The massive steamship OHIO of the North German Lloyd line pulled away from the dock in the northern German harbor town of Bremerhaven, port terminus of the city of Bremen, to venture beyond the mouth of the Weser River and into the cold green waves of the North Sea. Picking up speed, the ship steamed its way past the Netherlands, through the narrow Strait of Dover, and entered the English Channel, making a brief stop at the port town of Southampton in the center of the southern coast of England. Then the sleek, two-masted vessel put out to sea once more, this time heading west across the wide Atlantic. Its final destination: The Port of Baltimore.
In this time period, unprecedented masses of people were leaving their native homes in the German & Austrian Empires to come to America. But this tidal wave of emigration had been building for over 40 years. One by one, encouraged by letters from friends, relatives, and neighbors who had emigrated before them, and spurred on by the promise of a better life and future for themselves and their children, they would each, individually and for their own reasons, come to make the momentous decision to leave their familiar world and loved ones behind and migrate toward the unknown.
During the three large waves of emigration from the area today known as Germany & Austria in the period 1845 to 1893, an estimated 4.5 million people left. Most of the emigrants at that time came from the areas then known as Prussia, Bohemia, Bavaria, Württemberg, Hessen, and Baden (map). They made their way across their own country, often leaving their own villages or valleys for the first time in their lives, to travel by river, train, horse, wagon, or by foot to one of the great German emigration ports such as Hamburg or Bremen/Bremerhaven (nicknamed “Der Vorort New-Yorks”—“the suburb of New York”). Most of those bound for America aimed for the ports of New York and Baltimore.