Sunday, 16 February 2014
A History of the Ward Line
A History of the Ward Line
by A. Hyatt Verrill
The Development of
Oldest Shipping Line and Steamship Service America
★ ★ ★ ★
IT is a far cry from the tiny sailing ships of seventy-five years ago to the great liners of today from long, storm-buffetted, uncertain and uncomfortable voyages of weary weeks to swift, luxurious trips of a few days in floating palaces that defy wind and sea and ply back and forth across the oceans with the regularity of express trains.
Few are the present-day travelers who can remember the days of the sailing ships, fewer still are those who made voyages in the old wind-jammers, and still fewer realize the romance and interest that lie in the history of the modern mail and passenger steamship lines, in the transition from sail to steam, the evolution of the clumsy, side-wheel, wooden steamers to the great liners of today, in the influence upon the development, the progress, the prosperity and the commerce of foreign lands brought about by this history of the merchant marine. All too frequently we find that the place
once held in shipping and the prestige of American ships has passed to foreign
vessels and to foreign lines. America
Seldom indeed do we find the same house-flags flying from the masts of the modern liners as streamed from the topmasts of the old clippers and packets of three-quarters of a century or even half a century ago.
But those who travel by the steamships of the Ward Line will find the same house-flag snapping in the wind from the buff steel masts as that which fluttered from many a white-winged sailing vessel before a steamship braved the waters of the Atlantic, for the story of the Ward Line goes back for eighty-four years. It is the oldest of American shipping lines, either sail or steam, and it can proudly point to the fact that in all that time it has lost only two ships at sea and has never lost a passenger.
It is questionable if there is another maritime line in the world that truthfully can make that claim. Moreover, there is no other existing American line that has had such a large percentage of American built ships, and no other line has been so long and so uninterruptedly associated with any one country, or has played such an important part in the development of that country, as the Ward Line with
and of later years with . Mexico
So closely identified with
is the Ward Line that, to the great majority of persons, and the Ward Line are almost
synonymous. To think of the one is to bring up visions of the other, and though
the Ward Line, as such, went out of existence forty-eight years ago, and was
succeeded by the New York and Cuba Mail Steamship Company, it is still known
everywhere and to everybody both in the United States and Cuba, as the Ward
And while Cuba was for long the mainstay of the Ward Line and the Ward Line was the mainstay of Cuba, Mexico also owes an incalculable debt to this oldest of American steamship lines for the part it has taken in building up Mexico’s commerce and in providing that country with an unequalled and dependable maritime service despite every obstacle of revolutionary upheavals, unrest, depressed business and commercial conditions.
Originally and for a number of years the Ward Line was a one-man line, for it started with a few small schooners trading between the
United States and West Indian ports back in
1840, although these vessels, owned by James Otis Ward of ,
were not confined to the Cuban trade by any means. Roxbury, Mass.
Starting from some
Connecticut port, the staunch little sloops
and schooners would set sail for the West Indies or even South
America laden with grain, bricks, pine lumber, ice, salt codfish,
hardware or even horses, swine and cattle. Stopping in at island after island,
the skippers—canniest and shrewdest of Yankees— would barter New
England goods for local products. At the next port they might
trade what they had already obtained for a more desirable cargo, and frequently
they would drive such excellent bargains by thus disposing of the cargo from
one place in exchange for that of another that by the end of the voyage, the
value of the original cargo had been multiplied many times over.
Such was the character of the trade conducted by Henry Otis Ward with his fleet of schooners. But he very soon realized that of all the West Indian islands
forth the greatest promise of an ever increasing trade and a lasting
prosperity, and very soon the Ward vessels were making their sole destination and
were reaping a rich harvest. Cuba
Indeed, so rapidly did Mr. Ward’s Cuban trade increase that he ordered vessels built especially for the island’s trade, and in 1846 the first ship constructed for the Ward Cuban trade was launched from the shipyards of William H. Webb. This was a one hundred ton brigantine named James Edward after the son of the owner, the boy who, a few years later, was to succeed his father and who was destined to become one of
greatest shipping men and whose name became a household and almost a revered
word in . Cuba
A trim, fast little ship was this first Ward liner; a staunch, seaworthy craft, and many a cargo of rum, sugar and molasses, of cigars and tobacco, she carried safely from the
the Antilles to the States. And many a cargo
of Yankee notions, cotton cloth, flour and corn meal, hardware, coal and
lumber—not forgetting the inevitable salt codfish—she carried from New York to . Cuba
Ten years after the first of the Ward Cuban packets was launched in 1856, James Edward Ward took control of his father’s interests and with Henry P. Booth, he formed the James E. Ward Company.
