United States Lines enjoyed its share of glory years

The SS Leviathan departs New York in the 1920s. (Photo: Captain James McNamara)

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United States Lines was the leading American airline on the North Atlantic for almost 100 years.

His fleet of ships was constantly in the headlines. In the company’s heyday, the Leviathan was the largest ship in the world; the United States was fastest; its Challenger I class were the fastest cargo ships; The Challenger II were the first container ships to be built on Kiel. and finally the 12 Econ ships of the 1980s were the largest container ships in the world with 4,614 20ft containers.

US Lines ships participated in many of the famous rescue operations of their day. President Theodore Roosevelt rescued the entire crew of the sinking British grain ship Antinoe in 1926, and the American Shipper was the main rescue ship during the sinking of the liner Vestris in 1928.

The SS United States arrives in New York. (Photo: Captain James McNamara)

Although its lavish passenger fleet grabbed most of the headlines, the company operated a large fleet of cargo ships that bore the prefix American followed by a trade name such as Farmer, Merchant, Banker, or Shipper. Typical for this generation of cargo ships was the name American Shipper.

The first American Shipper was one of the so-called “Hog Island” transporters built on Hog ​​Island, the present site of Philadelphia International Airport. This ship was one of 122 built by the American International Shipbuilding Co. during World War I and delivered to the US government in 1920 under the name Tours.

In May 1926, the ship embarked on her first commercial voyage as American Shipper, the last of five sister ships assigned to the company. These ships could carry 90 passengers and 8,000 tons of refrigerated and general cargo. Despite being the smallest passenger cargo ships on the North Atlantic, the ships were well received by passengers and cargo ships alike.

In November 1939, in response to the war in Europe, Congress passed the Neutrality Act, barring US ships from entering warring nations. This was the formal end of US scheduled service to Europe.

In 1940 the five sister ships were sold to the Societe Maritime Anversoise and placed under the Belgian flag. The American Shipper was renamed Ville De Mons and was sunk by enemy action shortly thereafter.

The second American shipper spent his career as the military transporter Samuel Chase before being scrapped. (Photo: Captain James McNamara)

American Shipper II

In 1938, the US Maritime Commission and US Lines, believing there would be a resurgence in American-European trade after peace, contracted with Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi to have the Hog Island ships replaced by four C3-P -to replace passenger ships -cargo liners.

However, once the first keel was laid it was clear that World War II would not be over soon, so the ship was sold to Farrell Lines for use in South African services. The ship was launched in 1942 as the African Meteor.

As the ship’s delivery date neared, the US Navy needed transportation. When delivered in February 1943, the ship was named USS Samuel Chase (AP56). After a long military career, the ship was scrapped in Brownsville, Texas in 1973.

Upon completion, the third American shipper spent his entire career as US military transport Fred C. Ainsworth. (Photo: Captain James McNamara)

American Shipper III

Believing that the war in Europe would soon end, US Lines tried again in 1941 with another American shipper and three sister ships for North Atlantic service.

Once again the US military intervened and the ship was launched as Transport Pass Christian and completed in June 1943 as Army Transport Fred C. Ainsworth. The ship was later transferred to and operated by the Navy until scrapped in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, in 1963.

Neither the second nor the third American shipper made a commercial voyage, although both served the country valiantly for many years.

American Shipper IV

In December 1945, an American Shipper was delivered to US Lines from a shipyard in Wilmington, North Carolina for use in the North Atlantic.

The last American shipper to depart New York with heavy cargo in the 1950s had a long career cruising the North Atlantic. (Photo: Captain James McNamara)

The ship had about 40 sister ships instead of the four at the beginning of the century. These type C2 ships carried 12 passengers but were mainly cargo ships with a capacity of 10,400 tons. This American shipper sailed the Atlantic for 23 years before being sold in 1968.

This history of the American Shipper line of ships is fitting as this website dedicated to these interests bears the same name.

US Lines, whose roots date back to 1872, has operated under various names and owners. It boasted many liner and cargo ships in the 1920s and 30s and hundreds more during World War II. Its longtime headquarters was on One Broadway in New York City.

Although US Lines enjoyed a good head start in the container shipping era, competition from SeaLand Service and later from foreign operators spelled the end of this once great company. In 1986 she filed for bankruptcy, and shortly thereafter the fleet was auctioned off.

Captain James McNamara, who is retired as President of the National Cargo Bureau, currently serves as the historian of the Maritime Industry Museum at Fort Schuyler, NY and remains active in the maritime industry.

FreightWaves Classics articles shed light on various aspects of the history of the transportation industry. If there are topics that you find interesting, please send them to [email protected]

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