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History of the American Line through 1910

Though the American Line, as now constituted, is of comparatively modern origin, it is the successor of several much older organizations. Of these the oldest is the Inman Line, last acquired by it. On the 16th of April 1850 an iron screw steamship of 1609 tons gross register left Glasgow on her maiden trip to New York. This was the beginning of the Inman Line.

After a few voyages this ship was sold to Messrs Richardson, Spence & Co. of Liverpool, in which William Inman (1825-1881) was a partner, and the sailings of the steamships were thenceforth for some years between Liverpool and Philadelphia. But in 1857 New York took the place of Philadelphia as a regular terminus.

In 1859 the regular call at Queenstown was commenced by this line, which may be said to have been responsible for two other innovations in transatlantic traffic. Before 1850 practically all the steamships crossing the ocean, with the famous exception of the Great Britain, were paddle-boats. After the advent of the Inman liners the screw began to be everywhere substituted for the paddle. In the second place, the Inman steamers were the first which regularly undertook the conveyance of third-class passengers, to the extinction of the old clipper vessels which had hitherto carried on the traffic.

In 1867 the Inman liner City of Paris (the first bearing the name) held the westward record with 8 days 4 hours, and in 1869 the City of Brussels came home in 7 days 22 hours 3 minutes. Till 1872 these records held good. The City of Brussels also had the distinction of being the first Atlantic mail steamer to be fitted with steam steering-gear.

About 1875 Mr William Inman turned the concern into a limited company, and in 1886 the business was amalgamated with the International Company, and the vessels, though still flying the red ensign, became the property of a group of United States capitalists, who also acquired the old American Line which had been started in 1873 with four Philadelphia-built steamers.

This company had been conducted under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It plied between Liverpool and Philadelphia. A third constituent in the Inman and International Steamship Company was the Red Star Line, as the Societe Anonyme Belge-Americaine was familiarly called. Its service was from Antwerp to New York. The whole was placed under the management of Messrs Richardson, Spence & Co., who thus after thirtytwo years reassumed the direction of the old company.

In 1887 the two ships City of New York and City of Paris were built on the Clyde for the company. At the time of their construction they were the largest vessels ever built, always excepting the Great Eastern. The City of Paris was the first vessel (1889) to cross the Atlantic in less than six days.

The year 1893 was an important one in the history of the company, and indeed of the United States. The two vessels above mentioned were admitted to American registry by Congress, a stipulation being made that two new ships of at least equal tonnage and speed to the pair should be ordered by the company from American firms, and that they should be capable of being employed by the United States government as auxiliary cruisers in case of war.

The American flag was hoisted over the New York in 1893 by President Harrison, and in the same year the British headquarters of the company were transferred from Liverpool to Southampton. In 1894 the first American-built ocean liner of the new fleet was launched, and was named the St Louis. In 1898 the American Line had the distinction of supplying the navy of its country with cruisers for use in war.

The St Paul, the only vessel of the four under contract in American waters at the time, was put under the command of Captain Sigsbee, whose own battleship, the Maine, had been blown up in Havana harbour on the 15th of February. The other three ships were also put into commission, the Paris being temporarily renamed the Yale and the New York the Harvard. In 1902 with their twin-screw liner Kensington the American Line made the first experiments towards fitting Atlantic passenger steamers with appliances for the use of liquid fuel.

The express fleet of the line consists of the four vessels, St Louis and St Paul, each of 11,600 tons and a length of 554 ft.; and the New York and Philadelphia, each of 10,800 tons and 560 ft. length. Several still larger but less speedy steamships have been constructed for the intermediate services of the company.

In addition to the weekly express service between Southampton and New York, the American Line runs steamers between New York and Antwerp, Philadelphia, Queenstown and Liverpool, and Philadelphia and Antwerp.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica 1911

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