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New Steamship Lines at Boston (1912)

Much of the public interest in port development, which culminated in the passage of the $9,000,000 appropriation in 1911, was due to the agitation to make Boston a great passenger port, particularly in the transatlantic trade. It appears that very little consideration was given to the ocean freight business, which was expected to follow as a matter of course.

The apparent theory was that by providing the most up-to date passenger facilities money could buy, much of the transatlantic passenger business of the country, which had been for years going through the port of New York, would be attracted to the port of Boston.

The experience of the Hamburg-American Line, the first steamship company to use the new facilities provided by the State, was, however, to the contrary, passenger business being below and freight business above expectations.

The following story of the steamship situation at the port of Boston in July 1914, prior to any interruption on account of the war in Europe, will be of interest when contrasted with the first chapter of the report of the Directors for 1913.

The Cunard Line

The Cunard Line, with a passenger and freight service to and from Boston for over forty years, was in 1913 building the “Aquitania” for their New York-Liverpool service, which boat, together with the “Lusitania” and the “Mauretania,” could well take care of the Cunard Line business at that port. In the fall of 1913, the Cunard Company announced that the “Caronia” and “Carmania” would be transferred from the New York service to Boston, making, with the “Franconia” and “Laconia,” a weekly in place of a fortnightly service to and from this port.

Application was unsuccessfully made to the Port Directors for use of Commonwealth Pier N o. 5, South Boston, to accommodate the improved service. The new sailings started in the spring of 1914 were disarranged in August, when the “Carmania,” “Caronia” and “Laconia” were requisitioned by the British government for war services, forcing the “Franconia” to the New York trade, so that the service at Boston is now entirely a fortnightly freight one, maintained by vessels chartered by the Cunard Line. The boats dock at the Boston & Albany Railroad terminal, East Boston.

The White Star Line

The White Star Line, with services fortnightly to Liverpool and every three weeks to the Mediterranean, had been docking at the Hoosac terminal of the Boston & Maine Railroad in Charlestown for years. The piers and sheds used were in very bad condition and the docking accommodations too small and crowded to permit larger boats being put on by this line at the port of Boston.

Accordingly, the White Star Line made application in the fall of 1913 for the use of the east half of Commonwealth Pier No. 5, South Boston, which was then nearing completion. The Cunard Line also made application, but the Directors of the Port decided in favor of the White Star Line, and entered into a contract whereby that line agreed to place in service at Boston within two years,  large boats of their line of the “Celtic” type (680 feet long), which they never would have been able to put on at Boston had they remained at the Boston & Maine Railroad terminal at Charlestown.

Hamburg-American Line

In 1912, the Hamburg-American Line had been running a triangular freight service, Hamburg-Boston-Baltimore, for about ten years, and was building the world’s largest ship “Imperator” for its New York service. Negotiations had been started by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company the year before to have this line inaugurate a direct passenger and freight service between Hamburg and Boston.

Meanwhile, the Directors of the Port began arrangements with the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad Company for the release to the State of Commonwealth Pier No. 5, South Boston, and with the Hamburg-American Line for the use of this pier. Both became a matter of contract in the fall of 1912.

The new Boston service of this line was to start in the spring of 1913, at which time the “Imperator,” (900 feet long) was to make her maiden trip in the New York service. The passenger piers at the port of New York were then about 800 feet in length and therefore unable properly to handle a ship of this size.

Petition had been made to the War Department for a 100-foot extension of the pier head line so that extra temporary accommodations might be built, but without avail. The Secretary of War refused to allow further encroachment on the navigable waters of the Hudson River.

The Hamburg American Line having secured the lease of Commonwealth Pier No. 5, South Boston, 1,200 feet long, where the “Imperator” could be docked and have 300 feet to spare, sent the ranking captain of the ship to this port to look the ground over.

When these facts were brought to the attention of the New York press and it seemed as though the world’s largest ship would enter the Boston service on her maiden voyage rather than New York, public opinion and pressure at that port became so strong and insistent that the War Department finally granted the extension.

The Hamburg-American Line being able to secure at New York the desired accommodations, the steamships’ “Cleveland” and “Cincinnati,” supplanted on the New York service by the new “Imperator,” were transferred to Boston, and, likewise, when the yet larger steamship “Vaterland” came to New York in the summer of 1914, the “Amerika” from New York was added to the Boston service.

The Boston boats berth at Commonwealth Pier No. 5, South Boston. The service is at present entirely discontinued, the “Amerika” and “Cincinnati” being tied up at this port on account of the war in Europe.

