Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, as well as reconciling a divided nation, America needed to restore its economy and peacetime trading.

While the American Navy had grown considerably during the war, they did not have a mercantile fleet for transatlantic trading.

In 1868 a bill regarding their merchant fleet was put before the US Congress proposing a line of steamships to trade between New York, Southampton and Bremen.

This was accompanied by a petition from the Commercial Navigation Company of New York which expressed concern that there was no regular line of steamships sailing under the US flag between America and Europe that was American owned.


They believed that it was in America’s commercial interest, as well as the honour of their great nation, to have vessels for their shipping lines constructed in America by American engineers and sailing with American crews.

They drew attention to the dependence on foreign steamship lines for conveying American mail, passengers, and freight across the Atlantic. The cost of this, they claimed, was filling the coffers of those nations who had supplied and fitted confederate ships which had so damaged the American mercantile fleet in the Civil War.

Daily Echo:

The company proposed a fleet of seven first class steamships which would also provide comfort and decent care of emigrants with proper regard for families and females.

They believed that American ship owners and crews would provide better care, better provisions and better treatment meaning emigrants would arrive healthier than they would if they travelled on the ships of European nations.

They claimed there would be no loss of life on the voyage and that on arrival in America these new citizens would write home that the passage on an American ship did not have the terrors of travelling with European lines.

To create this fleet they would need substantial and favourable Government loans and fixed contracts for transporting the mail giving them a virtual monopoly.

Daily Echo:

What followed were disputes between the various shipping companies over such a monopoly with the result the proposal did not come to fruition.

Meanwhile American shipbuilders complained that Britain could construct vessels much cheaper, that British seamen's wages were lower and that the British excelled over the Americans in the construction of marine engines. They said that a Clyde built steamer costing $30,000, would cost $50,000 to build in America and for comparable marine engines the British price undercut America by 60%.

It is no surprise then that it was another twenty years before the first American owned liner sailing under the American flag arrived in Southampton. This was the SS New York built in Glasgow by J &G Thompson and launched in March 1888 as The City of New York.

She was built for the Inman and International Line who in 1892 were awarded a US Mail contract by Congress with the condition that they built two new fast transatlantic steamers in the United States. This enabled the City of New York to be registered as an American ship.

Daily Echo:

On February 22, 1893, she was renamed SS New York flying under an American flag and at the same time the Inman and International Line became The American Line.

Three days later she sailed from New York for Southampton entering the Empress Dock to a Civic Welcome on March 4, 1893. Within two and a half hours her mail cargo was in London.

SS New York had a sister ship the SS Paris also built in Glasgow and they were later joined as agreed with Congress by the two American built ships the SS St Louis and SS St Paul.

All were regular visitors to Southampton where the American Line made use of the Prince of Wales dry dock for repairs to all four when work was required below the water line.

Daily Echo:

The American Line opened offices in Southampton and were soon followed by other lines, such as Cunard and White Star, who also transferred their trans-Atlantic business to Southampton.

Godfrey Collyer is a tour guide with .

Daily Echo: