A brief history of Munson Steamship Line by Martin Cox
Walter D. Munson established Munson Steamship Line in 1899 when he built a freight line Havana-New York service and then extended to include Eastern Cuba, Mexico and the gulf ports. Succeeded by his son Carlos Munson, then son Frank Munson the Line had sixty steamers and became the largest ocean freight company on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.
In 1915 the first ship to include passenger accommodation for the line was the SS MUNAMAR, built (by Maryland Steel in Baltimore) for the eastern Cuba trade. After World War I, Frank Munson began a passenger and freight service from New York to east coast of South America using foreign built vessels interned in American ports. In her brochure materials the new vessel MUNAMAR is described: ” Most comfortable accommodations are offered for the 50 first-class and 30 second-class passengers.” and the Salon is described as, “finished in white, paneled with brown tapestry, the furniture being oak.”
The MOCCASIN (ex PRINZ JOACHIM of Hamburg America Line) inaugurated the service in December 1919 but sank at her pier in Brooklyn and was sold. A second ship MARTHA WASHINGTON (formerly of Unione Austriaca, Austria) followed by HURON, AEOLUS and CALLAO (formerly GROSSER KURFURST and FRIEDRICH DER GROSSE and SIERRA CORDOBA of Norddeutscher Lloyd).
In July 1921 the first of four “535”class transports converted to passenger ships by the United States Shipping Board were assigned to Munson Line. AMERICAN LEGION, SOUTHERN CROSS, PAN AMERICAN and WESTERN WORLD. Thus the ex German liners were returned to the USSB, and in 1922 MARTHA WASHINGTON was ceded to Italy after an act on Congress recognized her as belonging to Cosulich Line reorganized under the Italian Flag.
The new 295-passenger SS MUNARGO was commissioned for Caribbean service (New York – Nassau – Eastern Cuba) in 1922. The 80-passenger MUMANAR joined the service offering a weekly sailing from New York.
In 1925 Munson Line purchased their previously chartered vessels from the USSB and the service continued with sailing to Bermuda added in 1930.
The WESTERN WORLD ran aground on San Sebastian Island off the coast of Brazil in August 1931 and remain stuck, four months later she arrived in New York for repairs.
The depression resulted in severely reduced traffic and the MUNAMAR was sold and as Munson Line ran into financial troubles its ships were either laid up or scraped. The MUNARGO was transferred to a tourist service Miami, Nassau, Havana in 1937 but sold a year later when the company went bankrupt. The remaining passenger ships were taken over by the Maritime Commission.
Munson Line’s passenger ships:
MUNAMAR, MOCCASIN, MARTHA WASHINGTON, HURON, AEOLUS, CALLAO, AMERICAN LEGION, SOUTHERN CROSS, PAN AMERICAN, WESTERN WORLD
MARTIN COX - Founder and publisher of MaritimeMatters, inspired by maritime culture and technology growing up in the port of Southampton. He works as a photographer in Los Angeles, and his works has been exhibited in LA, San Francisco, New York, London and Iceland. Martin is the co-writer of the book “Hollywood to Honolulu; the story of the Los Angeles Steamship Company” published by the Steam Ship Historical Society of America. The Los Angeles Maritime Museum has commissioned artworks and collected his photographs.