Between 1873 and 1935 the Red Star Line operated transatlantic liners which transported between two and three million people from Antwerp to America and Canada, with connections to Cuba and Mexico. Many of these emigrants would have arrived in Antwerp by train at the magnificent Central Station and must have been astonished at the architecture, the wealth, the shops and the restaurants of this great city.
As part of the gradual improvement of the Antwerp riverside, three of the remaining buildings of the Red Star Line have been restored and converted to tell the story of the emigrants, their arrival and processing in Antwerp, life on board the ships, arrival at their North American destination and, of course, descriptions of the ships themselves. The main focus of the museum is the individual stories of some of the passengers, alongside Red Star Line memorabilia from the collection of Robert Vervoort.
Opened in September 2013, the Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp is an European counterpart to New York’s Ellis Island Immigration Museum, to designs of New York architect Beyer Blinder Belle. The existing buildings house display, interactive and support spaces with a new observation tower rising unexpectedly above the original buildings to provide a visual signpost of the museum and a panoramic view of the city and the river.
The Red Star Line was founded in 1871 as a joint venture between the International Navigation Company of Philadelphia and the Société Anonyme de Navigation Belgo-Américaine of Antwerp and continued operating until 1935 when it closed as a casualty of the Great Depression. A nice feature of the displays is the way that the history of the old buildings is described with photographs and text, so that visitors can imagine themselves going back in time.