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Neutral Flag: The Scandinavian-American Line (1916)

The neutral flags that sail out of our ports are performing a most important service in keeping alive our communications with Europe in these war-stricken times. The various lines operating between New York and Scandinavian points have, with trifling exceptions, kept their service uninterrupted. Their ships are richly laden with freight, and new trade routes spring up overnight. In these perilous days, their passengers have traversed the seas without serious danger from torpedo or mine.

Three years ago, in an article in the Review on “The Revival of Norway’s Dominion on the Sea,” Director Bryde recounted the inception of the Norwegian America Line and of the Norway-Mexico Gulf Line. An editorial in the current issue announces the actual inauguration of a new passenger service under the flag of Sweden. The present article will sketch in brief outline the history of the pioneer in whose wake these lines have followed—the route whose ships wear the red and white cross of Denmark painted bright, on their sides. “The Danish Line” is known officially as the Scandinavian-American Line.

The Scandinavian-American Line is what its name implies—a link between Scandinavia and America. As the pioneer in establishing direct routes for transportation of passengers and freight between the Scandinavian countries and the United States, it justly deserves much credit for the friendly and intimate relations prevailing between these nations.

Then it is living testimony in the hundreds of thousands of sturdy immigrants whom the Line has brought to America during the thirty-five years of its existence, and who are now counted among the best of American citizens; in the hundreds of thousands of Americanized Scandinavians carried back to their old homes for friendly visits; in the thousands of native American tourists whom the direct route has induced to visit Norway, Sweden, and Denmark and become acquainted with the grandeur and charm of the North.

The Scandinavian-American Line is hut a name given that branch of the service of the United Steamship Company of Copenhagen  (Det Forenede Dampskibsselskab) engaged in the direct New York-Christiansand. Christiania, and Copenhagen route, and particularly to the sender of the four passenger and mail steamers, Oscar II, Hellig Olav, United States, and Frederik VIII.

The United Steamship Company is a Danish organization formed in 1866 by amalgamating several smaller concerns. It commenced business with a fleet of twenty-two steamships having a total register tonnage of 4,919 tons. In the beginning, only ports of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden were served, but later still other steamship companies were absorbed, and the wise and enterprising management rapidly added more steamers and extended the service to distant ports.

Just before the outbreak of war, this company owned one hundred and forty-four steamers with a register tonnage of 185,444 tons, and maintained regular service not only to various ports in Denmark and the sister countries of Sweden and Norway, but to ports in Germany and Russia on the Baltic, to Iceland and Faroe Islands, to Scotland, England, Holland, Belgium, France, Portugal, and Madeira, and to various ports on the Mediterranean extending even to the Levant and the Black Sea.

Routes had also been established crossing the Atlantic to Brazil and Argentina in South America and to Galveston, New Orleans, Savannah, Newport News, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston in North America. Traffic with the Orient, on the other hand, is left to another great Danish commercial enterprise, the East Asiatic Company.

Route Map Denmark to New York

All American connections are freight routes exclusively, except that to and from New York, known as the Scandinavian-American Line, which is a regular passenger and mail service between New York and Christiansand, Christiania, and Copenhagen.

This direct passenger service was originally begun in 1880 by the Thingvalla Steamship Company, which after having led a somewhat checkered career was finally taken over about fifteen years ago by the United Steamship Company, which continued the service under the name of the Scandinavian-American Line and with its usual enterprise and farsightedness caused to be built the steamers Oscar II, Hellig Olav and United States, each 51.3 feet long and 10,000 tons displacement, and equipped with every safety device, modern comfort, and luxury, and particularly adapted to the demands and requirements of the fastidious Scandinavian passenger.

On these steamers, the first and second cabins are unusually spacious and comfortable. Hut the most distinctive feature, perhaps, of their appointment is the third class, which provides a degree of comfort formerly unknown in this class of ocean travel. The open steerage was abolished, and instead, there was for the first time introduced small cabins for the accommodation of two or four persons, neat dining rooms, and sitting rooms, that have resulted in a constantly growing patronage.