North German Lloyd (Norddeutscher Lloyd, Bremen)

The North German Lloyd and Hamburg-American Line agreement regarding the division of passenger business to and from American and German ports expired in the spring of 1913, and temporary agreements were made from time to time until the matter could be more definitely settled. The Hamburg American Line claimed that they were entitled to a better division of the passenger business than under the previous contract on account of the new large ships they had brought out.

The North German Lloyd then invaded the field of the other company by inaugurating a passenger and freight service to Boston in September 1913, and the Hamburg-American Line made a like entry at the port of Baltimore, hitherto the exclusive passenger territory of the North German Lloyd Line for German business.

The service to Boston started without any preliminaries, and although the two companies afterward came to an agreement the North German Lloyd to Boston continued sending a boat every three weeks, Bremen-Boston-New Orleans-Bremen, up to August of this year, when the service was interrupted on account of the war in Europe.

The North German Lloyd boats, when coming to Boston, docked at the Boston & Albany Railroad terminal in East Boston. Four North German Lloyd steamships are now interned at this port on account of the war in Europe, the “Willehad” and “Wittekind” from Montreal together with the “Koeln” of the Boston service, at Commonwealth Pier No. 5, South Boston, and the “Kronprinzessin Cecilie” at the site of Commonwealth Pier No. 1, East Boston (old Eastern Railroad Pier).

The Russain-American Line

The Russian-American Line has come to Boston only twice in recent years, once in October and again in December 1913. The Port Directors became interested in a Russian line to Boston in the spring of 1912. The matter came up again in the summer of 1913 through the foreign representative of one of the Boston railroads, who had interested a director of the Russian-American Line in Boston.

The Port Directors induced the New York agents of the line to come to Boston in October 1913, for a conference, and as a result, a boat was sent to Boston that month and again in December. These two were the only sailings made. The boats docked at the Mystic and Hoosac terminals of the Boston & Maine Railroad, and brought each time only a small number of passengers and a small amount of freight for this port.

The Navigazione Generale Italiana

The Navigazione Generale Italiana Company controlled four of the six Italian steamship lines trading to New York. The six or seven sailings a month from that port often conflicted with one another, making unnecessary duplicating of service and expense, with no additional revenue therefor.

During the winter of 1912-13, the Port Directors tried to interest the Italian lines in Boston again. They had been here for the three years previous to 1912, at which time their boats in service to this port had been requisitioned by the Italian government for war purposes.

The Hamburg-American Line, in its contract with the Port Directors, had reserved the right to inaugurate a Mediterranean service from this port. When a prominent member of the Boston Chamber of Commerce while in Europe took up the matter of a resumption of its Boston sailings with the directors of the Italian line, the effort was successful.

The Navigazione Generale Italiana resumed its Boston service in July 1913, continuing the same with four boats during the balance of that year and with four boats during 1914 to date. The service is a valuable addition to our otherwise single direct Mediterranean connection. The boats dock at the Boston & Albany Railroad terminal in East Boston.

Warren Line

The action of the Warren Line to Liverpool in fitting up their Boston vessels during the spring of 1913 to carry passengers as well as freight was due to the many inquiries made of the company from time to time by individuals wishing to sail abroad by this line. The Warren Line vessels dock at the Hoosac terminal of the Boston & Maine Railroad at Charlestown.

The service has not been appreciably disturbed on account of the war, only one of the boats trading to Boston having been requisitioned by the British government. However, the lines of this company running to other ports have been so disturbed that the services have had to be rearranged, and the Boston sailings have been taken by the purely freight boats of the line, most of which are larger than their predecessors.

Allan Line

The improvement in the Boston service of the Allan Line to Glasgow by the addition of the large steamship “Pretorian” in the summer of 1914 was due to the bringing out of the two new boats “Alsatian” and “Calgarian,” In the Montreal-Glasgow trade, which allowed the transfer of the “Pretorian” from Montreal to Boston and the disposal by sale of the old Boston Glasgow boat “Parisian.”

The closing to navigation of the St. Lawrence River in Canada forces the extensive Montreal sailings of this line to St. John, N. B., and to Portland, Me., for the winter, and the requisition of boats for war service by the British government has resulted in changing around the boats of this line so that the Boston service is now maintained by one regular and one chartered vessel, with a sailing once a month instead of fortnightly. This line docks at the Mystic terminal of the Boston & Maine Railroad in Charlestown.

Sweden-Norway Line

In October 1912, representatives of the Sweden-Norway Line were in Boston and called at the Port Directors’ offices for information. This company controls the Norway-Mexico-Gulf and the Swedish-America-Mexico lines operating from the Scandinavian Peninsula to Newport News, Galveston, Mexican ports and Cuba.