Although still in his teens the younger Ward showed marvelous ability as a ship owner, and fully realizing that the era of sailing vessels was rapidly passing and that steam was destined to supersede sail in commerce, he was among the very first of American shippers to inaugurate an ocean steamship service.
This was in 1866, the first steam vessel of the Ward service being the Cuba, a tiny vessel as compared with modern ships, but a marvel in her day and the first American steamer, with the exception of the Robert Fulton, to venture on a foreign voyage. So successful was this first Cuban steam packet that, a year later, a second steamship was put on the run. This was the
, a wooden ship and
one of the earliest steamers to be propelled by means of screw propellers. Liberty
For the next ten years these two vessels, augmented by more than forty sailing craft and several chartered steamers, maintained a constant and regular communication between Cuban and North American ports. Record passages (for that period) of six days from
Havana to were made, but
it must be confessed that the brigs and schooners usually made far quicker
passages than the steam vessels. New York
But with this fleet of steam and sail, and the excellent and dependable service it maintained, the Ward Line became firmly established as the only regular and reliable means of transportation for passengers and freight between
Cuba and , a reputation
that it held for many years and which to large extent it still retains. New York
From the very start the Ward Line was prosperous. Despite the unsettled condition of
then in the throes of the Ten Years War, trade increased rapidly and services
were established between New York and Santiago, Cienfuegos by way
of Nassau in the Bahamas
by means of the side-wheel wooden steamer San Jacinto.
And considering her handicaps she made excellent time, completing the voyage
from Santiago via Nassau
in nine days including stops to load and discharge passengers and cargo. New York
Few men are alive today who remember the little old San Jacinto that rolled and pitched her way between
thrashing the water with her paddle-wheels, sailing fully as much as she
steamed, but weathering storms and gales, fair weather and foul, wintry blasts
and tropical hurricanes. I have been able to locate but one man who actually
took that trip, an elderly Cuban gentleman still in the Ward Line service who,
as a boy of sixteen, sailed from New York Cienfuegos to New York on the old San Jacinto.
Boy like, the thing that most greatly impressed him was the walking-beam and
the splashing side-wheels, and in a recent conversation he vividly described
how a sailor, washing the top of the paddle- wheel box, fell overboard and was
rescued in mid-ocean.
Probably the San Jacinto was the last of the old fashioned paddle-wheelers to churn its way back and forth between
York and ,
for at that time, 1878, propeller-driven ships were very rapidly replacing the
side-wheel vessels for ocean-going voyages. Cuba
The Ward Line at once prepared to meet the demand for larger, faster and better ships by building two new and splendid steamships for the Ward fleet. These were the
Saratoga and the Niagara, both 294 feet in length and of 2500 tons,
veritable leviathans for that period and run. In these ships the time of
passage was reduced to four days and one hour on the southward voyage and to
three days and nine hours on the northbound run, records that held for a number
of years and were very slightly over the normal running time of today.
A year after she was built the
was sold to the Russian government to be converted into a cruiser, and the fact
that she still is (or was until recently) in commission, speaks volumes for the
honest and splendid work that went into her construction. Saratoga
was launched almost immediately after the sale of the first ship of that name
and, at the time, was by far the largest and finest steamship that ever had
been built in an American yard or placed under the American flag. She was an
iron ship of 2500 tons, 324 feet in length, 34 ft. 4 in. beam and 31 ft. in
depth. She was equipped with a compound engine of 2000 indicated horse power,
and her contract called for a speed of fifteen knots. She was most luxuriously
fitted to accommodate eighty first-class passengers and seventy-five
second-class, and was provided with every latest device and innovation for
safety, comfort and labor-saving. Saratoga
With the acquisition of these then magnificent vessels, the smaller and older steamers, and the few sailing vessels still under the Ward house-flag, were relegated to cargo carrying, and two years later the last of the Ward Line sailing vessels were disposed of.
