Saturday, July 18, 2009

American President Lines

American President Lines hat badge.

Gemsco hallmark on flag. Eagle and shield sterling; wreath brass/gold-plate. House flag, enamel with gold fill. Second World War era.
badge: 60mm x 65mm
flag: 25mm x 22mm

American President Lines was formed by the U.S. Maritime Commission in 1938 to stave off the impending bankruptcy of the Dollar Line, the leading carrier between the U.S. west coast and Asia. It is estimated that the company's total liability in 1930s dollars was $17 million, with assets around $11 million and debt interest at $80,000 per month. Along with the government bail-out came a corporate restructuring, with allied changes in logos and insignia. The flag, as designed by the U.S. Maritime Commission, is red with a white eagle and a white star in each corner, recalling the Dollar Line's red and white colors while evoking the U.S. Presidential flag - which at the time was blue with an eagle and four white stars.

During the Second Word War, American President Lines acted as an agent for the U.S. War Shipping Administration, overseeing vessel manning, equipping, overhaul and repair, handling of cargo and passengers, and fueling. Ships' officers and crew insignia changed to match that of the U.S. Maritime Service; officers' hat badges, such as the above example, changed from the usual shipping company house flag on wool-backing with wire and thread wreath to that of the house flag on Maritime Service eagle - this was a precedent followed by many U.S. shipping companies at the time.

The company’s fleet was used for the war effort alongside hundreds of Liberty and Victory ships. Later in the war, the U.S. War Shipping Administration began to use containers to ship vital supplies more quickly and efficiently than traditional break-bulk methods. As such, the U.S. government built 16 additional specially-fitted ships for American President Lines.

By the end of the war, the American President Lines' assets were estimated at $40 million. R. Stanley Dollar, the heir of the Dollar Lines company, initiated the "Dollar Case" in order to force the government to return the company to his family. The case continued for the next seven years with Dollar eventually prevailing. By 1947, American President Lines returned to peacetime activities, once again providing passenger service on routes like the company's celebrated round-the-world service. Insignia changes followed suite; with officers licensed by the U.S. Maritime Service wearing U.S. Maritime Service hat badges with their company uniforms - if so desired. In 1988, American President Lines officially changed its name to APL, Inc.; the company is now a subsidiary of NOL (formerly Neptune Orient Lines) of Singapore.

House flags of American President Lines:
  • Red with a white eagle and a white star in each corner. 1938-1955
  • White with a red eagle and "American President Lines" in white over span of eagle. 1955-1980
  • White with a red eagle and "American President Lines" in blue beneath eagle. 1980-1988
  • White with a red eagle and "APL" in blue beneath eagle. 1988-present

A reference I found useful for tracking house flags is Lloyd's House Flags and Funnels. A facsimile of the out-of-print 1912 edition available here:

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