Pioneering history

Holland America Line, Hotel New York, ss Rotterdam. Three names for three true Rotterdam icons, all closely connected to the history of the city and the port of Rotterdam. All with their roots in Rotterdam soil (and river), in a remarkable city where one can breathe in the past and discern the urban future on the horizon. Add to this short list Delfshaven, one of the oldest remaining parts of the city of Rotterdam and the departure point from which the Pilgrim Fathers sailed for America. Gems of Rotterdams past and its present, connecting pioneers from history to pioneers of the future.

The departure of the Pilgrim Fathers from Delfshaven to America in 1620 (first on the Speedwell, and from Southampton on board the larger seaworthy ship The Mayflower) was the historic starting signal for people who wanted to seek their fortune or just a better future on the other side of the ocean. Since then and increasingly often, Dutch people dreaming of a better life left for America from Rotterdam. The history of the current Holland America Line, Hotel New York and ss Rotterdam is inextricably related to the story of the Pilgrim Fathers.


Today historic Delfshaven is one of the few parts of the old city that survived the 1940 bombardment of Rotterdam. It has had a rich and remarkable history, both as the departure point for the Pilgrim Fathers sailing for America and as the birthplace of Dutch maritime legend Piet Hein. Today, picturesque Delfshaven still looks and feels much like the old port of he 17th century, with old gable houses and barges drawing the attention of visitors. It is a unique place within the Rotterdam metropolis, where the old meets the new.

Birth of the ‘HAL’

After the Pilgrim Fathers had left from Delfshaven and had gained a foothold on American soil, first at Cape Cod and later in Massachusetts, and had established their own community, more and more Dutch fortune seekers travelled to America via Rotterdam. In 1871, this resulted in the creation of the company Plate, Reuchlin & Co by Antoine Plate and Otto Reuchlin. Through this company, they provided a direct connection between the Netherlands and America via steamships. Two years later, in 1873, the company was renamed NV Nederlandsch-Amerikaanse Stoomvaart-Maatschappij (NASM). Approximately 1 million people would sail from Rotterdam to America up to the turn of the century.

In 1875, the Nieuwe Waterweg (“New Waterway”) was opened, which started the development of Rotterdam into an important European and global port. New York became a scheduled destination for ships from Rotterdam. The route from Rotterdam to America by steamship was known popularly as the ‘Holland-America Line’, which led the NASM to add this to its name officially in 1896: NV Nederlandsch-Amerikaanse Stoomvaart-Maatschappij ‘Holland-Amerika Lijn’. It took until 1973 for the name to be finally shortened to Holland Amerika Line NV (or HAL for short).

From Directors building to Hotel New York

The present Hotel New York at the far end of the Wilhelminakade started out as the offices for the NASM directors and it was built between 1901-1917 by the architects Muller, Droogleever Fortuyn and Van der Tak. The building was erected on almost exactly the same spot where the NASM had previously established a hotel with the name ‘Hotel New:York’. The originally rather massive and stately executive building has over time been modified to include Art Nouveau characteristics as well as the two little towers, which give the building its unique features up until today.

These days, Hotel New York is a Rijksmonument (a listed building and national heritage site). It is a popular attraction, a remarkable hotel and a very much sought after restaurant (also with the new edition of the cocktail bar NY Basement) all rolled into one. On fair days, droves of local residents as well as tourists from the Netherlands and abroad arrive to enjoy the building and the waterside terraces with the breathtaking view. And one can frequently spot young couples getting married who are starting their new lives together here!

Fortune seekers and cruises

From the first crossing by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620 up to 1978, the transatlantic connection between Rotterdam and New York was the primary route for fortune seekers and emigrants. Over the years, and with the emergence of airlines, the route by steamship became less prominent and attractive to travellers between the European and American continents. The role of HAL vessels slowly changed from ocean liners to cruise ships. The very last passenger ship to sail from Rotterdam to New York was the Nieuw Amsterdam II in 1971. Shortly afterwards, the HAL sold off its cargo division too and the organization concentrated its efforts on cruises. The head office at the Wilheminapier was moved from Rotterdam to New York. The old head office building remained unoccupied for a long time until it was converted into a hotel and renamed Hotel New York in 1993.

ss Rotterdam

The ss (steamship) Rotterdam is one of the former flagships of the Holland-America Line. Built between 1956-1958 by the Rotterdamsche Droogdok Maatschappij NV, launched officially in September 1958 by Queen Juliana, ‘De Rotterdam’ underwent its first sea trial in 1959. From that moment on, the ship played a part in the last decades of passenger transport between Rotterdam and New York. Over the years though, it was increasingly deployed for cruises. The last transatlantic sailing took place in 1968, after which she was revamped by RDM for further deployment as a cruise ship. Since that time, De Rotterdam has gone through turbulent times, including a change of home port (from Rotterdam to Willemstad), several refurbishments and renovations, a takeover by the American cruise company Premier Cruises and the subsequent change of name to De Rembrandt (1997). Its fortunes reached an all-time low when the ship was impounded in 2000 after Premier Cruises had gone bankrupt.

It was particularly through the creation of a foundation dedicated to preserving this ‘Grande Dame’ that the ship was eventually saved from its demise and it was fully restored. After various travels and extensive renovations, the renamed ss Rotterdam found its final berth at the Katendrechtse Hoofd in the Maashaven in Rotterdam in 2008, where it is now a popular attraction, hotel, restaurant, conference venue and much more.

Dream away, have adventures…

The Pilgrim Fathers’ departure from Delfshaven in 1620 leaves its mark even now in these special locations in Rotterdam. Whether it’s at Hotel New York, the ss Rotterdam or a different location near the river Maas in Rotterdam. Close your eyes and dream away. Smell the salt of the sea, see a beautiful cruise ship in its berth, hear the call of the alluring water. In your mind’s eye, you can make the crossing, have adventures, discover new things…

Header photo: Gemeentearchief Rotterdam.

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