The Ward Line had now become a real factor in the world’s shipping circles; its new and fine steamships became famous, and in 1881 the fleet was increased by the addition of the Santiago, a 2400 ton ship, 290 ft. in length, and the Newport of 2800 tons and 544 ft. in length, a vessel that attracted world-wide attention in maritime circles and became famed as the swiftest and most luxuriously and modernly appointed American steamship of her type then afloat.
Hitherto the Ward Line had confined its regular service to
Cuba, making occasional stops at Nassau for passengers or cargo, but in 1879 it began to
run regular ships to the ,
the first voyage being made by the Carondelet. Bahamas
The venture proved profitable and soon afterwards the
was placed on the
New York-Havana-Nassau run and a regular monthly service was thus established. Santiago
The business of the Ward Line had by then increased to such proportions that the owners, together with John Roach and Sons, the shipbuilders who had constructed the majority of the Ward ships and retained large interests in them, deemed a larger company desirable, and in 1881 the New York and Cuba Mail Steamship Company was incorporated under the laws of the State of New York.
The new firm, composed of James E. Ward, Henry P. Booth, William T. Hughes and John Roach with a few others took over all the holdings of the original James E. Ward Company and of John Roach and Sons, whose aid and cooperation had gone far towards making the line a success.
By this time others had seen the profits of the Cuban trade and had entered into competition with the Ward Line and had continued the service to include Mexican ports. There was not room enough for two big lines in the trade, and the Ward Line’s interests and prosperity became seriously menaced. In 1886 the palatial
Newport was sold to the
Pacific Mail Steamship Company, and two years later in 1888, the Ward Line
bought out its most serious competitor, the Alexandre Line, and acquired that
organization’s vessels: the City of Alexandria,
City of Washington, City of Columbia,
the Manhattan, and the . Puebla
The addition of these ships enabled the Ward Line not only to increase its activities in
but also to extend its interests to , and Mexican ports were
thereafter included in the regular schedules. Mexico
In 1890 the Yumuri,
Orizaba and were built, and
in 1893 the Seneca of the Old Dominion Line was purchased. That same year the
Ward Line lost its first ship, the old City of Yucatan , but without a fatality among the
The next year saw the passing of James E. Ward, and upon his death Henry P. Booth became president of the company, a position he held until 1907, when the interests passed into the hands of a new corporation.
Who will forget that awful night when the battleship
Maine was blown to pieces in the ?
Anchored in the port at the time was the old City of Washington and so near was
she to the Maine that her awnings, her raise, her deck-houses and some of her
boats were riddled and torn by flying fragments of the destroyed battleship. harbor of Havana
Scarcely had the echoes of the explosion died away when the City of
’s boats were
lowered. But the first to touch the water were so injured by the debris from
the battleship that they were useless. The others, however, played an heroic
part in rescuing survivors from the sunken, shattered warship, and the Ward
Liner was at once transformed into a hospital for the wounded and, later, when
the Washington United States declared
war on Spain, the City of Washington served as a transport to carry our troops to . Cuba
The Seguranca and Vigilancia were used as transports during the Spanish War, and in addition the Niagara and Yumuri were taken over by our government and were converted to auxiliary cruisers, while the
Yucatan served to transport Roosevelt's famous Rough
Riders to . Cuba
With Cuba Libre an accomplished fact and the war over, the Ward Line at once prepared for greater business than ever before, for the officials foresaw a rapid and tremendous development of the island's resources under the new regime, and they realized that with Havana transformed from a pesthole of filth and disease to a healthful, clean and orderly city, it would become a popular winter resort and a Mecca for tourists. But even the officials of the Ward Line did not dream to what an extent
prosperity would increase, nor could they or anyone else foresee the time when
Americans would flock to
by tens of thousands each winter, and bigger and better ships would be
necessary to accommodate them. Havana
In 1898 the
Havana, the Mexico and the Saratoga
(Third), all 5000 ton ships, were added to the Ward Line fleet, to be followed
in 1900 by the Morro Castle of 6004 tons and in 1902 by the Esperanza and the of 4702 tons
In 1905-6 the
Havana and Mexico were sold to the United States to be used on the Panama R. R.
