The Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft (HAPAG or HAL)

The "Hamburg-Amerikanische Packetfahrt-Actien-Gesellschaft", HAPAG for short, or later "Hamburg Amerika Linie", HAL for short, was founded on May 27, 1847 by 41 companies, who had decided to establish a new Hamburg shipping company. These companies were founded, among others, by well-known Hamburg merchants such as Ferdinand Laiesz and Adolph Godefroy. The chairmanship, and thus the management, of the board of directors was entrusted to Godefroy, who held this office for 33 years. With the foundation was to create a regular connection to North America, since North American trade had previously bypassed Hamburg.
The company name includes the word "Packetfahrt". At that time, the mail was mostly carried by ships operating regular scheduled services, but they were not bundled in sacks, as is common today, but in parcels. This is why the term "Packetschifffahrt", or "Packetfahrt" for short, came into use.

HAPAG's first ship, the Deutschland, still a sailing vessel, opened service with her first voyage to New York on October 15, 1848. The main business was the transport of emigrants. Cargo was also carried, but this played a minor role in the early years. However, the main business with emigrants lacked the support of the city of Hamburg for several years. The competing company founded in Bremen in 1837, "Norddeutscher Lloyd", was supported by the city of Bremen at a very early stage and was and remained a major competitor until the merger in 1970.
In 1853, efforts began to convert the fleet to steamships. This began 2 years later. The last sailing ship disappeared from the fleet in 1868.

The name Albert Ballin is particularly strongly associated with HAPAG. He began his career, after the death of his father, at the age of 17 in his father's emigrant agency. The tasks of such an agency included, among other things, finding accommodation for the emigrants in lodging houses until their ship sailed, negotiating the business with the authorities of a large number of states and small countries, and finally getting people on the right ship. Through various circumstances it came about that Albert Ballin took over the management of the passage business at HAPAG on 1.6.1886. His first demand was for the creation of a representative location for passenger handling.
In the main emigrant business there was strong competition at that time, especially with British lines. Albert Ballin managed to reach an amicable negotiations to reach an amicable result that promised everyone enough of the big cake.

As it was time to modernize the fleet, Albert Ballin convinced the Board of Management to purchase the first fast steamers, the "Augusta Victoria", later renamed the "Auguste Victoria", and the "Columbia".

In the summer of 1892, HAPAG was dealt a severe blow. On August 24, cholera was diagnosed in Hamburg, which led to a halt in the emigrant business. It took several years, including the transfer of fast steamer operations to Southampton, for the situation to return to normal.

From around 1893, in addition to the prestigious fast steamers, new paths were taken in the expansion of the fleet for the service to New York. In addition to the emigrant business, there was also an increased focus on the transport of freight. Ships were purchased with lower speeds, which were more economical than the fast steamers. The new ships could carry 2,500 steerage passengers and up to 7,500 tons of freight. The tween deck was designed so that it could be quickly converted into another hold for cargo on the return trip, as they were otherwise empty. The conditions in the tween deck were also steadily improved. In the beginning, only a wooden plank bed was provided as sleeping space. In the course of time meals and blankets, which were allowed to be kept, were added. Until 1914, when all traffic came to a standstill with the outbreak of the First World War, the HAPAG became the largest shipping company of the time. This culminated in the construction of three giant steamships, the "Imperator", the "Vaterland", and the "Bismarck", which was not completed due to the war. The two that were completed were the largest ships ever built at that time.

Source reference:

Steinmeyer/Evers, Deutsche See- und Schiffspost 1886 - 1945, Band I - IV
Witthöft, HAPAG Hamburg-Amerika-Linie
Kludas/Bischoff, Die Schiffe der Hamburg-Amerika-Linie 1847 - 1970, Band I - III


Sorting of letter bags at the sea post office of the steamer ALBERT BALLIN
From: Steinmeyer/Evers
Discarding bundles of letters and piece mail at the sea post office of the steamer ALBERT BALLIN
From: Steinmeyer/Evers
The Hammonia ready for departure at the Hamburg Jonas, the Bastion Johannes, today marked by the promenade of the Johannisbollwerk (ca. 1890).
From: Kludas/Bischoff
Hamburg - New York route map.
Hamburg - New York route map. The voyage from New York to Genoa was temporarily operated in winter.
Hapag Piers 2 and 3 in Hoboken as seen from the waterfront. The photo was taken at the beginning of the 20th century.
From: Witthöft
Imperator, A.G. «Vulcan» Hamburg; Bau-Nr. 314 / 52.117 BRT / 8.900 tdw / 268,2 (277,1) x 29,9 m / Vier Turbinen/74.000 Psw / 4 Schr. / 23 Kn / Pass.: 908 I., 972 II., 942 III., 1.722 ZwD / Bes.: 1.180 / 10. Juni 1912: First voyage Cuxhaven - New York.
From: Kludas/Bischoff
Vaterland(1), Blohm & Voss, Hamburg; Bau-Nr. 212 / 54.282 BRT / 9.100 tdw / 276,2 (289,2) x 30,5 m / Vier Turbinen/90.400 Psw / 4 Schr. / 24 Kn / Pass.: 752 I., 535 II., 850 III., 1.540 ZwD / Bes.: 1.234 / 14. Mai 1913: First voyage Cuxhaven - New York.
From: Kludas/Bischoff
In 1903, the company moved into its new representative administrative building on Alsterdamm (now Ballindamm).
From: Witthöft
Copyright Jürgen Kuseler 2021