Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wednesday search challenge (2/19/14): How much did it cost to travel to Hawai'i in 1908?

When much of the US seems to be stuck in a deep freeze, one's thoughts naturally turn to Hawai'i.  And when you think of Hawai'i, you think about traveling there. 

But at this moment, I happened to be reading a bit about President Theodore Roosevelt and his "Great White Fleet."  As you know, the GWF was a cruise of several US Naval ships in a fairly transparent display of sea power worldwide.  

In 1908, the GWF visited Hawai'i, pausing long enough to pick up new supplies, and even a few pineapples from the locals.  (Remember, at the time, pineapples were still fairly exotic.  We have them year-round these days, but in the early part of the 20th century, this was heady stuff.)  

The Great White Fleet pauses in Hawai'i for pineapples. Postcard from 1908 Hawai'i. 

This got me to thinking... My grandparents were alive in 1908, and I know it was possible to travel to Hawai'i then.  But would they? How much would it cost?  This leads to today's challenges... 

1.  How much would it cost to travel from San Francisco to Hawai'i?   
2.  About how long would it take to get from San Francisco to Honolulu?  
3.  (Extra credit) If you were an average guy living in San Francisco at the time, was this just ridiculously expensive, or could just about anyone afford the fare?  (Another way to think about this--what fraction of an average annual salary would the round-trip fare be?  If it's more than 10% of an annual paycheck, that's too much.)  

The first two challenges are pretty straightforward.  I haven't done #3 yet, but I'm interested in how you approach the question.  

As usual, let us know HOW you come to answer these questions.  We're curious about how you think about the process, about what works for you, and what doesn't work for you! 

Search on!  


  1. 1. It would cost $110 in first class on the SS Alemeda according to this advertisement:
    $75 in first class according to this advertisement.
    I didn't see the second or third class rates advertised in the San Franscisco Call.
    2. 5 1/2 days
    3. According to Google the average worker made $200-$400 a year, this is not really affordable, but if the second class was ~$25 each way it probably would be affordable (or affordable for a one way trip...)
    A first class plane ticket today is about $600 one way, which is about 1/4 the price in 2012 terms according to measuring worth's CPI measure of $110 in 2012 dollars, $2830.

  2. 1. How much would it cost to travel from San Francisco to Hawai'i?

    First stop [honolulu 1908]

    San Francisco Call, Volume 103, Number 158, 6 May 1908
    OCEANIC S.S. CO. / Honolulu S.S. Alameda sails 11 a.m. May 28. ROund trip $125.

    Another hit for the next year shows this is first class too.

    San Francisco Call, Volume 106, Number 80, 19 August 1909
    Honolulu: S.S. Alameda sails 11 a.m., Aug. 28. Special round trip $110 first class. Oceanic Line 673 Market St; tel Kearney 1231.

    Time so far about half a minuite.

    2. About how long would it take to get from San Francisco to Honolulu?

    Oceanic Poster of S S Alameda and other ships,_1896.jpg

    A great pix of the ship herself passenger lists shows
    for 1908 and years around that give times of 6 to 14 days.

    five minutes more to here

    3. (Extra credit) If you were an average guy living in San Francisco at the time, was this just ridiculously expensive, or could just about anyone afford the fare?

    [us income levels historical 1900-1910] shows average income $750/year. Vacation: 12 day cruise $60.

    [books] Industrial Relations in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1900-1918 Plumbers wanted $5 to $6 per day. Carmen $3 daily; waqiter $2 for 10 hours. So, yes the first class cruise was ridiculously expensive.

    Another 20 minutes for this great Search CHallenge jon

  3. Good Morning, Dr. Russell, fellow SearchResearchers


    [San Francisco to Honolulu 1908 travel duration]

    Great White Fleet Third Leg There is the site of the cruise

    [San Francisco to Hawaii prices|cost 1908] in Google Books.

    Value of some Japanese products in San Francisco in 1908. Not in the Challenge but interesting.

    [San Francisco to Hawaii travel value|prices|cost 1908] Found interesting data but no answer. Just found "Lurline."

    [SS Lurline passage cost]

    Cost Lurline cruise in 1948.

    [ss lurline 1908 manifest] [ss lurline 1908 ]

    price round trip and single fare.

