The man who crossed the Atlantic in a box

Back in 1901, Johann Beck was having trouble finding work in Germany, so he decided to seek his fortune in America. Problem was the cheapest steerage ticket cost 120 marks, and he didn't have that much. But he calculated that if he packed himself in a box and shipped himself as freight, he could go for half that price.

He built a box that he could seal from the inside by a series of hooks. He arranged to have it picked up at his home, telling the freight company that the box contained "artist's models." Then he sealed himself in it along with what he thought would be enough food to last him the trip: a dozen cans of condensed milk, a box of prunes, 36 chocolate bars, coffee in bottles, some bread, sausages, and a little whiskey.

Of course, things didn't go quite as he planned. For a start, he hadn't realized how cold it would be in the hold of the ship. And then there were the rats:


The ship (the steamship Palatia of the Hamburg-American Line) departed Hamburg on November 17, and its passage was slowed by a winter storm. So what was supposed to be a 14-day voyage took two days longer, and Johann ran out of food:


The one detail of Beck's transatlantic voyage that I haven't been able to find discussed was how he disposed of his bodily wastes. I suppose he used a bottle, but the smell must have been pretty bad, which would have added to the discomfort of the experience. More details about Beck's voyage here and here.



Posted By: Alex - Mon Jun 25, 2012
Category: Travel, 1900s



Comments
Did he survive, it wasn't mentioned?
Posted by Expat47 in Athens, Greece on 06/25/12 at 09:21 AM
Yes, I'd love to know if he got to stay and bring his girl over.
Posted by Patty in Ohio, USA on 06/25/12 at 10:46 PM
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