Philadelphia's steamship agents
During the immigration boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, various agencies including private community and state run banks sold steamship tickets to immigrants and their families arranging for passage to and from America. Many of the private banks selling steamship tickets were referred to as immigrant banks and catered to specific immigrant communities and the neighborhoods they lived. Although steamship agents and immigrant banks in Philadelphia were plentiful, few records of their activities are known to have survived with the exception of four steamship agents who primarily served the Eastern European Jewish population. These four steamship agents recorded the sale of tickets purchased by their customers in ledgers listing the sales transactions. Unlike passenger lists which document an immigrant’s entry into port, these ledgers record details about the purchase such as the name of the ticket purchaser, the individual(s) for whom tickets were purchased, the name of the steamship line, fees, and travel itinerary. These details reveal information about the passengers, the family members who were arranging passage, and the associated costs of travel. In the 1940s, HIAS Pennsylvania, formerly the Association for the Protection of Jewish Immigrants, an organization dedicated to providing legal and supportive services to immigrants and refugees acquired the steamship ticket purchase ledgers. HIAS Pennsylvania utilized these ledgers to verify immigration information when assisting individuals with the naturalization process or facilitating passage for family members seeking asylum. In 2009, Temple University Libraries acquired HIAS Pennsylvania’s records and the collection of steamship ticket purchase ledgers.
To learn more about the information contained within the ledgers and a short history of each steamship agent in the collection, view the individual agency
pages. Digitization of the steamships ticket purchase ledgers is an ongoing project. The collection will be updated as more digitized ledgers become
M.L. Blitzstein and Co.
M. Rosenbaum and Co.
Pennsylvania Company for Banking and Trusts
Community banks, often referred to as immigrant banks were informal establishments which served Eastern and Southern European immigrant communities across
America during the latter half of the 19th century up until the Great Depression. Immigrant banks were unlike traditional banking institutions
in that they often operated in conjunction with other businesses such as grocery stores, butchers, saloons, and other natural gathering places for
immigrants. The banks kept deposits, facilitated money transfers abroad, and provided lending and notary services for immigrant newcomers in addition to
routine business functions. Most notably, immigrant banks acted as agents for steamship lines, facilitating the sale of tickets and arranging transport
from Europe. The creation and ultimate success of immigrant banks was a result of the failure of existing banks to relate to newly arrived immigrants and
offer the ancillary services they needed most. Immigrant bankers easily gained the trust of immigrants and subsequently their patronage through their
shared language and ethnic and cultural camaraderie. The U.S. Immigration Commission, created in 1907 to investigate immigration in America, estimated that
there were approximately 2,625 immigrant banks in operation in 1910, with the two largest locales being New York with 1,000 and Pennsylvania with 410
Immigrant banks operated outside the banking system and therefore were not subject to oversight or regulation by the government. Immigrant bankers set
their own lending terms, engaged in speculative investments, and offered non-interest bearing accounts to customers. The lack of checks and balances often
led to catastrophic losses for the depositors in the event a bank failed. In the early years of the 20th century, federal and state authorities engaged in
efforts to regulate banking in response to poor banking practices and blatant abuses of depositors. In 1911, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the
private banking act was passed, forcing some banks catering to immigrants to close. However, banks like M.L. Blitzstein and Co. and M. Rosenbaum and
Co. in Philadelphia continued to operate without state interference or regulation, having qualified under exemption six which stipulated that institutions
in operation prior to 1904 were freed from any inspection from the State Department of Banking. These exemptions, however, did not prevent the ultimate
closure of immigrant banks including M.L. Blitzstein and Co. and M. Rosenbaum and Co. during the financial crisis.
To learn more about immigrant banking in America, consult the following resources:
Day, Jared N. ''Credit, Capital and Community: Informal Banking in Immigrant Communities in the United States, 1880-1924." Financial History Review
9, no. 1 (2002): 65-78.
Kobrin, Rebecca. ''Destructive creators: Sender Jarmulowky and Financial Failure in the Annals of Jewish History.'' American Jewish History 97, no.
2 (April 2013): 105.
Mayper, Joseph. ''Immigrant Thrift and American Investments.'' Banking: Journal of the American Bankers Association 8, no. 6 (December 1915):
United States Senate Immigration Commission, Immigrant Banks, S. Doc. No. 61-753, at 197-350 (1911).
A digital copy of the Immigration Commission report on immigrant banks is available through the Internet Archive.