Steamship Line; the Saratoga was sold to the
Northwestern S. S. Company, and the Orizaba, the
Yucatan and the were sold to the Joy Line. Santiago
This did not mean, however, that the Ward Line was not prospering nor that it was permanently reducing its fleet. On the contrary it merely was a preparation for larger and better ships: The Merida and the
(second), each of 6207 tons
were placed in commission in 1906. Mexico
In the following year the
(second) and the
(fourth) were launched, and the Ward Line thus possessed the largest tonnage
and the finest fleet of vessels of its entire career. Saratoga
At that time the company owned nineteen ships with a total tonnage of 84,411 all under the American flag, in addition to eight totalling 20,624 tons under foreign flags. The American vessels were the Morro Castle, the Esperanza, Monterey, Merida, Mexico (Second), Havana (Second), Saratoga (Fourth), Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, Matanzas and Santiago (Second) with several tugs and tenders, while under the Cuban flag (a necessity owing to the ships having been purchased abroad) were the Manzanillo, Yumuri, Guantanamo and Bayamo with some smaller chartered ships: the largest tonnage of any American steamship line of that period, and the largest tonnage and finest American ships of any line of that time.
From the very beginning, James E. Ward and his associates had been ardent, almost fanatical supporters of American ships for American shippers. With a few exceptions—less than a dozen vessels —every ship owned by the company was American built, and it is very doubtful if any one line ever did more to encourage American shipbuilders and to add to the American merchant marine.
In 1911 the Ward Line suffered a serious loss, a loss, however, that has become famous, that has led to innumerable stories—both fact and fiction—to adventurous treasure-seeking expeditions, and that has perpetuated the name of one Ward ship for all time. This ship was the Merida which, carrying over eight hundred thousand dollars in specie, was in collision with the steamship Admiral Farragut off Cape Charles and sank after many hours, carrying with her to the bottom all the treasure, together with gold, specie, jewelry and other valuables belonging to the passengers, the whole amounting to a value of several million dollars.
From the time the
went down until the present day innumerable attempts have been made to salvage
the precious cargo, but so far without success. Several times the wreck has
been located and buoyed, but each time storms have arisen and have compelled
the treasure-seekers to abandon their operations. Merida
Very probably more money has been wasted in trying to recover the
Merida’s treasure than the treasure amounted to; but with
modern methods and deep-sea diving apparatus some one may yet be fortunate
enough to wrest the treasure of the Merida from
the bottom of the Atlantic.
The next important event in the history of the Ward Line was the World War, and nobly did this oldest of American lines respond to the call of its country in time of need. Among the first vessels taken over by the
United States government for service in the
World War were the Ward liners Havana and . These two
splendid ships, that had plied for so long between Saratoga New
and had carried thousands of Americans to this winter playground of the
tropics, were transformed into hospital-ships and were renamed the Mercy and
the Comfort. Cuba
Two other Ward liners were also taken over by our government. These were the
Orizaba and the Siboney, and both
served as transports until the end of the war, passing many times unscathed
through the submarine-infested waters of the North Atlantic and carrying many
thousands of our troops overseas to battle-torn . France
The close of the World War found the Ward Line still on the job of linking
Cuba and Mexico with New York,
and with the tremendously increased business of Cuba,
due to the high price of sugar and the immense shipments from the Island, the
existing docking facilities of
proved inadequate for the city’s commerce. Havana
As usual the Ward Line took the initiative, and in 1920 commenced the construction of modern concrete terminal docks that were completed in 1925 at a cost of more than five million dollars. These docks, by far the finest and most modern in the
West Indies, have a
capacity for berthing five ships at once and are most conveniently situated
close to the station of the United Railways, with tracks connecting the main
railway lines with the ships' berths. They are equipped with every modern
device and facility for the rapid loading and discharge of cargo, with electric
cranes, tractors, locomotives and other appliances, and are so commodious that
several ships may be loaded or discharged simultaneously.
