Lehman Brothers Collection - Contemporary Business Archives

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Lehman Brothers Collection

Twentieth-Century Business Archives

American President Lines, Ltd. - Lehman Brothers Collection

American President Lines, Ltd.

List of Deals

The origin of American President Lines can be traced to 1900 when Robert Dollar created the Dollar Steamship Lines. Dollar, a U.S. lumber trader, originally began acquiring ships as a means for transporting his lumber to Asia. However, as the years progressed his ships began to transport mail and other cargo. In 1921 Dollar Steamship acquired the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, a firm established in 1848 that owned a fleet of ships to transport passengers, cargo, and mail between the Pacific Coast, Japan, and China. In 1923 the company began the practice of naming its ships after American presidents. Dollar Line purchased five passenger-freight vessels and began round-the-world service in 1926.

The company prospered during the 1920s. By 1925 Dollar Lines enjoyed a near monopoly on U.S. shipping on the Pacific Coast. The Merchant Marine Act of 1928 also added the prospect of even greater profits by providing generous subsidies for carrying mail. This act, however, carried the requirement that the mail be transported in new vessels, so Dollar Lines signed what appeared to be a lucrative contract for transporting mail and borrowed heavily to build six new ships to comply with the agreement. Unfortunately, the timing could not have been worse as the effects of the Great Depression began to leave their mark. Only two of the six ships were completed, and one, the President Hoover, ran aground off the coast of Taiwan and was declared a total loss.

In 1938 the liabilities of Dollar Line exceeded its assets by $6 million. The U.S. Marine Commission judges decided that the company was not financially sound and the U.S. government assumed control. It was then renamed American President Lines.

During World War II, American President Lines served as an agent for the War Shipping administration, overseeing the administration of hundreds of vessels including the company fleet. After the war, the son of Robert Dollar, R. Stanley Dollar, initiated a lawsuit in an attempt to force the government to return the company to the family. A settlement was reached in 1952, when American oilman Robert Davies and a group of investors purchased the company from the U.S. government for $18 million.

In the post-World War II years, American President Lines once again prospered. The company introduced two new liners, the President Cleveland and the President Wilson, in 1947 and eleven more ships between 1952 and 1954. In 1961 the company purchased its first containerized ships, where cargo is packed into containers and transported first on land by train or truck and then loaded onto a cargo ship.

In 1965 American President Lines was merged with and became a subsidiary of Natomas Company, an oil and gas exploration company.

By 1970 American President Lines, like other passenger shipping companies, began to experience a sharp decline in passenger traffic as the result of jet aircraft travel. In the early 1970s, the company discontinued both its passenger services and round-the-world freight shipping to focus on its containerization business and its Pacific and Indian Ocean freight business.

American President Lines was spun off from Natomas in 1983 as an independent, publicly held company. During the 1980s and 1990s the company continued to expand its containerization business. It bought new rail equipment, doubled the size of its Oakland, California port facilities, and launched a door-to-door truckload transportation service for domestic freight.

American President Lines was acquired by Neptune Orient Lines (NOL), a Singapore company, in 1997 in a deal worth $825 million. At the time of the merger, American President Lines had $4.6 billion in assets and seventy-six containerships in its fleet. In 2002 American President Lines operates as APL Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of NOL.

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