Coastwise Steamship Lines

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COASTWISE STEAMSHIP LINES. American steamers made coastwise voyages as early as 1809, but the first regular lines were placed in operation in the sheltered waters of Long Island Sound and between Boston and the coast of Maine about 1825. Local services were established in the Gulf of Mexico by Charles Morgan in 1835, while the United States Mail Steamship Company opened a regular line from New York to Charleston, South Carolina; Havana, Cuba; New Orleans, Louisiana; and the Isthmus of Panama in 1848. In 1849 the Pacific Mail Steamship Company pioneered the route from Panama to San Francisco and Oregon. Steamships played a crucial role in the Civil War, helping the Union to blockade Southern ports and to keep its own supply lines open.

Prior to 1860 the railroads served chiefly as feeders for the steamship lines, but after the Civil War they offered serious competition. Although the coastwise lines remained active, they were forced to consolidate (Eastern Steamship Company, Atlantic, Gulf and West Indies Steamship Company), and in some cases the railroads gained control of the steamships, as when the Southern Pacific Railroad acquired the Morgan line (1885). Increasing competition from railroads, motor buses, and trucks, mounting operating costs, and labor difficulties resulted in the withdrawal of a considerable part of the coastwise steamship service from the Atlantic and virtually all from the Pacific Coast south of Alaska by 1937.


Dayton, Fred Erving. Steamboat Days. New York: Tudor, 1939.

Pedraja, René De La. The Rise and Decline of U.S. Merchant Shipping in the Twentieth Century. New York: Twayne, 1992.

Taylor, William Leonhard. A Productive Monopoly; The Effect of Railroad Control on New England Coastal Steamship Lines, 1870–1916. Providence, R.I.: Brown University Press, 1970.

John HaskellKemble/t. d.

See alsoGreat Lakes Steamships ; Steamboats ; Transportation and Travel .

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Coastwise Steamship Lines

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