There are also ample accommodations for the embarkation of passengers and the customs examiners, with offices of the Company in the same building. Large storage space and warehouses, as well as refrigerating rooms for perishable freight are provided, and nothing is lacking to make the Ward docks in Havana as modern, as convenient and as efficient as any in America, if not in the world.
At the present time (1930) the Ward Line fleet consists of the
Orizaba, Siboney, Havana, Monterey, Antilla, Agwistar, Camague, Cauto and Panuco, in
addition to the Morro Castle, to be followed within a few months by the
Oriente, a sistership to the Morro Castle.
In building the
Morro Castle and
the Oriente, the Ward Line makes an outstanding addition to the American
Merchant Marine. A notable credit to American enterprise, ingenuity and
scientific skill. These new vessels are of twin-screw turbo-electric
oil-burning type and capable of maintaining a cruise speed of 20 knots an hour.
The sailing time to
is reduced by about 12 hours. Havana
Morro Castle and the Oriente,
are each of 17,500 tons displacement. The former is named for the ancient and
picturesque fortress which for centuries has been a landmark at the entrance to
Havana harbor; and the Oriente is named for the
Province of the same name in the eastern part of , noted alike for its
agricultural richness and its scenic beauty. Cuba
These great ships each have an overall length of 508 feet, beam of 70.9 feet and loaded draft of 26.5 feet. They are of imposing appearance, with seven decks including four tiers of superstructure, comprising the steel erections above the bridge deck, and are of the complete superstructure type.
Every requirement for cruising in tropical waters has been met in their design and construction. Passenger quarters and public spaces are unusually large and spacious, and are heated and ventilated from a central source, ensuring warm or cool air as required by the weather, and eliminating that sense of stuffiness so often encountered where direct radiation is employed.
The major public spaces are unusually spacious and have been designed and furnished with not only an idea of taste and charm, but also of restfulness. While various architectural styles are made use of in different rooms, the arrangement and colors make an agreeable transition from one space to another, giving the vessel a spaciousness suggestive of the largest type of trans-Atlantic liner.
There is abundant space for outdoor and indoor recreation. The forward end of the Promenade Deck is enclosed in glass, making a pleasant place for deck chairs. The Deck Ball Room, similarly enclosed, is at the after end of the same deck. A profusion of flowers in wrought-iron stands, gay wicker furniture, picturesque ship’s lanterns and special light control devices add to the charm of this room.
The Verandah Cafe, near the Ball Room, is enclosed in glass casements, giving uninterrupted view of the dancers. Refreshments are served in these charming surroundings. The Lounge, Smoking Room, Writing Room and Library, each admirably suited to its specific use, open on the Promenade Deck.
The Children’s Play Room, on “A” Deck, is a nursery paradise. Wall decorations represent a street scene in
, and landscapes from Mother
Goose Nursery Rhymes. Spain
The Gymnasium on the Game Deck has every needed appliance for regular exercise. The adjoining outer deck is a large area with plenty of equipment for deck games and sports.
A centrally controlled Broadcast Receiver of superior character, will guarantee close communication with the radio world.
A Barber Shop with skilled attendants; and a general shop dispensing cigarettes, perfume, toilet requisites, pictorials and novelties, are gratifying conveniences.
The first class Dining Room on “D” Deck, extends upward two decks, through the mezzanine, which enhances the spaciousness of this compartment and assures proper ventilation. Appointments and service are all that could be desired while the cuisine from the electric kitchen maintains the Ward Line’s fine reputation.
Private quarters for passengers are unusually comfortable and luxurious. Staterooms, generally, are outside rooms, with modern beds, running hot and cold water, mechanical ventilation, and heating by the Thermo System; electric bed lamps and reading lamps, telephone and annunciator systems.
