Red Star Line Museum Opens September 28, 2013 in Antwerp

Red Star Line Poster ©Letterenhuis

A new museum, focusing on the story of millions of people who travelled to America and Canada on board of the Red Star Line’s ocean liners in search of a new and better life is set to open on September 28, 2013 in Antwerp.

Red Star Line building in 1923 ©Vrienden van de Red Star Line

The Red Star Line museum tells the story of the shipping company, of its origins, its growth and its demise. But above all, the museum will tell the story of the passengers who sailed on the shipping company’s ocean liners. From 1800 onwards, millions of people travelled from Europe to the United States and Canada, in search of happiness and a better life in the new world. For many of these people the journey started in an Antwerp port warehouse. Irving Berlin and Albert Einstein were Red Star Line passengers but many lesser known future Americans travelled board ships named The Lapland, The Belgenland II, The Vaderland, and Rhynland.

Passengers aboard The Belgenland ca. 1925 ©MAS

In the mid-nineteenth century, many Europeans migrated to North America, considered the Promised Land for people in search of a better life. At the time, there was still plenty of agricultural land available and the industry was begging for labour. Others left out of fear of political or religious persecution. The abolition of the emigration restrictions and the new, faster steam ships created new opportunities for European migrants in the chase of the American Dream.

Between 1873 and 1934, migrants, tourists, adventurers and fortune-seekers from all over Europe – more than two million in all – arrived and departed in Antwerp’s Eilandje District, boarding the Red Star Line’s ocean steamers at the Rijnkaai. Although, the migrants were mainly of Eastern European origin, there were also Germans and Belgians aboard. During the heyday of the Red Star Line, two ships sailed every week carrying 1,000 to 1,500 passengers.

Postcard 1906 ©Red Star Line Museum

The museum tells a Belgian story about people who embarked on the Red Star Line ships, to escape poverty, but also motivated by the pursuit of adventure. It is a European story as the Red Star Line’s passengers came from all over Europe. The Red Star Line Museum also tells an American story, about the ancestors of Americans, about their roots, their origins and how they ended up there. Finally, the Red Star Line is also a universal story about dreams of a better life, about farewells, about discovering and exploring the unknown, and the search for a new home.

Artist impression of the new museum ©Red Star Line Museum/Christophe Gaeta

Throughout the museum, visitors can follow the various stages of the journey that these migrants undertook in eight thematic spaces on two floors: a travel agency in Warsaw, a train carriage, the city of Antwerp, the Red Star Line building, the deck of an ocean liner, life on board, the arrival at Ellis Island and the new future in the United States. The personal testimonials of Red Star Line passengers make up the common thread. Authentic oral and written histories, photos which evoke the atmosphere, a striking scenography and selections of various original and personal objects evoke the atmosphere of the transatlantic voyage.

The viewing tower ©Beyer-Blinder-Belle Architects and Planners Ltd

After leaving the exhibition, visitors are invited to check out the knowledge corner where they can look up information about their own family’s migration history or they can walk up to the top of the tower of the museum. From the early 1920s to 1934, the high chimney of the Red Star Line buildings was a familiar landmark and a point of reference for the thousands of passengers making their way from Antwerp’s Central Station to the quays along the River Scheldt. Today, the tower reflects the travellers’ experience and emotion as they looked out over the city of Antwerp from the decks of the tall Red Star Line ships.


Did you know…

  • More than two million passengers travelled from Antwerp to America from 1873 to 1934. Less than 200,000 of these passengers were Belgians. Most of the migrants were Jews from Eastern Europe.
  • Izzy Beilin, who subsequently achieved fame as Irving Berlin, the composer of ‘White Christmas’, travelled to the United States as a five-year old on the SS Rhynland.
  • Cyriel Buysse was the son of a wealthy chicory manufacturer. He travelled to the United States four times in the 1880s, among others on board a Red Star Line ship. During one of these journeys, in 1886, aboard the Westernland, Buysse began to write an account of his travels launching a career as one of Belgium’s most renowned authors.
  • Belgian emigration was unevenly distributed: most migrants came from the provinces of East and West Flanders and from Hainaut. For the most part, they were men between the ages of 18 and 30.


Practical information:
Red Star Line Museum
Montevideostraat 3
2000 Antwerp, Belgium

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