Curatorial Director Dave answers your questions.
How was money, in the form of a remittance or an inheritance, sent between Europe and America during the late 19th century?
Immigrants in 19th and early 20th century New York frequently sent remittances to their home countries. Between 1848 and 1900, for example, the Irish in North America sent home over $260 million; a yearly average of $5 million, 90 percent of which came from the United States. In 1850, the Emigrant Savings Bank was established to help Irish immigrants save money and remit a portion to family in Ireland. When Joseph Moore opened an account at the Emigrant Savings Bank in 1873, he may have deposited money ultimately intended for relatives remaining in Ireland.
While a considerable amount of these remittances were sent in the form of prepaid passage on ships bound for America, quite a bit of money was sent home to help support family left behind in Ireland. According to the historian Kerby Miller, this money was often used to help aging parents pay rent on the land they leased from large landowners.
How was this money sent? During the mid-to-late 19th century, transferring money between Europe and the United States was both efficient and secure. In 1871, for example, the Western Union Co. began its money transfer service. In addition, money was often sent in the form of bank notes placed in the mail. Occasionally, remittances were entrusted to an acquaintance making the trip overseas, and many immigrants appear to have sent money through informal channels such as this. Both shipping companies and mail companies likewise established businesses that helped transfer money from the United States to Europe.
After 1890, immigrants were able to send remittances via US Postal money orders. In addition, as immigrants tended trust their own countrymen, ethnically oriented banks and financial institutions established to assist in the remittance of savings to family in Europe.