Chronology of Ward Line Ships
Name How Acquired Date Disposal Date
JAMES EDWARD Built 1846 Sold 1877
Bought 1888 Sold WASHINGTON
Bought 1888 Lost at Sea 1893 ALEXANDRIA
Bought 1888 Sold COLUMBIA
YUMURI Built 1890 Taken by
SENECA Bought 1895 Sold
SEGURANCA Bought 1894 Sold
VIGILANCIA Bought 1894 Sold
ESPERANZA Built 1901-2 Lost at Sea
MONTEREY Built 1901-2 Still in service
BAYAMO Bought 1907 Sold
YUMURI (2ND) Built 1907 Sold
SlBONEY Built 1918 In service at present time
ANTILLA Bought Sold 1929
AGWISTAR Built In use at present time 1929
CAMAGUEY Built In use at present time 1929
CAUTO Built In use at present time 1929
PANUCO Built In use at present time 1929
SAN JACINTO Chartered In use at present time 1929
ORIENTE Built 1930
Ships in Operation by Ward Line
1846 First ship built for Cuban trade: Brigantine, JAMES EDWARD*
1866 First steamer to make regular trips to
Cuba: S.S. CUBA
1866-7 S.S. LIBERTY
1877-8 First steamer to Nassau and southern
Cuba: Side-wheeler SAN JACINTO
1888 CITY OF WASHINGTON
CITY OF ALEXANDRIA
CITY OF COLUMBIA
1930 Turbo Electric Liner MORROCASTLE*
(*Built in American shipyards for the Ward Line)
Captions to the illustrations.
The “James Edward” a 100-ton brigantine, the first ship constructed for the Ward Line in 1846.
The “Carondelet” inaugurated Cuban and Bahama Service making her first trip in 1879.
2,300 tons, was built in 1878. She reduced the Saratoga run to 4 days and 1 hour. Havana
Niagara,” 294 feet long,
2,500 tons, built in 1878. She served in the Spanish-American War.
2,400 tons, was built in 1881. She was sold about 1905. Santiago
(First), built in 1890, operated in the Cuban trade, and in 1905 was sold. Orizaba
Yucatan,” built in 1890,
carried Col. Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders to . Cuba
The Ward Liner “Seneca,” was purchased in 1895 from the Old Dominion Line for the Cuban service.
The sister ships “
“Siboney” offering express sailings New York
Vera Cruz. Havana
The line operated out of New York City's Piers 15, 16, and 17—land which later became the site of the South Street Seaport and also the Manhattan terminal of the IKEA-Red Hook ferry route. The company’s steamers linked New York City with Nassau, Havana, and Mexican Gulf ports. The company had a good reputation for safety until a series of disasters in the mid-1930s, including the SS Morro Castle disaster. Soon after, the company changed its name to the Cuba Mail Line. In 1947, the Ward Line name was restored when service was resumed after World War II, but rising fuel prices and competition from airlines caused the company to cease operation in 1954.
In the 1920s, service reductions, poor management, and rehabilitation of its aging fleet nearly bankrupted the company, but subsidies from the United States government helped to resuscitate the company. In 1929 government financing help the Ward Line build two new luxury liners, SS Morro Castle and SS Oriente. With two of the newest liners in the Merchant Marine and relatively low fares, the company was able to weather the early years of the Great Depression relatively well.
In 1934, the Ward Line’s reputation for safety at sea suffered a major setback. On September 8, 1934, Morro Castle caught fire killing 137, a tally that is still the highest death toll of any U.S.-flagged merchant ship. In the months that followed the company suffered a series of further public relations disasters. Havana ran aground near the Bahamas in January 1935, and SS Mohawk a ship chartered by the Ward Line to replace Havana, sank on its initial voyage the same month. The Ward Line name was dropped in favor of Cuba Mail Line to help put these disasters behind the company, but it never truly recovered.
In 1942 all of the company’s remaining passenger liners were requisitioned by the government for use during World War II, none of which were returned to the company. In 1947, Agwilines resurrected the Ward Line name for limited passenger service on converted World War II freighters. This reduced service lasted until 1954, when Agwilines was liquidated as a result of rising fuel prices and competition from airlines.
In 1955, the Ward Line name was purchased by Thomas Stevenson who operated foreign-flagged freighters under the Stevenson Lines name, but as Stevenson’s company diversified, it moved away from the shipping industry. In 1955, Compañía Naviera García, a Cuban steamship company, bought the Ward name and ran its company under the name Ward-García Line. Ward-García lasted only until 1959 when declining demand and the Cuban Revolution ended its service.
About the pamphlet:
A copy of the pamphlet came from Steamship Historical Society of America, www.sshsa.org.
The pamphlet was created in 1930; four years before the fire on board the Morro Castle.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.