The company at the time was engaged in constructing new oil-burning boats for its Gulf of Mexico service, and contemplated running the coal-burning boats in a Boston-Philadelphia-Newport News trade from Christiania, Norway, and Gothenburg, Sweden. The plans materialized, and in January 1914, the line started monthly sailings to and from Boston, taking passengers and freight both ways.

The advent of the war in Europe and the interruption of the business of the German lines has so boomed the ocean carrying business of this company that the monthly sailings to and from Boston have been increased to more than one a week, and the regular passenger and freight boats have been augmented by purely freight boats. This line docks at Hoosac terminal of the Boston & Maine Railroad in Charlestown.

The United Fruit Company

The United Fruit Company in November 1913 announced a new weekly service from Boston to Jamaica, Panama and Costa Rica, sailings to begin in January 1914. The company was at the time building or bringing out in their New York service the three new boats “Pastores,” “Calmares” and “Tenadores.” This made it possible to transfer the large combination passenger and freight steamships “Sixaola,” “Carrillo” and “Tivives” from New York to Boston, to take the place of the purely freight boats running to this port from the West Indies and Central America.

 In April 1914, the company was forced, on account of lack of business originating at Boston, to change their Jamaica-Panama-Costa Rica service to a Havana-Costa Rica service, and in October, 1914, on account of lack of passenger support at Boston, the new boats were sent back to New York to inaugurate a new service to Santiago, Cuba.

Boston still has the weekly United Fruit service to and from Havana and Costa Rica, but has lost the direct sailings to and from Jamaica and Panama and must again be content with the slower boats carrying freight only. This line docks at Long Wharf, Atlantic Avenue.

The effect of the war in Europe and the suspension of the former rigid navigation laws of the United States by Congress have resulted in the abandonment of the British registry by the boats of this line, and they are now all sailing under the American flag.

The Boston-Pacific Line

The Boston-Pacific Line through the Panama Canal to Pacific coast ports is a tribute to the enterprise of an old time Boston shipping concern, John S. Emery & Co., Inc. Two ocean-going steamers built at Fore River, Quincy, and one steamship chartered from the Porto Rico Steamship Company, are maintaining the sailings of the line, giving a distinct service to New England manufacturers and shippers by opening to them the markets of the Pacific coast and of the northwest, from which they have hitherto been almost excluded on account of either a long and costly overland rail haul, or steamship services necessitating many rehandlings and delays.

Request was made to the Port Directors in September 1913, by the promoters of this line to call a meeting of New England manufacturers and shippers to see what tonnage was available from this part of the country to support such a line, if established. A conference of manufacturers, shippers and traffic men was held at the office of the Port Directors, at which was presented a report of a canvass made by the Boston Chamber of Commerce, showing the tonnage of freight that could advantageously be forwarded by the individual shippers to and from New England via this service.

The establishment of the Boston-Pacific line is a concrete example of what the construction of the Panama Canal means to New England, and how it has opened and made available to New England by means of cheap direct water transportation, with the minimum amount of costly rehandling, the markets of the Pacific coast and of the northwest.

This line is an important factor in New England’s prosperity and industrial supremacy, and deserves the united support of this section of the country. Its presence at this port brings other lines to Boston in competition with it, providing additional services of which the New England shipper can take advantage.

The first sailing of the Boston-Pacific Line from Boston was in September 1914, and a regular monthly service to and from Boston and the Pacific coast is now established. The boats dock at the piers of the Terminal Wharf and Railroad Warehouse Company in Charlestown, on the Mystic River.

As a result of the formation in 1913 of the Boston-Pacific Line, the American-Hawaiian Line from Pacific coast ports of the United States extended their services to Boston in December of that year, and ran boats monthly to this port until March, 1914, when the service was discontinued on account of the Mexican revolutions, which interfered with the transshipment of freight via this line across the Tehuantepec Railroad in Mexico.

Until September 1914, the service to Boston was one way only, bringing freight to this port but taking no cargo on the return voyage. With the Panama Canal opened for traffic, and the Boston-Pacific Line thoroughly established, a regular " schedule of monthly sailings, carrying freight both in and out of Boston, was inaugurated.

This company gains no particular advantage in coming to Boston, but the New England manufacturers and shippers gain a decided advantage by means of the lower inland railroad rate to and from Boston and New  England points, and also by the direct and expeditious delivery of their goods with the minimum amount of handling and rehandling. The boats of this company dock at Pier No. 4, New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, in South Boston. They have announced three sailings a month for 1915.

