The Hamburg-Amerika Line (HAPAG)

During the middle of the nineteenth century, three major new lines appeared on the shipping lists. From France came the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, or French Line, which became an instant success. But from Germany came the Norddeutscher Lloyd, or North German Lloyd, and another entrant…

The full German name for the company was “Hamburg Amerikanische Packetfahrt Actien Gesellschaft,” and it was commonly referred to as either the Hamburg-Amerika Line or Hamburg-America Line. A further abbreviation was the acronym “HAPAG”, derived from the letters in the German-spelled name, “Hamburg Amerikanische Packetfahrt Actien Gesellschaft”. In this web site, as well as in my books, the company is referred to as either “Hamburg-Amerika,” retaining the original “k” of the German spelling, or “HAPAG.”

There were economic difficulties in Europe during the 1870’s and stiff competition from British ships in the Cunard and White Star fleets ensured that the Hamburg-Amerika Line found itself in sore financial straits. But just when things looked their bleakest, HAPAG received a new infusion of life in the form of a new director: Albert Ballin. He had taken over his father’s modest shipping agency, Morris & Co., in 1875. He quickly showed his enterprising genius, and his company began to grow. Before long, Ballin’s company was linked with the Hamburg-Amerika Line, and they quickly saw his potential, appointing him their Managing Director.

With Cunard and White Star in varying stages of putting their great trios of ocean liners into service, Ballin decided that his own company, HAPAG, must do something grand to counter this corporate threat. The scheme he dreamed up was to build the three largest liners in the world. The vessels would be called the Imperator, the Vaterland, and the Bismarck, but none of these ships would remain in the German merchant fleet for long…

Imperator   ⊗   Vaterland   ⊗   Bismarck