Mr. Thomas to Mr. Frelinghuysen.


Sir: I have the honor to address the Department of State on the subject of direct steam communication between Sweden and the United States.

The traveler from the United States to Sweden usually takes one of the great transatlantic steamers from America to Liverpool, thence a few hours by rail carries him across the country to Hull on the east coast of England. Embarking here a voyage of two days carries the traveler over the stormy North Sea, past the Skaw on the northern sandy point of Denmark, and into the port of Gothenburg, Sweden.

One may also leave America by the German Atlantic steamers, and, landing at Bremen or Hamburg, keep on by rail and boat to Copenhagen, whence a steamer will take him across the sound to Malmö, Sweden, in less than two hours.

Some four years ago the Danish Thingvalla Steamship Company was founded; this line plies once a fortnight between Copenhagen and New York. One may now therefore sail from New York to Copenhagen direct, and then changing steamer and crossing the-sound arrive at Malmö, Sweden.

The great bulk of the traffic between Sweden and America passes over the first-mentioned route, to wit, from Gothenburg, Sweden, across the North Sea, to Hull, England, thence by rail to Liverpool, thence by steamship to America. In fact more than nine-tenths of the emigrants from Sweden to the United States take this route.

Each of these lines has its peculiar advantages, but they all have this one great disadvantage in common: that goods sent from America to Sweden must be discharged and re-loaded at a foreign port en route, with all the delays, breakages, damages, agencies, custom-house supervision, and annoyances which such transshipment is sure to occasion.

Of course, the same is equally true of goods sent from Sweden to America, and passengers and immigrants from either country to the other, together with all their baggage, must likewise be transshipped.

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Yet spite of all hindrances and inconveniences the commerce between the United States and Sweden has attained large and ever-increasing proportions.

The United States export to Sweden large quantities of pork, lard, cotton, petroleum, rosin, maize, tools, sewing-machines, and Yankee notions, and some cheese, wheat, and black-walnut timber; while Sweden sends to the United States thousands of honest, industrious emigrants, and thousands of tons of iron every year. Since last July, there has been, also, an active shipment of matches from Sweden to our country.

Of pork alone (chiefly sides) the yearly export from the United States to Sweden may be reckoned at from 40,000 to 60,000 boxes, or 10,000 to 15,000 tons; while Sweden sends to the American Union every year about 60,000 tons of iron.

Of emigrants, there sailed from the port of Gothenburg, Sweden, for the United States, in round numbers, in 1881, 30,000; in 1882, 40,000; in the present year, 1883, the number will reach 25,000, notwithstanding the hard times and the consequent difficulty of obtaining employment in the United States.

Here then is a grand commerce, sufficient to handsomely support a weekly line of steamships, yet no steamer plies between the two countries. Furthermore, it is perfectly evident that the present extensive traffic must be materially increased by direct steam communication. Indeed it can never reach anything near its full fruition without this.

As long ago as 1863, 1864, and 1865, while I was stationed at Gothenburg as consul for the United States, the subject of a line of steamers from Gothenburg to New York demanded and received much of my attention and effort, and I remember with pleasure that one of the Gothenburg merchants who was most impressed with the practicability and importance of the matter was Mr. Adolf Meyer.

On my return to Sweden in August last in the service of the United States, I found that my old friend, Mr. Meyer, had not lost his interest in this subject, and that during all the intervening time, more especially during the last ten years, he had been actively at work endeavoring to form a company and raise the necessary funds to establish a Swedish steamship line between Gothenburg and New York.

He had prepared tables by which it was clearly proved that there was already more than sufficient business between the two ports to keep four steamships constantly and remuneratively employed. Yet, despite this, and Mr. Meyer’s own very influential position among the business men of Sweden, he had not succeeded in getting the necessary capital subscribed.

One cause which no doubt operated largely against the enterprise was the Swedish emigrant law of 1869, by the provisions of which 50 per cent, more space on ship board was required for each emigrant than is exacted by the laws of England or the United States. A steamer, therefore, that sailing from England could take on board nine hundred emigrants, in sailing from Sweden could take but six hundred, and thus the receipts of the Swedish ship from emigrants would be diminished cue third, a very important consideration.

This great obstacle however, is now happily removed. The King, by a royal order of the 2d of March of this year, 1883, has so modified the Swedish emigrant laws that they conform to the laws of the United States in respect to the space to be accorded to each emigrant, so that [Page 525] now a ship may sail from Sweden with as many emigrants on board as she would be allowed if she sailed from England or Germany.

During the past three months the project has advanced with rapid strides. Failing to get the requisite capital for a steamship line subscribed in Sweden, Mr. Meyer turned to the North German Lloyds of Bremen. After extensive and minute negotiations, Mr. Meyer has been successful, and I have the honor and pleasure to announce that a contract has been made. * * *

The line will at first consist of but two steamships, the Baltimore and Berlin, which will make monthly trips between New York and Gothenburg, performing the voyage in fourteen or fifteen days. * * *

It is believed that the line thus inaugurated will be permanent, that new ships will be added, and that at no distant date fortnightly and then weekly steamers will ply across the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, facilitating and increasing trade, commerce, and immigration.

This line is, of course, owned in Germany, but the project of a line to be owned in Sweden has not been abandoned. Subscription papers are being circulated by respected and efficient merchants in Stockholm and Gothenburg, who are hopeful of obtaining the sum of $533,000, which will be sufficient to purchase two steamers of 3,000 tons burden each, whose trips will alternate with those of the ships of the North German Lloyds, and together with them form a fortnightly line.

It is intended that the Swedish-owned ships shall sail from Stockholm, thence coasting around the southern end of the Swedish peninsula they will touch at Malmö and Gothenburg, whence they will sail direct for New York, passing to the north of Scotland. Returning, they will steam directly to Gothenburg, and then keep on to Malmö and Stockholm.

But whether this latter line be put in operation or not the most important fact remains. * * *

Next spring for the first time the American exporter may ship his goods on board a steamer at New York, and have them carried by that steamer directly to Sweden without transshipment. Next spring the thousands of Swedish emigrants may go on board a steamer in a harbor of their own country and in this steamer sail directly to America.

This direct communication must naturally and inevitably increase the export of American products to Sweden.

In this connection I would call particular attention to Sweden as furnishing a market for American wheat. The consumption of wheat is increasing in Sweden, and as a large portion of this country is too far north for its profitable production, it is imported in increasing quantities. In 1882 the wheat import of Sweden reached a value of more than $2,000,000.

An inconsiderable fraction of this came from the United States, but the great bulk thereof was imported from Denmark and was the product of Danish soil.

With direct steam communication, I am confident that the United States can supply Sweden at a profit with all the wheat she imports.

It is with pleasure I write this dispatch, for the assured establishment of direct steam communication between the United States and Sweden is certainly a just cause of congratulation in both countries.

I have, &c.,