The Inman Line was one of the three largest 19th-century British passenger shipping companies on the North Atlantic, along with the White Star Line and Cunard Line. Founded in 1850, it was absorbed in 1893 into American Line. The firm's formal name for much of its history was the Liverpool, Philadelphia and New York Steamship Company, but it was also variously known as the Liverpool and Philadelphia Steamship Company, as Inman Steamship Company, Limited, and, in the last few years before absorption, as the Inman and International Steamship Company.
By embracing new technology, Inman Line became the first to show that unsubsidized ocean liners could profitably cross the North Atlantic. With its first steamer, City of Glasgow of 1850, Inman led the drive to replace wood-hulled paddle steamers with iron-hulled screw-propelled ships. In 1852, Inman established that steerage passengers could be transported in steamships. Inman's City of Paris of 1866 was the first screw liner that could match the speed of the paddlers. By 1870, Inman landed more passengers in New York than any other line.
In 1886, the US-owned International Navigation Company bought the company. The new owners began updating the express fleet with two Blue Riband winners, City of New York and the second City of Paris, ushering in the double-screw era that ended the need for auxiliary sails.
The Inman Line had its roots in a line of sailing packets owned by John Grubb Richardson and his brothers along with their young business partner, William Inman (1825–81). In 1850, Inman persuaded his partners to form the Liverpool and Philadelphia Steamship Company and buy an advanced new ship, City of Glasgow. She proved profitable because her iron hull required less repair, and her screw propulsion system left more room for passengers and freight. City of Glasgow's moderate speed considerably reduced coal consumption. The ship's first voyage for her new owners departed for Philadelphia on 17 December 1850. The next year, she was joined by a larger edition, City of Manchester.
In 1852, the Inman broke new ground by transporting steerage passengers under steam. As Irish Quakers, the Richardsons were concerned about the poor conditions experienced by U.S.-bound emigrants, who traveled by sailing ship with unpredictable passage times. Steerage passengers were required to bring their own food, and often ran short. In 1836, Diamond lost 17 of her 180 steerage passengers to starvation when the ship required 100 days to make the crossing. From the beginning, Inman provided better steerage quarters and adopted the recommendation of a Parliamentary Committee to provide cooked meals to emigrants. As a result, Inman was able to charge steerage rates of 8 guineas, while the fastest sailing packets charged 4 to 6 guineas. During the period, Inman liners typically carried 500 passengers, 80 percent in steerage.
Disaster struck the new firm in 1854 when the company lost both City of Glasgow with all hands and the brand new City of Philadelphia, albeit with no loss of life. The remaining liner, City of Manchester was chartered to the French government for the Crimean War, along with three more liners that were completed or bought in 1855. The Richardsons withdrew from the firm because of its involvement with the war, and William Inman assumed full control.
At the end of the war, Inman resumed service to Philadelphia. However, New York was now the primary gateway to the west, and Inman decided to alternate between the two ports. The firm's name was changed to the Liverpool, Philadelphia and New York Steam Ship Company, but all ships were routed to New York after its SS Kangaroo was trapped by ice in the Delaware River. Until 1857, the firm ran a fortnightly service from Liverpool. That same year Collins Line collapsed, and Inman succeeded it as the mail contractor for the United States Post Office. In 1859, a call at Queenstown was added to pick up Irish emigrants. The next year Inman ran a weekly service, increasing in 1863 to three sailings every fortnight, and twice a week during summer in 1866.
With the celebrated City of Paris of 1866, the company ordered five express liners that matched the speed of Cunard's best. In 1867, responsibility for mail contracts was transferred from the Admirality to the Post Office and opened for bid. Inman was awarded one of the three weekly New York mail services and the fortnightly route to Halifax, Nova Scotia formerly held by Cunard. While Cunard continued to receive a subsidy, Inman was paid sea postage. Two years later Inman's New York contract was extended for seven years at an annual subsidy of £35,000, half that of Cunard's subsidy of £70,000 for two weekly New York mail sailings. In 1870, Inman landed 44,100 passengers in New York, almost twice Cunard's 24,500, although Cunard still carried substantially more first-class passengers. Throughout the 1870s, Inman's passage times were shorter than Cunard's. City of Brussels of 1869 beat Scotia's eastbound record and in 1875 City of Berlin won the Blue Riband by taking the westbound record.
In 1871 both companies faced a new rival when White Star Line joined the Atlantic ferry with the revolutionary RMS Oceanic and her sisters. The new White Star recordbreakers were especially economical because of their use of compound engines. Oceanic consumed only 58 tons of coal per day, compared with 110 tons for City of Brussels. White Star also set new standards for comfort by placing the dining saloon midships and doubling the size of cabins. Inman reacted quickly, bringing its express liners back to the shipyards for compound engines and other changes to match the new White Star liners, while Cunard lagged behind.