    [ss lurline 1908 roundtrip fare]

    Fare. Source a.

    [what was the average salary in 1908]

    History lesson 1908

    [San Francisco average wage 1908]

    [San Francisco average wage timeline]

    Minimum wage in 1916 was 0.16

    [San Francisco average wage history since 1900]
    Prices and Wages Guide
    Here you will find U. S. government documents listing retail prices for typical consumer purchases, and wages for common occupations. Data is broken out by decade from the 1770s-present.


    1. How much would it cost to travel from San Francisco to Hawai'i?

    A: 110 dollars round trip. 65 single.

    2. About how long would it take to get from San Francisco to Honolulu?
    "Great White Fleet:"Departure 7 July, 1908. Distance to next port 3,937 Km. Arrival to Honolulu, Hawaii 16 July, 1908. Time traveled: 10 days.

    From source a: 5 days.

    3. (Extra credit) If you were an average guy living in San Francisco at the time, was this just ridiculously expensive, or could just about anyone afford the fare? (Another way to think about this--what fraction of an average annual salary would the round-trip fare be? If it's more than 10% of an annual paycheck, that's too much.)
    A. Average income in USA for 1908 was between 200 and 400 dollars. Therefore, it was very expensive.

  4. 1. Cost of travel from San Francisco to Honolulu

    Searched for fares San Francisco to Honolulu 1908 - found nothing specific

    Thought that a newspaper might have the information

    Used the Library of Congress to find The Hawaiian Star

    The Hawaiian Star 1908.12.30

    Found that the Oceanic Steamship Company had the following rates as of June 24th, 1908
    Single fare $65 and Round trip $110

    2. Length of journey

    The advertisement in the Hawaiian Star shows that the trips would have been 6 days in length

    3. Average Joe was paid approximately how much in San Francisco, 1908?

    Google search for San Francisco income 1908

    Found several papers on wages in the US. One lists San Francisco City Operator wage of $35.84 per month. The paper goes on to list several untitled positions at Bell Systems as $31, $23, $163, $154, $46, $243, $97 and $28 per month and later lists a Construction worker as $87 a month.

    Based on this data, I would guess that the construction worker rate of $87 a month would be a good measure of a middle class worker in 1908 San Francisco.

    That $87 would be $1,044 per year.

    The $110 ticket would be 10.5% of his income. Which would be a very ridiculous price for the average Joe in SF, 1908

    Median income for SF in 2010 was approximately $75,000. A ticket based on 10.5% of annual income would be $7,850!

    Total time approx 30 mins

    1. Found this showing Third Class fares to Honolulu, the First Class fares remained the same as 1908, no Second Class were offered

      Sailings 1915 Oceanic Steamship Company

    2. I should have included that the Third Class one-way fare was $35

  5. Anne and I started by doing a search for: boat trip from san francisco to hawaii 1908 and one of the first results was to a Wikipedia article on the SS Lurline. That article didn't give too much information so we did a new search on "lurline steamship fares 1908, that search led us to an article in the Hawaiian Star which said the fares were $65 dollars for a single. This article gave the dates when the boat left Honolulu and arrived in San Francisco and then again when it left for the return trip on when it arrived back in Hawaii. From the article it appears that the trip takes as little as 4 days and as many as 10. Maybe there are weather conditions that account for the difference or maybe how much weight they are hauling. Not sure will see if we get any more information. To find the average wage we did a search for average wages 1908 and came to someone's blog post which stated the yearly average salary was between 2-400 dollars. The site didn't appear that authoritative so we wanted to validate that and came across the book Wages in the United States 1908-1910. This source appeared credible and validated the numbers above (some states were slightly higher but close enough). So based on this a fare in 1908 was about 16% of someone's salary. So definitely expensive. We then decided to compare to the cost vs. salary of today. We did a search for cruises from San Francisco to Hawaii (and hopefully we won't get fired with our tech people thinking we are booking a vacation on school time!) and found one fare as low as $859 but most averaged under $1200. Then we did a search for average salary 2013 and found from the Social Security Administration that the average wage for last year was slightly over $44,000. So now the cost of the fare is about 2 or 3%.

