The 6,187grt Steelmaker was built in 1920 by Federal Shipbuilding at Kearny, New Jersey originally for United States Steel Products Co. Inc. On 19th April 1942 she was torpedoed and sunk by U-654 off North Carolina while on a voyage from New York to Abadan. (Walter E. Frost)

During the 1950s and 1960s, especially during those years when the Vietnam conflict was building towards its zenith, it was not uncommon to see an American ‘Victory’ or ‘C3’ freighter belonging to Isthmian Steamship Company, or in later years, State Marine Lines in any of the major South East Asian Ports.

Isthmian Steamship Co. with its black hull and yellow funnel, or States Marine Lines freighters, with States Marine Lines painted on their grey hulls and their red, white, and blue funnels. Isthmian Steamship vessels were integrated into the States Marine Lines fleet after 1956 when they bought out Isthmian, which included their ships.

The company heralds from the U.S. Steel Corporation and was founded by James A. Farrell in 1910. Farrell’s connections with the maritime industry stem from his father who was a Master Mariner.


In 1910, James A. Farrell was appointed President of the U.S. Steel Corporation. Through Farrell’s friendship with J.T. Lilly, a senior manager in the New York office of Norton & Co., one of the most prominent Shipping Agents and Brokerages in New York at the time, Farrell began to fix his steel cargos and chartered ocean going vessels to carry his steel products. Eventually, realizing the significant savings that could be made using their own ships to transport their steel cargoes, led to the founding of his own British flag shipping company. Farrell’s New York agents worked very closely with the British Bucknall Brothers and Federal Steam Navigation Co., which led to the establishment of Isthmian Steamship Company Ltd. The new shipping concern was registered in London and so named to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal by American interests, scheduled for 1914.

Isthmian Steamship Co. Ltd., of 2 Fenchurch Avenue, London was established by U.S. Steel Corporation with a capital of £100,000, to operate under the British flag, to operate its own vessels and others it chartered to meet needs. Isthmian was a wholly owned British subsidiary of U.S. Steel Products Export Co. Federal Steam Navigation Co., whose history dated back to 1782, was also located at 2 Fenchurch Avenue and managed Isthmian’s one ship. In the United States management was awarded to the Norton Lilly Agency, Mr. J.T. Lilly having been made a partner of the firm by this time.

Isthmian’s first ship was the 4,189grt Bantu which was built in 1901 by Armstrong, Whitworth at Low Walker for Bucknall SS Co. She joined Isthmian in 1910. In 1930 she was sold to P. Hadjilias and renamed Orpheus and on 3rd October of that year she arrived at Blyth to be broken up by Hughes Bolckow. (Clive Ketley)

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