For a short story I plan to write, I was wondering how long it would take individuals to travel from the United Kingdom to America in 1890.

  • 2
    @BCLC That question is about mail delivery times; this one is about passenger travel times. Very similar, but I'm inclined to say not a duplicate.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 19:34
  • @Semaphore Fine. Before, one of my questions was closed or marked as duplicate I think due to similarity. As I recall, I had to combine some of my questions. Is this or is this not common practice in SE?
    – BCLC
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


It took between 7 and 10 days, depending on the ship and the weather. The ships sailed out of Liverpool and Queenstown. Here is a notice from "London and Its Environs: Handbook for Travellers" (1889):

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  • "sailed" is a misnomer in this case, as it's impossible to make this trip this quickly without steam power. Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 1:42
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    @congusbongus Obviously you don't do much cruising, otherwise you would know that "sail" is the standard term even today. Go to carnival.com (carnival cruise lines) or any cruise ship web page. Says "sail" right on the front page. Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 2:08
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    @congusbongus you'd be surprised at the speed of ships like clippers and some schooners.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 9:35
  • Thank you very much for your answer. It will really help me.
    – Rachel
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 16:28

It turns out there was an unofficial award for doing this particular trip the quickest in a passenger liner, so we have pretty good records. Of course a typical passage would be a bit slower than one where a captain was pushing to win the record, but the times can be seen as a close lower bound to how long it would take for a typical trip.

In the 1890's the Blue Riband was held by double-screw steamships. A four-time holder was the SS Majestic, which made her maiden voyage in 1890 from Liverpool to New York in a bit less than six and a half days. That wasn't quite good enough for the record. At the time the City of Paris held the record on a run the same direction between those two cities at a bit under 6 days. (The prize was for average speed in knots, so it doesn't translate perfectly to clock time, but there is a relationship).

Now of course if you weren't paying top dollar on a state-of-the-art cruise liner it would probably be considerably slower, but this should give you a ballpark figure and a good idea of the lower bound for a crossing.

  • Interestingly, when I saw the musical Titanic, attempting to win the Blue Riband was put forth as one of the factors that contributed to her demise.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 13:57
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    I think this is a known historical fact. No reference to a musical is necessary.
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 16:19
  • @Alex - I'll agree that for a theory that's out there, there should be a better reference available.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 16:34
  • Thank you for your answer. It was very interesting to read about this unofficial award.
    – Rachel
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 16:29

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