25 – Let’s Talk About Money

Kathleen Teply asked how much it cost Joseph Teply to travel to America.

That leads to other interesting questions:

  • How could poor peasants afford to go?
  • How much money did they make? How much did they have?
  • What was their cottage worth? Or their farm?
  • Did they have debts?

In 1850s, a cow cost 20 to 30 guldens.

The price of a small house was 400 to 800 guldens.

And a farm laborer earned 2 guldens per week. Women less.

The Gulden (Czech: zlatý) was the currency of the Habsburg lands between 1754 and 1892.

2 guldens = 1 dollar

Cost to travel to America

In 1854 a Moravian government official tallied the cost from Brno to New York. I added the cost from New York to Milwaukee. The total cost was about 170 guldens (about 80 dollars) per person.

Our Teplys Joseph, Josepha, and year-old Frantisek emigrated in about 1866, so the price may have been higher.

So let’s guess their voyage was around 400 guldens total (200 US dollars). Full fare per adult, nothing for toddler.

Legal emigration

For legal emigration, an applicant had to give reasons for emigration and evidence of enough money for the voyage and the initial period in America. That amount was about 150 guldens per person.

Frantisek Picha of Oldris hopes to sell his cottage at 400 and the remaining 200 guldens will be somehow scraped up, in order to have the required amount of 150 guldens per person.

The highest percentage of emigrant groups was landless families.

One of the poorest families that intended to emigrate were the Mrazs of Siroky Dul. They had no job, no earning, no property.

Illegal Emigration

There was also illegal emigration. Many couldn’t meet the financial requirement. Others were draft dodgers.

We mentioned earlier the siblings Jukls who joined their parents at the ship ́s board in Bremen. They were conscription age and did not believe they could receive the consent. Only their parents Josef and Terezie Jukl applied for emigration, and did not mention they had two sons.

German authorities were rather benevolent, in case of a detention of an Austrian citizen without the passport. They mostly let him pass farther. Even as late as 1895 the Bremen Steamship agency F. MISSLER- J. BRUGK distributed a pamphlet with a convenient name: How to Get to the Port of Bremen without any Passport.

Land holders could sell assets

Cottagers had an asset – their house and garden. Cottagers were a large percentage of emigrants.

Frantisek Cerny of Pusta Rybna put off his voyage for a year. One reason was that his wife was pregnant. The second one, he could not find a buyer to whom he could sell his homestead at 540 guldens.

Farmers had a house and farm fields. But farmer’s families emigrated only rarely; mostly when they were exposed to misfortune.

A farmer Josef Dostal of Blatina asked for permission in 1854 for his six-member-family and his 77-year-old father Jan. They received the consent and passports but they did not find a buyer for their farmstead and decided to postpone the emigration.

And when they got to America…

A cow cost about $25, about double.

A small house cost about $300 to $700, about 50% more.

And a farm laborer earned about $7 per week without board, or $4 per week with board and washing. That’s about 7 times more.

Here are some prices from the first Montgomery Ward catalog in 1872, a one page listing of 162 products:

Nibbles Extra Credit

Much of this information, and the quotations above, are from a paper by Karel Kysilka. He’s the one who analyzed the 1829 census, and wrote about social demographics. He’s done another paper on emigration, and it’s great too.

A couple years ago, on our way to Austin, we stopped to visit Ben and Kris Karr in Fort Worth. Ben is Alice Teply’s son. We enjoyed a nice dinner out, stayed at their house, and Ben fixed a fabulous breakfast.

As we were departing that morning, Ben offered this advice, “You’ve got to visit the Czech Stop, in West, Texas. It’s just past Hillsboro. All kinds of kolaches and Czech food.”

We did stop, and have on several subsequent trips.

Main Street – West, Texas – looking east

I was surprised to see that Karel Kysilka presented his paper on emigration in Hillsboro, Texas!

Central Texas was a major destination for immigrants from Bohemia, and has lots of Czech heritage and culture today.

“…home of the official Kolache of the Texas Legislature”

City of West, Texas website

Makes me hungry just thinking about it.


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