Bremen and Bremerhaven have always played an important role in emigration. In the early period the Hessen soldiers (Hessians) made their way through Bremen to fight on the British side against American independence. From the time of Napoleon until the beginning of the 20th century there was such an increase in the number of emigrants that we can talk about mass migration.
The town was founded in 1827, but there were settlements in the vicinity as early as the 12th century. In 1827 the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen founded the port of "Bremer Haven" on the North Sea estuary of the river Weser. The two towns formed the state of Bremen.
Over 90 per cent of emigrants from Bremerhaven were bound for the United States of America and between 1832 and 1974, around 7.2 million people emigrated to the U.S.A. from Bremen and Bremerhaven alone. The transatlantic crossing between Bremerhaven and New York became the most traveled ocean highway in the world. At one time Bremerhaven was the largest European port of emigration.
The city of Bremen promoted the emigration business by running advertising campaigns in Germany and abroad and by organizing emigration transport. The emigration business was an important element in Bremen's economy and the city did everything it could to make sure it did not miss out on any business opportunity.
Bremen adjusted itself to emigration early on. The Bremen Senate tried to make up for what it lacked in a favorable geographical position, in comparison to other ports, by a policy protecting emigrants who traveled through Bremen. In 1832 the Bremen Senate took the first official steps in that direction by issuing a decree with the following conditions: the seaworthiness of all ships must be proved and all passengers registered. Ships were forced to supply provisions for all passengers for up to 90 days. These ordinances gave Bremen's ships a good name.
The measures taken by Bremen's Senate and merchants went even further. In 1849 the Emigration House in Bremerhaven was founded to provide the travelers waiting to leave a worthy place to stay at low cost. A partially private, partially public agency (called the "Nachweisungsbüro") was set up in 1851 to help arrange lodgings, overseas passages and transportation to Bremen and Bremerhaven. They also negotiated price-standards, room arrangements, and accommodation capacities with the innkeepers' organization.
The emigration business created a tense relationship between Bremen and Bremerhaven. Bremen even insisted in having "Bremen" entered on the passenger manifests as the port of departure even though the ships left from Bremerhaven. But despite these administrative restrictions and disadvantages, Bremerhaven also profited from the many waves of emigration in the 19th century.
In 1840 the Senate of Bremen passed a resolution stating that any merchants or businessmen who made a profit out of emigration must be resident in the city. In justification it was claimed that the city had to make sure that "the colony of Bremerhaven did not come to own a line of business that by rights belonged to Bremen".
In the 20th century the emigration business in Bremerhaven gradually declined in significance. North American restrictions on emigration and, from the end of the 1950s, the alternative of doing the journey by air, led to the end of emigration via Bremerhaven. In 1974 the last emigration ship departed from Bremerhaven.