Isthmian Steamship Company

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Isthmian Steamship Company
Type Defunct (Sold 1956)
Industry Maritime
Founded 1910
Headquarters London, England and New York, USA
Services Sea transport

The Isthmian Steamship Company was a shipping company founded by US Steel in 1910.

Isthmian Steamship was the brainchild of US Steel President James A. Farrell, who had connections with the maritime industry through his father's trade as a ship's master. Farrell realized that US Steel could save substantial sums of money by owning its own fleet of freighters, rather than chartering cargo space from other companies. Farrell named the company after the Isthmus of Panama, in honour of America's recent construction achievement, the Panama Canal.

Farrell headquartered Isthmian Steamship in London, partly in order to take advantage of Great Britain's respected name in the industry, and partly to benefit from Britain's long history of maritime experience. Management of the company was assigned to the British Federal Steam Navigation Co Ltd, a company which traced its own origins back as far as 1782 with the British East India Company. The US end of Farrell's new company was managed by the Norton Lilly Agency.

The company's first ship was the SS Bantu, a British vessel launched in 1902 and purchased by US Steel in 1907 for a reputed £24,000. By 1914, the company had purchased six additional ships - Kentra, Buenaventura, Santa Rosalia, Charleton Hall, Craston Hall and the sleek cargo liner Crofton Hall - all sturdy British steamships. With the outbreak of World War I however, Farrell brought the company back under the protective cover of the American flag which was not at the time a belligerent.

The company would continue to expand its operations in the ensuing decades. In 1956 however, the by now highly lucrative company was sold to States Marine Lines. US Steel justified the sale on the grounds that Isthmian's overall usefulness had diminished, as it now carried only a fraction of the Corporation's exports.


  • Atherton, John (2000): Imperial Steel: The History of the Isthmian Steamship Company: 1910-1956, Xlibris Corporation, ISBN 0-7388-1642-6. Extract.

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