Browse The Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives Home Page

History of the North German Lloyd Steamship Line

To the enterprise of certain citizens in the city of Bremen this large business owes its existence. The originator was Herr H. H. Meier, who brought into line the various shipping interests of Bremen, and induced them to amalgamate into one company. The associations thus brought together were the Weser Haute Steamship Company, the Unter Weser and Ober Weser Steam Tug Companies and the Ober Weser Universal Shipping Insurance Association.

The statutes of the new company were approved by the senate of Bremen on the 18th of February 1857. The original capital was 4,000,000 thalers, but soon after the formation of the new company great depression set in, owing to the commercial crisis in North America. More than 2500 shareholders in the Lloyd forfeited their shares, but the directors were not dismayed, and had the loyal support of their fellow citizens. Four big ocean steamers were constructed for the American line and three for the English, and large docks for repairs were established at Bremerhaven.

The first voyage was made in June 1858, when the " Bremen " started for New York, carrying many steerage passengers, but only one in the saloon. The second ship, the " Hudson," was shortly afterwards burned while lying in harbour.

At the end of the first year both lines showed a loss. At the end of the second year matters improved, the English cattle trade especially showing great progress. But the company still commanded little confidence, for the Darmstadt Bank parted with 1,000,000 thalers' worth of shares at a loss of 75%. These the directors themselves took over.

But the American Civil War now came, to deal another severe blow at the Lloyd, just when its prospects were growing brighter,and till 1864 no dividend greater than 22% was paid to the shareholders.

After the termination of the war the trade with the United States grew enormously, and the English traffic also revived in a most unexpected way. One result was the foundation of rival lines, which, however, were unable to maintain effective competition, and succumbed.

In 1868 a new line was opened. Bremen's staple of commerce is tobacco, and the directors determined to bring their port into direct communication with the tobacco-producing areas in the States; so in that year they inaugurated their line to Baltimore. In the following year a line was started to New Orleans, another great centre of the tobacco and cotton trade. It was necessary to construct three special liners for that service, as the ordinary ships could not pass the bar of the Mississippi.

In 1869 a line to Central America and the West Indies was set on foot, and new steamers were ordered to run on it. With the outbreak of the war of 1870 the company naturally had anxious times, as the French fleet blockaded the German coasts; but its vessels often ran the blockade with success. Soon after the war the West Indian service, proving unprofitable, was given up.,

In 1875 a new line of steamers to Brazil and Argentina was started. This was separated into two distinct services in 1878. In 1880 the approach of the great struggle for supremacy on the Atlantic made itself felt, and the company began to prepare for the contest, and ordered the construction of the " Elbe," the first of its express line of steamers. She commenced running in 1881, and was quickly followed by others.

Between 1881 and 1888 an entirely new fleet was placed on the New York line. In 1886 the Australian and East Asian Lines were founded in accordance with a contract with the imperial government. This included a monthly service to China, with a branch service to Japan, and a monthly service to Australia, with a branch line to the Samoan and Tonga Islands. From that time onwards the story of the Norddeutscher Lloyd has been one of increased prosperity.

The company's fleet includes four large and fast steamships of about 23 to 232 knots speed for its weekly express service to New York, whilst it has also large vessels - one, the "George Washington," being of 27,000 tons - for its intermediate service to the same port, built by the Vulcan Company at Stettin.

The company runs many lines from its headquarters at Bremen; among them are those to New York - a line of express steamers and a line of ordinary mail steamers, all calling at Southampton or Cherbourg; to Baltimore direct; to Galveston direct - there are no first-class passengers by this line; to Brazil; to the River Plate, calling at principal ports on the way.

There are also lines of imperial mail steamers between Bremen and Hamburg and eastern Asia, and Bremen and Australia, and a freight line to east Asia, which runs in connexion with the Hamburg-American Line. In pursuance of the German policy of securing the feeders to maintain traffic, the Norddeutscher Lloyd purchased the ships and business of the Kinsing Line and of the Scottish Oriental Company, when it began seriously to develop its Eastern trade.

Feeling in common with all large steamship companies the difficulty of providing efficient personnel for its constantly expanding fleet, and believing in the necessity for seamen of experience in masted ships, the Lloyd has provided itself with a sea-going training-ship. Such success attended this experiment that a second vessel has been added and the idea has since commended itself to certain British steamship companies.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica 1911

Return to Top of Page