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Around the model of the fast steamer KAISER WILHELM DER GROSSE you can see how passenger shipping developed around 1900 and with it migration.

 In the 1890s, Norddeutsche Lloyd (NDL) commissioned a passenger ship for transatlantic service from the shipyard AG Vulcan in Stettin, which was to take account of the latest technical developments in shipbuilding and offer the greatest possible comfort for passengers. As a symbol of Germany's technical superiority on the world's oceans and as a representative of national greatness, it was to surpass the British passenger ships in speed and elegance. The double-screw fast steamer KAISER WILHELM DER GROSSE was finally launched in 1897 and in the same year set out on her maiden voyage from Bremerhaven to New York. As the first steamer with four chimneys and its pompous interior, the ship was particularly popular with luxury travellers. In 1898, KAISER WILHELM DER GROSSE became the first German ship to win the "Blue Ribbon" for the fastest Atlantic crossing, a coveted maritime award in the 19th and early 20th centuries for which the world's major shipping companies vied with their ships. Shortly before the beginning of the First World War, the fast steamer was converted into a pure emigration ship and in 1914 into an auxiliary cruiser of the Imperial Navy. The KAISER WILHELM DER GROSSE was sunk in 1914 after severe damage by its crew itself.

The model is in our new exhibition on luxury travel and emigration

In our new exhibition, the model of the KAISER WILHELM DER GROSSE stands for two important themes that were characteristic of passenger shipping around 1900: emigration and luxury travel. Although the ship was equated with luxury and comfort in the public perception, emigrants accounted for most of the passengers, who also brought the greatest financial gains for the shipping company. 340 seats in I. Class and almost 350 seats in II. Class stood in contrast to 1074 passengers in steerage. Using the example of the steamer KAISER WILHELM DER GROSSE we would like to show you the importance of ships around 1900. The public presentation, perception and marketing of passenger ships as technical, political and cultural representatives of a nation around 1900 is contrasted with the importance of migration for the development of passenger shipping.


Further reading

Dagmar Bellmann: Von Höllengefährten zu schwimmenden Palästen. Die Passagierschifffahrt auf dem Atlantik 1840–1939, Frankfurt am Main/New York 2015.

Arnold Kludas: Die Geschichte der deutschen Passagierschiffahrt, Bd. 2: Expansion auf allen Meeren 1890 bis 1900 (Schriften des Deutschen Schiffahrtsmuseums, Bd. 19), Hamburg 1987.

Bernhard Rieger: Floating Palaces. Ocean Liners as Icons of Modern Splendour, in: History Today 55 (2005), Heft 2, S. 37–43.

Eric Schlemmel: The tragic Fate of the World’s first Superliner: Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, in: Sea Classics 35 (2002), Heft 6, S. 56–66.



Related contributions



Passenger shipping: from migration and mass tourism

We invite you to discover the history of shipping since the emergence of regular shipping lines, the first flourishing of passenger shipping and the beginning of mass tourism.


Opening hours

Cog hall: daily from 10 am to 6 pm

Ships: daily 10 am to 5:45 pm

how to reach us

Deutsches Schifffahrtsmuseum
Hans-Scharoun-Platz 1
D-27568 Bremerhaven


T. +49 471 482 07 0

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