Was the line really in financial trouble?
Was closing the line necessary?
What about you, did you ever sail aboard the Swedish American Line?
MSS P:335 Justina Lofgren family papers and travel writing collection
MSS P:6 G.N. Swan papers
SAC P:299 Menus from the S.S. Frederik VIII, 1914
SAC P:300 Postcards from Oceanliners
I/O:61 American Union of Swedish Singers
SAC P:298 Emigrant Ships, Cards
SAC P:292 Nels Peter Anderson papers
“Svenska Amerika Linien: biografiska notiser over konstnarer, arkitekter och konsthantverkare representerade ombord M.S. Kungsholm”
“Memories of the Gripsholm cruise to West Africa and South America: January 24-March 2, 1964.” S.l.: Swedish American Line, 1964?
“Vägen mot väster: en bok om emigrationen och Svenska Amerika linien,” Algot Mattsson. [Stockholm]: Askild & Kärnekull, c1982.
“‘Såna’ på Amerikabåtarna: de svenska Amerikabåtarna som manliga homomiljöer,” Arne Nilsson. Stockholm: Normal, 2005.
“De flytande palatsen = The White Viking Fleet,” Algot Mattsson. Göteborg [Sweden]: Tre Böcker, 1983.