The American Line: 1871-1902 (2000)


Front Cover, The American Line: 1871-1902 by William Henry Flayhart III

Front Cover, The American Line: 1871-1902 by William Henry Flayhart III, © 2000. GGA Image ID # 19e84872e2


The American Tine tells the story of the first successful American steamship line after the Civil War to rival the great European transatlantic companies—an essential and glorious chapter in the history of the American Merchant Marine.


Back Cover, The American Line: 1871-1902 by William Henry Flayhart III, © 2000.

Back Cover, The American Line: 1871-1902 by William Henry Flayhart III, © 2000. GGA Image ID # 19e87254d6


In the years between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, American sailing ships carried the Stars and Stripes worldwide with honor to the nation and profit to their owners. But the success of Confederate commerce raiders during the Civil War and the concurrent change from sail to steam and wooden hulls to iron brought disaster to many American shipping companies.

By 1870 there was not a single American flag passenger line on the North Atlantic—a sad blow for a nation that a short time earlier had boasted one of the finest merchant fleets in the world.

1873 saw the first attempt at establishing a new American-flag steamship line to carry passengers and cargo across the North Atlantic from Philadelphia to Liverpool: the American Steamship Company, which began with the financial backing of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company and the Philadelphia Quaker community.

It would eventually evolve into the great American Line (1893), which succeeded in restoring American prestige on the North Atlantic and became the founding unit of the International Mercantile Marine, the giant shipping trust of 1902.

At the same time, if operating a fleet under the American flag seemed too difficult, other American Quaker merchants (also in Philadelphia and with the backing of the PRR) sought to establish another steamship line under a flag of convenience. Thus the International Navigation Company, more familiarly known as the Red Star Line, began operations in 1873, flying the Belgian flag, using British-built ships, and running them with foreign crews between Antwerp and Philadelphia.

Focusing on the largely unknown but highly eventful early history of the American Line and the Red Star Line, this book offers insight into the triumphs and setbacks of American shipping companies in the last three decades of the nineteenth century.



  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. The Origins of the American Line of Philadelphia
  • 2. Uncertainty and Discontent
  • 3. The Centennial Celebration and a Russian Offer
  • 4. The International Navigation Company—Red Star Line
  • 5. The Red Star at Sea
  • 6. Inman Steamship Company Limited—Inman and International Navigation Company
  • 7. The American Line of 1893
  • 8. The Birth of the Great American Line
  • 9. And the “Saints” Came Marching In
  • 10. The Best-Balanced North Atlantic Service
  • 11. Perils of the Sea
  • 12. Shipwrecks and Rescues
  • 13. The Spanish-American War
  • 14. A Triumphant Return
  • 15. The Beginning of a New Century
  • 16. The International Mercantile Marine (IMM)
  • 17. The Pyrrhic Victory
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Listing of Ships Included in this Book


About the Author

William Henry Flayhart III is the coauthor of Majesty at Sea and the first edition of QE2, both published by Norton. He is also the author of Counterpoint to Trafalgar: The Anglo- Russiati Invasion of Naples 1805—1806 for which he received the “Legion of Merit” of the International Napoleonic Society. Flayhart has a B.A. from Lycoming College and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. He is professor of history at Delaware State University, where he has taught since 1970.

Jacket design by Jon Valk
Author photograph: © 2000 by Youngs Studio
Printed in Singapore November 2000


Library of Congress Catalog Listing

  • Personal name: Flayhart, William H., 1944-
  • Main title: The American Line (1871-1902) / William Henry Flayhart III.
  • Edition: 1st ed.
  • Published/Created: New York : Norton, c2000.
  • Description: 404 p. : ill. (some col.); 26 cm.
  • ISBN: 0393047105
  • LC classification (full): HE945.A4 F58 2000
  • LC classification (partial): HE945.A4
  • Subjects: American Steamship Company--History. Steamboat lines--United States--History. Shipping--United States--History.
  • Notes: Includes bibliographical references (p. 355-379) and index.
  • LCCN: 98038743
  • Dewey class no.: 387.5/0973/09034
  • Geographic area code: n-us---
  • Type of material: Book


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