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The Fleets

Ocean Steam Navigation Company, New York 1846-1857

The Ocean Steam Navigation Company was the first United States flag steamship company to offer regularly scheduled transatlantic service. It was founded in response to a U.S. government decision to subsidize a steamship operation by means of mail contracts in an attempt to compete with British government subsidies to British lines.
Edward Mills, a novice in the shipping business, led the syndicate that received the contract for mail delivery to Le Havre and Bremen for five years and founded with his associates C.H. Sand, Mortimer Livingston and John L. Stephens the Ocean Steam Navigation Company in May 1846 but was unable to attract sufficient capital to carry out his original business plan to built four ships and instead ordered two ships from Westerfeld & McKay of New York.
The new line began operations with one ship, the Washington, in June 1847, the second ship the Hermann followed in March 1848. Both paddle steamers were poorly designed ships, slow and with insufficient cargo space, and the government soon revoked the Le Havre portion of the mail contract because of the line’s poor performance.

From October 1850 till March 1851 the Hermann was withdrawn from service for modifications; two original boilers replaced by four smaller ones, the short single funnel tucked in between the paddle boxes replaced by two much taller funnels, very close together, fore of the paddle boxes and the service speed was increased to 10.5 knots. The Washington was also withdrawn from service for modifications made to her machinery and boilers. These modifications did not much improve the performance of the two ships ; the voyage times were not much better than in previous years.
Upon the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854, France and England began to charter transport to carry men and supplies to the Black Sea.
The Cunard Line lost so many steamships to war service that she abandoned the New York half of her operations after December 1854. As a result of the withdrawal of British ships, the Ocean Steam Navigation Co's Bremen service gained freight and passengers, and 1855 became the most successful year in the line's history. However, with the end of hostilities, the chartered vessels returned home, interrupted routes were resumed, and many new services planned. In June 1856, the Hamburg America Line (HAPAG) initiated a steamship service between Hamburg and New York, and in December 1856, a consortium of Bremen merchants founded the Norddeutscher Lloyd, ordering four screw steamships of over 2,000 tons apiece, to be placed in service in 1858.
In 1857 the United States Postmaster General had awarded the contract to carry mails from New York to Bremen to Cornelius Vanderbilt with its more modern fleet and the Ocean Steam Navigation Company ceased trading in July 1857, but because of a severe business depression the vessels were not sold until 1858 for further service in the Pacific.

Many thanks to Henk Jungerius and Ted Finch for their assistance in collecting this data. The following list was extracted from various sources. This is not an all inclusive list but should only be used as a guide. If you would like to know more about a vessel, visit the Ship Descriptions (onsite) or Immigrant Ship web site.

  • Routes:
    • New York-Southampton-Antwerp-Bremen-Hamburg-Le Havre- Brest

Funnel:
Black.

Fleet:

Funnel Flag
Vessel Built Years in Service Tons
Hermann 1848 built by Westerfelt & McKay, New York | 1858 sold to California, New York & European Steamship Co., 1866 sold to Pacific Mail Steamship Co., 13 February 1869 wrecked on Point Kwatzu, Japan with the loss of 275 lives. 1,734
Washington 1847 built by Westerfelt & McKay, New York | 1858 sold to California, New York & European Steamship Co., 1863 scrapped. 1,640

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Last updated: September 02, 2007 and maintained by and M. Kohli