This line, with the Boston-Pacific, is Boston’s contribution to the Panama Canal trade, offering Massachusetts and New England manufacturers and shippers four boats a month at least to and from the markets of the Pacific coast and the northwest.

Savannah Line

The improvement in the Savannah Line service to and from Boston in September, 1913, by the addition of the 5,000 ton steamship “City of Atlanta” was due to the coming out in 1912 of the new steamer “St. Louis” of this line in the New York-Savannah service, forcing the “City of Atlanta” to lay up at New York in reserve.

A change of policy in the company in 1913 to abandon holding an emergency ship in reserve at New York released the “City of Atlanta” and made her available for the Boston-Savannah service, in which she was placed in September of that year. The two boats running in the Boston trade were transferred to the New York-Galveston Line, and afterwards requisitioned by the United States government to carry troops to Mexico.

The steamers “Nacoochee” and “City of Atlanta” give Boston two sailings a week to and from Savannah, Ga., carrying both passengers and freight. The boats dock at Lewis Wharf, Atlantic Avenue.

Clyde Line

Another line to increase its sailings at the port of Boston in 1913 was the Clyde Line to Charleston, S. C., and Jacksonville, Fla., which in November of that year inaugurated biweekly in place of weekly sailings.

This was due to the natural increase of business to and from this port, to the heavy movement of potatoes from State of Maine points southbound via Boston, and to a very good business in lumber and cotton northbound that year.

The improved service lasted until the spring of 1914, when it was reduced to one boat a week on account of the falling off of the southbound food-potato business from Maine, because the "New Steamship Lines at Boston,"  northbound business was greatly affected by the poor market for lumber, and finally to the war in Europe, which greatly injured the movement of cotton from the south, much of which, particularly from the southeast, comes to Boston via the coast-wise steamship lines for export to Europe.

This line is now maintaining a weekly service to and from this port. The boats dock at Lewis Wharf, Atlantic Avenue. The Plant Line to and from Boston and the Canadian provinces, in the natural growth and extension of its business, brought out from Scotland in 1912 the new 5,000 ton steamship “Evangeline,” and chartered her for the winter of 1912-13 for southern service, using her for the regular Boston-Halifax sailings in the summer of 1913.

The same procedure was followed through the winter of 1913-14 and the summer of 1914. The Company maintains one sailing a week during the winter, with more frequent sailings in the summer. The boats dock at Commercial Wharf, Atlantic Avenue.

The Result of New Service

It has been felt necessary to publish the above information, giving the facts in each case, in order to point out the real causes and conditions governing the improved and new services at Boston, calling particular attention to the intense competition among American North Atlantic ports, and the strategy of the transatlantic steamship companies in taking advantage of the same.

A particularly flagrant instance of the playing of ports one against the other by the steamship companies in order to force concessions to be given them is that of the Fabre Line in 1913.

This line had been running a service to Providence, RI for some few years, and was negotiating with the Rhode Island State Harbor Commission for accommodations at a new State pier being built at Providence. The steamship company wanted certain concessions in connection with the use of this pier which the State harbor commission did not feel like granting.

Fabre Line

So, in October, 1913, the Fabre Line sent one of their Providence boats into the port of Boston, announcing that they were to make Boston rather than Providence their terminus thereafter as the facilities offered here were better. A director of the line, accompanied by the agent, came to Boston to confer with the Port Directors and Boston merchants about a Fabre Line service from Marseilles to this port.

The very same day a Fabre Line boat was sent to Boston, took on a few passengers, and sailed. She was in port only a few hours. Publicity was given to the arrival of another new line at Boston and the Providence papers printed the news and entered the discussion.

Editorials were published criticizing the Rhode Island harbor commissioners for driving the Fabre Line out of Providence, for building a new State pier and then losing the prospective tenant. Finally, public opinion and pressure became so strong in the matter that the harbor commission was forced to accede to the demands of the steamship company, and the Fabre Line went back to Providence for the next sailing and has not been seen at the port of Boston since.

Conclusion

The above shows the competition to which American North Atlantic ports are subjected and how it is taken advantage of by the steamship companies. It results at Boston in a non-revenue-producing port development, because of the custom of giving transatlantic steamship lines the free use of piers and waterfront terminals costing millions, — either millions of public money directly appropriated, if a public port authority is in control, or millions of public money indirectly appropriated, where there is railroad or private ownership of the piers. In either case, the public eventually bears the burden.

“New Steamship Lines at Boston,” in the Report of the Directors of the Port of Boston, December 6 to December 31, 1911, Public Document No. 94, Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co. (1912), P.  72-82

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