The Frau Erica Project
Muellers in America:
The first 155 years


SS Donau   The Donau was built for the immigrant trade in 1868, with room for 60 passengers in first-class and 700 in steerage. Michael Nickel Sr. came over in 1881. The Donau was converted to freight in 1889. On March 16, 1895, it caught fire and was abandoned in the North Atlantic.

Michael Nickel Sr. — In Amerika ist alles herrlich

Michael Nickel emigrated only after his sons had established themselves in Milwaukee. He traveled alone, leaving an adult daughter in Pomerania.

Michael Nickel Sr. was not the first of the Nickels to make it to America, but he was the oldest. More information is available about the ship that brought him than about the man himself.

He had at least three children. His two sons, Michael Jr. (H.C. Nickel’s grandfather) and possibly Albert Friedrich (the archives cannot confirm his name), were the first to leave Germany. The younger Michael, at least, was married; he and his wife Wilhelmina (geb. Knoll) emigrated with one son, Albert Friedrich, a toddler. That first group of Nickels settled in Milwaukee. Michael Sr.’s daughter, whose name is lost to the archives, evidently remained in Germany, and there is no further word anywhere about her. Adelheid Nickel remembered hearing her in-laws say that the daughter was “difficult.”

Once his sons had firmly established themselves, they sent for their father. (“Komm! In Amerika ist alles herrlich!” is how Adelheid Nickel heard the story.) Michael Sr., then 60 years old, came over on the SS. Donau, embarking in Bremen and arriving in New York on or about November 12, 1881, the date on which Captain R. Bussius signed the sworn manifest of arriving passengers. This was a little more than two years after his sons had arrived.

Michael Sr. traveled alone in third class. He is listed as a farmer from Prussia. There is no information whether he was a widower or was simply leaving his wife and adult daughter behind. He evidently did get to Milwaukee. There were references to “Old Man Michael” — pronounced the German way: MICH-ah-ale — as distinct from H.C. Nickel‘s grandfather Michael. He was too late to show up in the 1880 census. The 1890 census records were destroyed, and he does not appear in the 1900 census. The church records at St. Lucas in Milwaukee had no death record for him.

The SS. Donau, registered in Bremen, was built in 1868 by Caird & Co. in Greenock, Scotland, and launched October 17, 1868. It was operated by Norddeutscher Lloyd specifically for the immigrant trade, accommodating only 60 passengers in first class but 700 in steerage (third class). Its first immigrant voyage (Bremen to Southampton to New York) began January 16, 1869. Its last immigrant voyage to New York was January 16, 1887, although it continued immigrant service to Baltimore until the voyage of September 25, 1889. The SS. Donau had a crew of between 90 and 105.

Mechanically, the SS. Donau displaced 2,896 tons, was 332 feet long with a beam of 40 feet. It was built as a steamship with a single screw propulsion system, though it also had two masts.

On October 21, 1889, about a month after its last immigrant voyage to Baltimore, the SS. Donau was sold to H. Bischoff of Bremen and was rebuilt as a freighter. On March 16, 1895, while in the North Atlantic steaming from Hamburg to Philadelphia, the SS. Donau was destroyed by fire and abandoned. All passengers and crew were saved by the British steamship Delaware.