The Red Star Line - History

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.


1872 Societe Anonyme de Navigation Belge-Americane formed in Belgium with support from the American International Navigation Company. The new line is soon known as the `Red Star Line`
1881 Rapid expansion of the transatlantic sevice means that Red Star are now operating a weekly service to Philadephia (USA)
1898 A weekly New York -Antwerp mail service operates for two years, with high levels of American subsidy
1904 Dover replaces Southampton as Red Star`s calling point on the south coast of England
1914 German invaders capture the port of Antwerp, putting Red Star`s services in jeopardy. The company`s ships are transferred to the parent company, now called International Mercantile Marine, and operate on their services
1919 Following World War I, Red Star resumes Antwerp - New York sailings, calling at Southampton
1930s The economic depression affects Red Star`s American business. Liner Belgenland is laid up in Antwerp for a short while before being sold
1933 Further ships are laid up, including Minnewaska and Minnetonka - only eleven
1934 The number of s carried by the line falls from a high of 120,000 to less than 4,000.Frank Bustard attempts to buy Red Star line`s ships to operate a `budget` service across the Atlantic. The UK government refuses to support it, fearing it would affect Cunard-White Star, which they are financially supporting
1935 The company`s ships Pennland and Westernland are sold to Arnold Bernstein, Hamburg. He operates an Antwerp - Southampton - New York service for a few years under the Red Star Line name, but the service is soon withdrawn.
1939 The Red Star Line was once again sold by the group off American banks to there old rival NASM / Holland Amerika Lijn Rotterdam the Netherlands in 1939. After World War II started the vessels where given a Dutch registration (Rotterdam) and the funnels where paitened in the Holland Amerika colors. After the war Holland America have a Red star Line service frome Antwerp with mainly Freighter vessels with limited space.