  6. a little note on speed & the GWF…
    The Hawaiian gazette, article:Cruisers will steam to Honolulu at full speed
    GWF, Third Leg Itinerary — 9 days, SF - Honolulu
    entering SF Bay
    1908, in the Bay
    GWF (unfortunate) mascots
    and for the Ananas comosus lovers:
    pineapple history
    I always thought pineapples came from under the sea…
    124 Conch Street

    "The morning of 6 May 1908, Nebraska joined the Atlantic portion of the Great White Fleet off San Francisco. The 16 battleships of the Atlantic Squadron had left Hampton Roads, Virginia, the previous December and transited to the Pacific via port calls in South America and the Straits of Magellan. Over one million people lining the shores of the Golden Gate greeted the Great White Fleet when it entered San Francisco Bay. When added to the Pacific Coast warships, there were 48 ships maneuvering in the bay that morning.20
    The fleet sailed from San Francisco Bay for Honolulu on 7 July, but the Nebraska was infected with scarlet fever and quarantined at Angel’s Island for two days. After being fumigated and receiving a clean bill of health, the Nebraska departed and rendezvoused with the fleet on 14 July, two days out of Hawaii. Schuyler was much taken with Honolulu and the native Hawaiians later stating, “This most beautiful city nestling on a beautiful bay, amidst palms and tropical flowers. The natives known as Kanakas are very hospitable and endeared themselves in the hearts of our sailors. If given a choice...he would select Honolulu above all other places in the world as a place of residence.”21 The fleet spent seven days in Hawaii taking on coal, supplies, and being entertained by the inhabitants."

    page 23 of PDF (Ch 2, p 8-10)

    The Maine was in SF
    "When the fleet arrived in San Francisco on May 6, the hills surrounding the city by the Bay were packed with thousands of greeters, many brought in by special trains from outlying communities. San Francisco greeted the fleet in its typical warm-hearted and ostentatious fashion by staging a 48-hour ball at the Fairmont Hotel where dinners normally went for $10 per plate. The officers and men of the Great White Fleet were treated to a welcome they would long remember.
    During the sailor's stay in 'Frisco, the citizens went so far as to pitch tents in Jefferson Square and Portsmouth Square for White Fleet sailors who ran out of hotel money.

    While in San Francisco, the battleships Maine and Alabama were replaced by USS Nebraska (BB-14) and USS Wisconsin (BB-9). The reason behind this change was due to Maine's and Alabama's voracious appetite for coal. They seemed to eat up more "'black diamonds" than any other ships in the fleet."

    1. … not the same Maine as was down in Havana…
      GWF Maine
      did do the circumnavigation separately from the rest of the fleet, after San Francisco, with the USS Alabama -
      skipped Hawaii… Hawaiʻi
      Ua Mau ke Ea o ka 'Āina i ka Pono ("The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness".)
      Pau hana, Pa`a ka waha

  7. [1908 shipping lines san fransisco to hawaii]

    The first three results are all useful and this one

    Gives me the name of a company called Matson Navigation Company and a passenger ship called the Lurline which went from San Francisco to Hawaii starting in 1908.

    I then tried

    [how much did it cost to travel on the lurline]

    The first few results are no help but I look at this one


    Which says:

    “Matson built a steamship named Lurline in 1908[3]; one which carried mainly freight yet could hold 51 passengers along with 65 crew. “

    Interesting but nothing about costs. Next I try

    [cruising to hawaii in the 1910s]

    Third result down is Matson Navigation Company - Huntington Digital Library

    Following this link leads to scans of old advertising leaflets for the Matson company, including one supposedly from 1908. Though when you look at the leaflet, the sailing dates are for 1914.

    The Lurline could offer a single trip at $65 or round trip of $110.

    You could also go on the Enterprise for $60, Steerage for $30. The company also offered Steel Barks for $50 single and $100 return. I suspect these other boats might not have been around in 1908 though and I don't have time to check at the moment.
    Not had chance to look at other questions yet – may have time later.

  8. Follow up to previous post.
    Checking the scanned advert document from the Huntington Digital Library, I checked the in service dates of the ships mentioned. Only the SS Lurline and the SS Enterprise (a steamship) were in operation in 1908.
    They appear to have taken about 7 days to sail to Honolulu.
    The Steel Barks were sail ships and presumably were around in 1908 but took a lot longer (15 – 20 days) to sail to Hawaii.

