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United States Lines

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United States Lines
Company typeGovernment, later Private
IndustryShipping, transportation
PredecessorUnited States Mail Steamship Company
FoundedAugust 27, 1921
Headquarters1 Broadway, New York City, United States (1943–1978)
45 Broadway, New York City (1921–1943)
27 Commerce Drive, Cranford, NJ
Area served
New York, Cobh (Queenstown), Plymouth, Cherbourg, London, Bremen (1929 Hamburg), Southampton, Danzig, Liverpool, Manchester, Pauillac (Bordeaux), Le Verdon, Naples, Genoa
Key people
Kermit Roosevelt(Co-Founder)
Paul Wadsworth Chapman (1929–1931)
Albert Lasker (1921–1923) (Co-Founder)
A.V. Moore (Moore-McCormack)(Co-Founder)
W. Averell Harriman (United American Lines)(Co-Founder)
Walter Kidde (Company) (1968–1978)
Malcolm McLean (1978–1986)

United States Lines was the trade name of an organization of the United States Shipping Board's (USSB) Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC), created to operate German liners seized by the United States in 1917. The ships were owned by the USSB and all finances of the line were controlled by the EFC. Among the notable ships of this period was Leviathan, a contender for largest ship in the world for a time.

Eventually the line was sold and went private to continue operating as a transatlantic shipping company that operated cargo services from 1921 to 1989, and ocean liners until 1969—most famously, United States.


Princess Alice, later Princess Matoika, circa 1914–16

United States Lines was the trade name of the United States Shipping Board's Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC) organization created to operate the large German liners seized by the United States in 1917. By 1925 the corporation operated ex-German liners Leviathan, George Washington, America, Republic and the USSB built ships President Roosevelt and President Harding [de] in service between New York and Europe. On 15 November 1921 the line began operating from piers 3 and 4 at the USSB's Hoboken Terminal which had been the Hamburg America Line facilities in Hoboken, New Jersey seized by the United States and, during the war, operated by the Army as the Hoboken Port of Embarkation.[1][2][3][note 1] The USSB engaged in advertising of the line and its ships through agencies using a "coupon" system to collect names and addresses of interested persons for direct mailings.[2] All the line's funds were managed by the USSB Treasurer.[2][4]

The line started with three ships from the tonnage of the failed United States Mail Steamship Company.[5] One of the founders was Kermit Roosevelt, son of US President Theodore Roosevelt. Two of the ships, America and George Washington, were originally German vessels that had been seized during World War I and kept as reparations. Both America and George Washington made New YorkBremen runs, while Centennial State ran from New York to London.[6]

The line became well known in the 1920s when two valiant historic rescues were made using their ships President Roosevelt in 1926 and America in 1929 by Captain George Fried.

More ships were acquired in 1922 and renamed after US presidents. The 52,000-ton Leviathan, formerly Vaterland and one of the largest liners in the world, was acquired in 1923.

Throughout the 1920s, the line accumulated debt, and in March 1929, the line was sold to P.W. Chapman Company, and reorganized as the "United States Lines Inc." of Delaware.[7] The stock market crash made matters worse, and in 1931, the remaining ships were sold to "United States Lines Company" of Nevada. Later in 1931, United States Lines was acquired by the Roosevelt International Mercantile Marine Company, which had been formed earlier in the year from the merger of the Roosevelt Steamship Company and International Mercantile Marine Co.



In 1932, Manhattan, at a cost of approximately $21 million, became the first ship actually built for the line, followed the next year by Washington. In 1940, a new America joined them.[8][9]

In 1932, United States Lines had offered to build a new passenger liner, called U.S. Express Liner, which would also double as a mail ship, and would dramatically decrease the time of delivery for trans-Atlantic mail by catapulting an aircraft when it was within range. Congress refused to give a guarantee on trans-Atlantic postal rates and it was never built.[10]

During the 1930s, United States Lines' ailing parent company, Roosevelt International Mercantile Marine, began winding down its other operations and merging several of its divisions into United States Lines. United States Lines absorbed the American Line in 1932, the Baltimore Mail Line in 1937, and the American Merchant Line in 1938.



The decade started with United States Lines absorbing the Roosevelt Line in 1940, leaving United States Lines as Roosevelt International Mercantile Marine's sole operating business. Roosevelt International Mercantile Marine Company finally changed its name to "United States Lines Inc." in 1942, reflecting its new focus.

In World War II, the ships were converted into troopships. Manhattan became USS Wakefield, and Washington became USS Mount Vernon.[11] The flagship America became the USS West Point[12] After the war, the company began to build smaller and cheaper ships, and operated a number of cargo ships, all named beginning with "American" or "Pioneer".

Duquesne Spy Ring


In 1941, two Nazi spies, Franz Joseph Stigler and Erwin Wilhelm Siegler, worked for United States Lines as members of SS America's crew. While on America, they obtained information about the movement of ships and military defense preparations at the Panama Canal, observed and reported defense preparations in the Canal Zone, and met with other German agents to advise them in their espionage pursuits. They operated as couriers, transmitting information between the United States and German agents aboard. Stigler worked undercover as the chief butcher. Both remained on America until the US Navy converted her into USS West Point.

