Red Star Line: Antwerp to America

In 2006 the MAS presented an exhibition about Antwerp and the Red Star Line in New York. This exhibition is currently being reprized on the ground floor of the MAS | National Maritime Museum of Antwerp. The exhibition tells the tale of the Red Star Line between 1873 and 1934, against the backdrop of Antwerp’s development. This was an era of great economic prosperity for the city and the port.

In shipping, it is not always easy to distinguish between “the line” and ” the owner”. One of the most famous lines, the Red Star Line, can serve as an example. “Red Star Line” was only a trade name, not a corporation. It is not entirely clear who owned the name, but we can assume it was the International Navigation Company.

In Philadelphia in 1871, a company was created by some business men under the name of International Navigation Company. The company ordered the construction of three vessels, the s.s. Vaderland, the s.s. Nederland, and the s.s. Switzerland. In Antwerp in 1872, the company Société Anonyme de Navigation Belgo-Américaine was founded. The International Navigation Company put into this new venture the three vessels under construction. Consequently, the newly formed company became the owner of the s.s. Vaderland, the s.s. Nederland, and the s.s. Switzerland.

In 1873 both companies started operating a line under the name of Red Star Line. In 1884 the International Navigation Company took over American Line, plying between Liverpool and the United States. In 1886 also the English Inman Line was taken over. In 1893, the shipping activities were restructured. One company, the International Navigation Company of New Jersey would manage the ships under American flag, as well as the Red Star Line, the second company, the International Navigation Company of Liverpool, would manage the ships under British flag.
In 1902, J. Pierpont MORGAN started consolidating his shipping activities. A new conglomerate came into existance under the name of International Mercantile and Marine Company. Through this holding, J. Pierpont Morgan not only controlled the International Navigation Company of New Jersey (with the Red Star Line) but also the International Navigation Company of New Jersey, the International Navigation Company of Liverpool, as well as other shipping lines, such as the White Star Line, the Atlantic Transport Line, the Dominion Line, and the Leyland Line.

The total fleet comprised 133 units! Since in peak years tonnage was still insufficient, Red Star Line also chartered ships from other lines, such as Cunard and Hamburg-America Line, and from various other small owners.

Learn more at the MAS exhibition about Antwerp and the Red Star Line in New York:

WHEN: 22 march until 28 December 2008

WHERE: MAS | National Maritime Museum of Antwerp

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