Trains, Steamships, Yachts, Jinrikishas, and Chairs: Travel in 1894

by Devan Leigh Gelle (Baldwin Wallace University, ’16)

Wade Project, Public History Intern, Summer 2016

In 1894 Jeptha Homer Wade II (1857-1926) and his entire family traveled throughout East Asia for several months.  It is no doubt that travel 120 years ago would be different, but just how different? For starters, international travel took much longer, as there were no airplanes that could take you directly to your location. The Wade family had to take several trains from Cleveland to San Francisco just to get to the coast. From Illinois to Nebraska to Utah to California in three days, you may already be tired of traveling before the trip even begins. Once you reach water, it’s time for the most difficult leg of your journey, 18 days on a commercial steamship.

If you have enough money like the Wades, you may be lucky enough to avoid overcrowding in steerage and obtain a large room for yourself. One thing money can not buy, however, is immunity to seasickness. Just ask Nellie Wade (1859-1916) who often could not eat a bite without feeling nauseous, usually not coming out of her room on long boat trips.

Planning on taking a trip during a war between China and Japan in 1894? You might want to take into account the torpedoes your commercial steamship is going to have to dodge pulling into the harbor. Today, when you arrive at your destination after a long trip you are likely tired and want nothing more than to grab a cab and head to your hotel. If you are the Wade family, perhaps you’d like to bypass the hotel altogether, and have your personal yacht, the Wadena, waiting for you, set up with all the amenities. 


So how does one travel once they are at their location?  Well, a Wade certainly would not be seen just walking around a city like Tokyo. Instead, a rickshaw (Homer refers to them as ” Jinrikishas”) would have been taken almost everywhere. Yes, a rickshaw pulled by a laborer, in all climates and conditions. Even when the road was too difficult to pull the cart and Jeptha and the men had to walk, the ladies would remain seated, being dragged through mud, rocks and small openings.

Rickshaws were not the only way to Western visitors, including the Wades, took advantage of the native population to make their travels more comfortable. Chairs were used regularly by the Wades as well. Family members would sit on thrones and then laborers would pick up the chairs and carry them on their shoulders. Jeptha even describes how awful this was for the workers, “Chairs were rattan porch chairs with 4 men to each who shifted shoulders constantly many of the coolies having large lumps on their shoulders.” At least you would have company on these types of trips, for the Wade family to travel, they required dozens of laborers to carry them, their baggage, and their egos around the city. 

Because this trip was between several countries, the yacht was used to travel continuously, no matter if the pilot dies halfway through the trip, or you must pay a bond to the Emperor of China for illegally passing through a river. Perhaps the journey is the destination for the Wade family and long trips are their preference, besides, how else are you going to do so much fabulous shopping? 


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