    Finding average wage was a bit more difficult.
    I initially tried
    [tool for US historical average wages 1908]

    This led me to the Census bureau again and to this document

    “Bicentennial Edition: Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 “

    But I got a bit lost in navigating this and thought there must be an easier way.
    So I tried
    [average income in us in 1908]

    I then found this book -
    “The New Geography of Global Income Inequality” by Glenn Firebaugh which states on p58 that average earnings were $326 p.a or $27 per month.
    I am going to accept that the book has hopefully got it right though looking at the census site info is probably better.

    So it looks like the Enterprise was the cheapest in 1908 at $60. That was 2 months wages for an average worker and another 2 months wages to come back!
    Even steerage was a month's wages.

    So it was definitely more the Crawley family level of “Downton Abbey” than the servant level.

  9. Oceanic Steamship Company and Pacific Mail Steamship Company are easily found in newpapers ads. I chose two methods, newspapers and images looking for classified ads.
    Query [travel “san francisco to honolulu” 1908]
    The Hawaiian Star Sept 1908 classified ad for the Almeda Schedule & pricing. From this we can see the departure and arrival giving us a five day crossing and fares roundtrip 110.00 Single 65.00. Image search and you’ll find the same classified ads.

    Now I did a book search to see if other fares were available Hittell”s Hand-book of Pacific Coast Travel “The trip from San Francisco to Honolulu is made in about 6 days by the steamers Mariposa and Alameda each of 3000 tons leaving San Francisco on the 1st and 15th of every month First cabin passage $75 round trip $125 steerage $25.” So now we have found what is likely the cheapest fare of $25. usd.

    Would the average worker be able to afford the trip? Before answering the question I would say this could be quite complicated to determine. We need to understand prices and wages in 1908. Was the purchasing power of $1 in 1908 weak or strong depends on several economic factors but that goes way beyond the point of this challenge.

    We can get a simple answer regarding wages such as Snapshot of life in 1905ex post facto -Journal of the History Students at San Francisco State University provides me with a Average Wage starting in 1908 related to ironworks a signficant industry in SF. We see a skilled worker was earning $1300. (far more than the national average).

    End of Part One (anticipating 4096+)

  10. Part Two

    The government journal “Wages in the US 1908 -1910” didn’t have specifics for S.F. so I moved on to California wages 1870-1928 and we find a tableWages for males in SF 1890-1928 High $1800 Low $1056. I found a few other sources but we now have a range and if I averaged the wages I come up with $1366.

    Now I got back to thinking about what was going on in SF since the earthquake only occurred 2 years before. I found this really good book (which I got lost in for some time, beautiful images and lots of detail)The Modern San Francisco 1907 - 1908 that gave me a sense. Here’s a few quotes “The reconstruction of San Francisco has produced probably the most favorable conditions for the laboring man that have ever been known in America. It has been estimated that a million dollars is being spent each week in wages, and the unusual demand in all the building trades, and for unskilled labor as well, will continue…”

    “There is room for many more workingmen than there are in San Francisco at the present time. The
    wage scale climbed for a long while, and the minimum scale has long been lost sight of. Five dollars a day is on the average small wage for the artisan. Bricklayers daily, and sometimes more. The wages for cement workers, plasterers, lathers, carpenters, black- smiths, painters, horseshoers, tinners, boiler-makers, teamsters, stationary engineers, cabinet-makers, and inside finishers are away up. “

    “All this money is put right into circulation again. You will see a greater proportion of well-dressed women to the total population on the streets of San Francisco today than in any other city in the world.
    You will find there no distressful tenements. The people are buying and building their own homes. The average yearly wage of the daily workman is accounted between $1300 and $1500.”

    Based on the premise that under 10% would be reasonable a trip to Hawaii would be affordable. But that would also assume a single, unmarried, with no family responsibilities.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. I will try again going another route website is Global Price and Income Group and direct link should be Scroll down(Control F) California Wages 1870 -1928.

    I do test my links before posting but sometimes things just don't work as expected.