Stigler and Siegler, along with the 31 other German agents of the Duquesne Spy Ring, were later uncovered by the FBI in the largest espionage conviction in US history. Stigler was sentenced to serve 16 years in prison on espionage charges with two concurrent years for registration violations; Siegler was sentenced to ten years imprisonment on espionage charges and a concurrent 2-year term for violation of the Registration Act.

Expansion and bankruptcy

SS United States at sea in 1952
Econships American Nebraska and American Kentucky laid up in New York, 1987

With a government subsidy for her construction, United States entered service in 1952. She holds the record as the largest ocean liner built in the United States and the fastest ocean liner ever built. She immediately set transatlantic speed records, capturing the Blue Riband from Queen Mary. But competition from airliners brought the glory days to an end; in 1964, America was sold to Chandris Line, and United States was withdrawn from service in 1969. She is presently docked along the Delaware River in South Philadelphia.[13]

After the termination of passenger services, United States Lines continued to operate as a container ship line, being bought by containerization pioneer Malcom McLean in 1978. By the 1980s, the line operated 43 vessels and was a leader in international shipping. It spent over US$1 billion in rapidly expanding its fleet and acquiring two competitors, Moore-McCormack Lines and Delta Steamship Lines. In expectation of a worldwide surge in oil prices, United States Lines borrowed heavily to construct a new class of 12 fuel-efficient container ships known as the Jumbo Econships that, at over 57,000 gross tons, were the largest cargo ships yet built. Just as the new vessels were delivered, international freight rates fell and oil prices collapsed to near historic lows. The giant and slow Econships left United States Lines overcapacity, deeply in debt, and unable to compete with faster ships that were once again economically viable. Straining under the debt accumulated by the fleet expansion, the company filed for bankruptcy on 24 November 1986 in one of the largest bankruptcies in US history at the time.[14] Most of the vessels were sold to pay creditors and in the reorganization plan filed on 5 July 1988, the company was formally liquidated by 1992.[15]



Pursuant to the revised reorganization plan approved by the bankruptcy court in 1989, United States Lines Inc. was restructured as Janus Industries Inc. in November 1990, with its shares distributed to United States Lines creditors and the court-managed bankruptcy trust fund. The company's new management spent several years searching for new business opportunities, finally acquiring Pre-Tek Wireline Service Company, a provider of services to the oil, gas, and logging industries in 1996. In 1997, Janus acquired a number of hospitality assets from companies affiliated with the investors Louis S. Beck and Harry Yeaggy, gaining ownership of 6 hotels, an 85% interest in a 7th hotel, a management company operating another 21 hotels, a fee-sharing joint venture with another management company on another property, and control of two mortgaged-backed loans. Beck and Yeaggy gained control of 43% of Janus Industries, and the former United States Lines decided to concentrate exclusively on the hotel business.[16] Pre-Tek Wireline was spun off to its management in 1998 and Janus Industries changed its name again to Janus Hotels & Resorts Inc. in 1999. [17] United States Lines' successor company now controls hotels and resorts in 21 states.[18]

The name United States Lines was revived briefly in 2000 and 2001, as a brand name of American Classic Voyages, operating cruises in Hawaii with a single ship, MS Patriot, formerly Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam. Construction had begun in 2000 on the future Pride of America, and a 72,000-ton sister ship as part of Project America, but in October 2001, the company filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations. The two unfinished vessels were acquired by Norwegian Cruise Line for their new NCL America division, while Patriot was repossessed by Holland America.

A new container shipping services company called US Lines LLC (Not related to the original company in any way) was established in Santa Ana, California in 2003 by CMA CGM. However, the company announced on December 6, 2016, that US Lines would be phased out and re-branded as ANL. [19]

Several piers in New York City remain as artifacts left behind by the company. Pier 76, United States Lines Terminal, was constructed as a cargo pier on West Side Highway at what was then the foot of 36th Street, and is now in use by Classic Car Club Manhattan, who took over the pier's lease from the NYPD in April 2016.[20] Neon letters spelling "United States Lines" are located on the west side of the pier, facing New Jersey. One letter, "I", on the sign was working until sometime in the 2000s.[21] The sign can be seen by the arriving NY Waterway ferry passengers or those taking the New York Circle Line water tour of Manhattan. The pier head building facing the street is also marked with the Line's name, at each end. Pier 86, United States Lines' passenger pier, still exists, although the pier building has been demolished. The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is now based there, with USS Intrepid permanently berthed at the pier. In Newport News, Virginia, where many of the United States Lines ships were built, one of the huge propellers from United States is on display at the entrance of the Mariners' Museum.[22]

On February 4, 2016, Crystal Cruises announced a proposal to re-activate the former flagship of the United States Lines, SS United States, for passenger service.[23][24] Crystal signed a purchase option for the ship and will cover docking costs in Philadelphia for nine months while it conducts a feasibility study. However, Crystal Cruise backed out in August 2016 due to challenges.