The Panic of 1873 started a five-year shipping depression that strained the finances of Inman and its rivals. To raise more capital, the partnership was restructured in 1875 as a stock company and renamed the Inman Steamship Company, Limited. The next year, Inman and White Star agreed to coordinate their sailings to reduce competition. When the 1869 mail contracts expired, the UK Post Office ended both Cunard and Inman's subsidies and paid on the basis of weight, but at a rate substantially higher than paid by the US Post Office. Cunard's weekly New York mail sailings were reduced to one and White Star was awarded the third mail sailing. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, a liner from one of the three firms departed Liverpool with the mail for New York. Inman reduced its fleet so that only the express liners remained.
Profits still dropped in as new competitors sought the Blue Riband such as the National Line and the Guion Line, and numerous steamship concerns from mainland Europe competed for the emigrant trade. To restore its fortunes, Inman ordered City of Rome, which was designed as the largest and fastest liner yet. Unfortunately the ship failed to meet her design specifications and was rejected in 1882 after only six voyages.
William Inman died before the ship's maiden voyage and the company suffered without his leadership. In 1883, City of Brussels was lost in the Mersey after colliding with another steamship. Meanwhile, Cunard renewed its mail fleet with four exceptional steel-hulled liners. Needing capital to match its rivals, Inman directors agreed to voluntary liquidation so that the largest creditor, the Philadelphia-based International Navigation Company could buy Inman's assets.
The line was reorganized as the Inman and International Steamship Company, and its new owners provided the capital to build two outstanding record breakers, the twin-screw City of New York and City of Paris. However, the UK government responded to the ownership change by revoking Inman's mail contract. After considerable lobbying, the US Congress agreed to replace the contract and allow Inman to register its two new record breakers in the US if International Navigation built two similar express liners in US yards. Therefore, on 22 February 1893 the US flag was broken out over the two newest Inman vessels and the company merged into the American Line.
The Inman fleet—all of which built for Inman unless otherwise indicated—consisted of the following ships, presented in order of acquisition. List sourced from
|Ship||Built||In service for Inman||Type||Tonnage||Notes|
|City of Glasgow||1850||1850–54||iron, screw||1,600 GRT||missing 1854, no survivors|
|City of Manchester||1851||1851–71||iron, screw||1,900 GRT||sold and converted to sail 1871|
|City of Philadelphia||1854||1854–54||iron, screw||2,100 GRT||wrecked, no loss of life|
|City of Baltimore||1855||1855–74||iron, screw||2,400 GRT||sold|
|City of Washington||1855||1855–73||iron-screw||2,400 GRT||wrecked 1873|
|Kangaroo||1854||1855–69||iron, screw||1,850 GRT||built for other owners, sold 1869|
|Virgo||1856||1858–61||iron, screw||1,600 GRT||built for other owners, sold to US Government 1861|
|Glasgow||1851||1859–65||iron, screw||1,950 GRT||built for other owners, lost 1865|
|Edinburgh||1855||1859–68||iron, screw||2,200 GRT||built for other owners, sold 1868|
|Etna||1856||1860–75||iron, screw||2,200 GRT||built for Cunard, sold 1875|
|City of New York||1861||1861–64||iron, screw||2,550 GRT||wrecked 1864|
|City of London||1863||1863–78||iron, screw||2,550 GRT||sold 1878 to Thistle Line. Lost at sea, 1881.|
|City of Cork||1863||1863–71||iron, screw||1,550 GRT||sold 1871|
|City of Limerick||1863||1863–79||iron, screw||1,550 GRT||built for other owners, sold 1879|
|City of Dublin||1864||1864–73||iron, screw||2,000 GRT||sold 1874 to Dominion Line|
|City of Boston||1865||1865–70||iron, screw||2,200 GRT||missing 1870, no survivors|
|City of New York||1865||1865–81||iron, screw||2,650 GRT||sold 1881|
|City of Paris||1866||1866–84||iron, screw||2,650 GRT||sold 1884|
|City of Antwerp||1867||1867–79||iron, screw||2,400 GRT||sold 1879|
|City of Brooklyn||1889||1867–78||iron, screw||2,950 GRT||sold 1878 to Dominion Line|
|City of Brussels||1869||1869–83||iron, screw||3,100 GRT||Eastbound record holder, sunk 1883, 10 lost|
|City of Montreal||1872||1872–87||iron, screw||4,450 GRT||burned at sea 1887, no loss of life|
|City of Chester||1873||1873–93||iron, screw||4,800 GRT||express liner, joined American Line 1893|
|City of Richmond||1873||1873–91||iron, screw||4,800 GRT||express liner, sold 1891|
|City of Berlin||1875||1875–93||iron, screw||5,500 GRT||Blue Riband winner, joined American Line 1893|
|City of Rome||1881||1881–81||iron, screw||8,413 GRT||returned to builder after 6 voyages, transferred to Anchor Line|
|City of Chicago||1883||1883–92||steel, screw||5,150 GRT||built for other owners, wrecked 1892, no loss of life|
|Baltic||1871||1885–86||iron, screw||3,850 GRT||chartered from White Star|
|City of New York||1888||1888–93||steel, twin screw||10,650 GRT||Blue Riband winner, joined American Line 1893|
|City of Paris||1889||1889–93||steel, twin screw||10,650 GRT||Blue Riband winner, joined American Line 1893|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Inman Line.|
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