The S.S. Frederik VIII of the Scandinavian American Line

The S.S. Frederik VIII of the Scandinavian American Line

In 1914 the new steamer Frcderik VIII made its maiden trip. It is the largest steamer ever built for the Scandinavian service, being 542 feet long, 62 feet wide and 41 feet deep from upper deck to bottom and displacing 18,000 tons. It is completely equipped with modern appointments, affording a degree of luxury and comfort unsurpassed on any liner of its size afloat.

All of the steamers are particularly well supplied with lifesaving apparatus, providing boats far in excess of the greatest number of passengers and crew ever carried; the Frcderik VIII has even a motor life-boat. Two wireless operators are carried, one always being on duty at sea.

First Cabin Writing Room on the Oscar II and Helig Olav of the Scandinavian American Line

First Cabin Writing Room on the Oscar II and Helig Olav of the Scandinavian American Line

Libraries of selected works in the Scandinavian, English, and other European languages are found in each of the three classes. Each steamer carries an orchestra of skilled musicians, and the third class is treated to daily concerts as well as the first. Also the cuisine is justly famed both for its staying powers and novelties, combining wholesomeness and a high degree of artistic excellence.

The Scandinavian-American Line has always chosen its route to please the tourist. The first port of call in Norway is Christiansand, where a stop is made to land passengers and mail, and where connections are provided for remote Saetersdal, the Norwegian coast, and Southern Norway; the journey is then continued up the beautiful Christiania Fjord to Christiania.

Here a stop of several hours is made, allowing ample time for those continuing 011 the steamer to Copenhagen to see the capital, inspect the exhumed Viking ships, visit the museums, take a trip up the forest-clad mountainside to the delightful Holmenkollen Hotel and to lunch sumptuously while enjoying a most wonderful view of city, fjord, and surrounding country.

Picturesque Telemarken may be reached from Christiania. Tourists, who intend to visit the North Cape, or the mountains in western and northern Norway, proceed from Christiania to Bergen over the scenic Bergen-Christiania Highland Railway. It will not be necessary to retrace steps after having been to the North Cape, as the journey may be continued by rail through the wooded hills and across the rushing rivers of northern Sweden to Stockholm.

Having inspected the many places of historical interest and visited the numerous art galleries and museums of Sweden’s aristocratic and beautiful capital, and after having made short but interesting trips to Uppsala and Dalarne, or across the Baltic to ruined Visby, the tourist may continue the journey by most comfortable steamers straight across Sweden, past hills and lakes on the Gota Canal to Gothenburg.

This unique trip, which permits many small excursions on foot, while the steamers are going through the locks, to old churches and other points of interest, takes two and a half days. From modern Gothenburg, Sweden’s busiest port, to Copenhagen is but a rail journey of seven hours.

The passenger who elects to continue 011 his steamer from Christiania arrives after a night’s run in Copenhagen, the largest city of Scandinavia, with its art galleries and museums, and Denmark with its castles and manors, prosperous farms and leafy beech woods, hotels for tourists, and bathing resorts by the sea. Christiania offers rail connection with Finland and Russia, and Copenhagen is an open door to the Continent.

To the dean of the Scandinavian passenger service in this country, Mr. A. E. Johnson, is due more than to any other person the awakening of American interest in the possibilities of the North as a tourist land. It was 110 doubt in recognition of this fact that he was chosen in 1911, with Consul C.A. Smith of Minnesota and California, as one of the two Swedish-born trustees of the American-Scandinavian Foundation.

The passenger department in America for over twenty-five years has been in charge of Messrs. A. E. Johnson & Co., composed of Hon. A. E. Johnson, former Swedish Consul at New York, and Mr. Max Straus. In 1914 Mr. Halvor Jacobsen, a Dane by birth, but in America since early childhood, formerly General Passenger Agent at San Francisco, entered the firm, the name of which was changed to A. E. Johnson & Co., Inc.

Since Mr. Johnson was taken ill in November 1914, the passenger department has been under the exclusive management of Mr. Jacobsen. General offices of the Line arts maintained in New York, and in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Seattle in Toronto, Ontario, and representatives are found in almost every town and city in the United States and Canada.

“Neutral Flags: The Scandinavian-American Line,” in The American-Scandinavian Review, Volume IV, Number 2, March-April 1916, New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, P. 106-110

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