Selections from Roebling's Diary of his Journey to the United States (1831)

Title page of John Augustus Roebling’s diary Tagebuch Meiner Reise von Mühlhausen in Thüringen über Bremen nach den Vereinigten Staaten von Nordamerika im Jahre 1831 (“Diary of My Journey from Muehlhausen in Thuringia Via Bremen to the United States of North America in the Year 1831”), Published 1832.

Pages 1-3

In his first diary entry, Roebling bids farewell to his friends and family in Mühlhausen and notes that he is not leaving due to hatred for his homeland, but rather out of a desire to better himself and gain freedom in America. He hopes that other Germans will soon have the same opportunity. In the following entries he describes his journey from Mühlhausen to Bremen via Göttingen and Hannover.

Pages 16-7

In this entry, Roebling describes the August Edward, the sailing ship on which he and his brother left Bremen along with 91 other travelers. Roebling compares his and his brother’s relatively spacious accommodations in the ship’s cabin with the conditions in steerage, in which four passengers had to share each berth.

Pages 28-31

In this entry, Roebling describes the food rations allotted to steerage passengers on the August Edward. Breakfasts consisted of either a pot of coffee or grits for the 86 steerage passengers. Lunches consisted of small quantities of meat and vegetables including potatoes, peas, and sauerkraut. Passengers would have to set aside portions of their lunch meat rations for dinner and would receive any leftover vegetables from lunch. The steerage passengers also received weekly allotments of ship’s bread, butter, and water. If steerage passengers behaved, they would receive a daily glass of brandy or some warm beer on Saturdays. Roebling also discusses punishments for smoking onboard ship and stern requirements that passengers maintain clean and hygienic conditions in the steerage compartment to prevent the spread of disease.

Pages 124-127

In this entry, Roebling compares Philadelphia with Berlin. He notes that the city, with 130,000 residents, is significantly smaller than Berlin in population, but considerably larger in geographical footprint. He characterizes Philadelphia as neat, orderly, and elegant, the opposite of Berlin. He expresses admiration for Philadelphia architecture, urban planning, and engineering, particularly its municipal water system, but complains about the filth of the streets, on which pigs and other animals run wild.