Imperial Steel is the epic account of the Isthmian Steamship Company and the critical role it played in the development of U. S. foreign trade in the nineteenth centrury. The tumultuous history of James Farrells great steamship company is traced from its British flag beginnings in 1910 to the sale of its World War II fleet to Henry Mercers States Marine Lines in 1956.
Drawing on his own experience in sailing around the world on Isthmian ships during the great depression, as well as extensive interviews with former Isthmian officers and seamen, John Atherton tells the how the company evolved from its British flag origins to become the largest and most efficiently operated American flag cargo carrier through two world wars to its sale in 1956, just when the revolutionary idea of containerships was foretold by Malcolm McClean.
Imperial Steel is the definitive account of the ships, the men who sailed them, and the pivotal role they played in building the American economy through boom and depression, through war and peace. It reveals the role James A. Farrell, as President of the U. S. Steel Corporation, played in purchasing his British-built ships in a great partnership with his Norton- Lilly friends, the astute American shipping agents who managed the Isthmian steel cargoes all over the world. It explains how Farrell together with his good friend and rival Robert Dollar, organized the American Foreign Trade Council, and skillfully used its prestige to expand U. S. Foreign trade with a lions share sailing in his Isthmian ships.
Imperial Steel is also the story of the masters and seamen who took U. S. Steel cargoes around the world, first in British-built coal burners, before World War I, then in his great inter-war fleet of American-built Steel and City ships, and finally, after Hiroshima, in the great C 2-3 freighters built by the Maritime Commission. It details the heroic role Isthmian seamen played in both world wars especially the grim losses they suffered in delivering aid to Britain and Russia during World War II.
Imperial Steel, in short, is the definitive history of Americas greatest break- bulk cargo carrier placed into its tumultuous 20th Century century setting of industrial progress, labor-management conflict, and governmental regulation. Without the ships and men of the Isthmian Steamship Company, the United States could never have achieved its global ascendancy after World War II.
John Atherton is an emeritus Professor of English Literature who has taught at the State University of New York and the Claremont Colleges. He has published poetry and prose in the New Yorker, Yale Review, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. He is a retired Naval Officer, a member of the Steamship Historical Society of America, the National Maritime Historical Society, as well as a Life Member of the Board of Trustees of Pitzer College. He lives in Claremont, California.