The Man Who Hid In A Box Shipped From Germany To The United States To Seek The American Dream
More than 100 years ago, Johann Beck spent 16 days confined in a shipping container in the hold of a ship because he couldn’t afford a ticket to emigrate to the U.S.
Throughout history many people have found their personal situations to be untenable and sought new opportunities, even if that meant completely uprooting their lives. Such change is never easy and rarely cheap. This didn’t deter Johann Beck, a poor German man, who pivoted when he discovered he couldn’t afford a ticket for a new life in the United States, and instead shipped himself in a box in the cargo hold of a ship in 1901.
Like many immigrants of the time, Beck decided to move across the Atlantic Ocean after continually finding it difficult to find work in his homeland. Unfortunately, the cheapest steerage class ticket that would take him by ship from his native Germany to the United States was 120 marks; much more than he could afford. However, he was so desperate that after determining he could ship himself as cargo for less than half that price, a new plan was hatched to change countries.
He built a custom box with hooks on the inside so he could seal it once he was safely stowed away. He then made arrangements to have it labeled as “artist’s models” and had it delivered to the ship Palatia in advance of the voyage.
Although Beck couldn’t take much, he brought as much food and beverage as he thought would be necessary with him. This included 36 chocolate bars, 12 cans of condensed milk, some whiskey, 14 pints of seltzer water, a box of dates, bottles of coffee and some bread and sausages.
Beck eventually made it safely to his destination, but not in the manner in which he expected. He later described his experience and some of the surprises that he encountered:
“I was asleep most of the time for the first two days and nights. One thing surprised me, the noise of the rats. I could hear them running over the cargo, their claws scratching on the wood of the packing cases. They ran across my case, too, and scratched at it. I suppose they smelled food inside and wanted…