On December 10, 2018, the conservancy announced an agreement with the commercial real estate firm RXR Realty, of New York City, to explore options for restoring and redeveloping the ocean liner.[25] In 2015, RXR had expressed interest in developing an out-of-commission ocean liner as a hotel and event venue at Pier 57 in New York.[26] The conservancy requires that any redevelopment plan preserve the ship's profile and exterior design, and include approximately 25,000 sq ft (2,323 m2) for an onboard museum.[27] RXR's press release about the United States stated that multiple locations would be considered, depending on the viability of restoration plans.[25][26]




  1. ^ President Roosevelt was built as Peninsula State and President Harding as Lone Star State.


  1. ^ Sixth Annual Report of the United States Shipping Board (PDF) (Report). Washington, D.C.: United States Shipping Board. December 1, 1922. pp. 142, 169. Retrieved 16 October 2021.
  2. ^ a b c Ninth Annual Report of the United States Shipping Board (PDF) (Report). Washington, D.C.: United States Shipping Board. December 1, 1925. pp. 145, 149, 160, 179. Retrieved 18 October 2021.
  3. ^ Huston, James A. (1966). The Sinews of War: Army Logistics 1775–1953. Army Historical Series. Washington, DC: Center Of Military History, United States Army. p. 345. ISBN 9780160899140. LCCN 66060015. Retrieved 18 October 2021.
  4. ^ Seventh Annual Report of the United States Shipping Board (PDF) (Report). Washington, D.C.: United States Shipping Board. December 1, 1923. p. 162. Retrieved 18 October 2021.
  5. ^ Brian J. Cudahy (2006). Box boats: how container ships changed the world. Fordham Univ Press. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-8232-2568-2. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  6. ^ "USS President Grant (Centennial State, President Adams)". Pacific Wrecks. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  7. ^ James Claude Malin (1972). The United States after the World War. Ayer Publishing. p. 339. ISBN 978-0-8369-6735-7. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  8. ^ McKenna, Robert (10 June 2003). The Dictionary of Nautical Literacy. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-07-141950-5. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  9. ^ "Uncle Sam Enters Atlantic Race". Popular Mechanics. Hearst Magazines. February 1931. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  10. ^ "America to Rule Sea with New Superliners". Popular Science. April 1932. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  11. ^ World Ship Society (1996). Marine news. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  12. ^ McKenna, Robert (10 June 2003). The Dictionary of Nautical Literacy. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-07-141950-5. Retrieved 3 October 2010.
  13. ^ "SS United States". SS United States Conservancy. Archived from the original on 13 August 2017. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  14. ^ Rasky, Susan F. (1986-11-25). "Bankruptcy Step Taken By McLean". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
  15. ^ Feder, Barnaby J. (6 July 1988). "McLean Industries Files Its Reorganization Plan". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  16. ^ "Janus Hotels and Resorts March 2002 SEC filing". EDGAR Online. EDGAR Online Inc. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
  17. ^ "Form 10-SB, June 27, 1997, Janus Industries Inc". www.sec.gov/Archives. US Securities and Exchange Commission. Retrieved 20 December 2014.
  18. ^ "About Janus Hotels and Resorts". Janus Hotels and Resorts. Janus Hotel Management. Retrieved 7 February 2016.
  19. ^ "U.S. Lines becomes ANL - anl.com.au - U.S. Lines". CMA CGM. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  20. ^ "Pier 76". Classic Car Club Manhattan.
  21. ^ "United States Lines". New York Neon. Blogger. 19 April 2013. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  22. ^ Marks, Brittany (30 March 2012). "Help save the SS United States passenger liner". WTKR. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  23. ^ "Cruise ship company in deal to buy SS United States". 4 February 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  24. ^ "S.S. United States, Historic Ocean Liner of Trans-Atlantic Heyday, May Sail Again". The New York Times. 4 February 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2016.
  25. ^ a b Susan Gibbs (December 10, 2018). "Breaking News: New Agreement with RXR Realty". wearetheunitedstates.org. SS United States Conservancy. Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  26. ^ a b Jacob Adelman (December 12, 2018). "NYC developer with Manhattan pier project in deal to explore reviving SS United States". philly.com. Philly.com/Philadelphia Media Network (Digital), LLC. Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  27. ^ "Leading Rotterdam Ship Repair & Conversion Firm Welcomed by Conservancy". wearetheunitedstates.org. SS United States Conservancy. September 20, 2018. Retrieved September 20, 2018.
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  30. ^ "AMERICAN BANKER - IMO 5277153". Shipspotting.com. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
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  33. ^ "Flyer Class Miscellaneous Auxiliary: USNS Flyer (T-AG-178)". NavSource Naval History. Retrieved 2 March 2012.
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  35. ^ United States Shipping Board (1933). "Seventeenth Annual Report of the United States Shipping Board" (1933). Government Printing Office: 29. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
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