Pacific Mail Steam Ship Company (PMSSC)
Entry Author: Steve
The history of the PMSSC (1848-1925) is synonymous with that
of San Francisco, where the line was based throughout most
of its history. Its history is also synonymous with Gold Rush
transportation and with Pacific Basin trade and migrations.
Here are some 19th Century lithographs and paintings depicting
PMSSC ships, all of which helped contribute to the City's
economic and social development.
lithograph ca. 1867 of the wooden side-paddle-wheel steamer
"China," built for Pacific Mail's pioneering trans-Pacific
route between San Francisco and Yokohama, with service also
to Shanghai. Lithograph by Endicott, New York.
for larger view
School painting ca. 1874 of US-flagged Pacific Mail steamer
"City of Peking" shown in Hong Kong Harbor. Oil
on board. Hull fragments were found in the mid-1980s in San
Francisco during excavations near Candlestick Park.
for larger view
"Tennessee" was on Pacific Mail's Panama-San Francisco
run when she ran aground at Tennessee Cove in Marin County
in 1853. This Sarony & Major litho, ca. 1850, belonged
to Renee Pierre Schwerin of San Francisco, the company's VP
and General Manager in the late 19th Century.
for larger view
PMSSC was established in 1848 with lucrative U.S. mail contracts,
and the first steamship to sail into San Francisco Bay was
the PMSSC steamer CALIFORNIA, arriving on February 28, 1849.
Here is one of the great ironies of history: Departing from
New York before the discovery of gold in California had become
well known, the wooden side-paddle-wheeler stopped in Panama
to pick up a few passengers on route to San Francisco. But
at Panama, the ship instead found hundreds of gold-seekers
waiting to board. They had made their way down the East Coast
after hearing of the discovery at Sutter's Mill, and crossed
the Isthmus. Upon reaching San Francisco, all the passengers
disembarked for the gold fields east of Sacramento. To the
captain's disdain, so did most of the crew!
By a quirk of history (the Gold Rush), Pacific Mail's success
In 1867, Pacific Mail played another key role in San Francisco's
development. Again supported by its U.S. mail contracts, the
"mail line" launched the world's first regular trans-Pacific
steamship service linking the United States with Asia. The
initial route was San Francisco to Yokohama, with service
to Hong Kong and Shanghai. The ships carried the fast-growing
trade between East and West -- a trade that -- in our generation
-- has surpassed in size even the trans-Atlantic trade that
dominated America's foreign commerce since 1776.
Pacific Mail also became the principal means of transport
to California in the 19th Century for Japanese immigrants,
and for the Chinese immigrants who built the trans-continental
railroad. Both migrations vastly enriched California's economy
and culture. And PMSSC was vociferous in its defense of the
rights of Chinese crew members and workers.
Pacific Mail transitioned into Dollar Line, also San Francisco-based,
and in 1938, Dollar Line's name was changed to American President
Lines (today's APL, a global container-shipping company).
PMSSC in essence represents the origins of the steamship business
on San Francisco Bay. But more important, the company -- born
more than 150 years ago in Gold Rush days-- played a critical
role in the development of San Francisco, the State of California,
the United States, and the Pacific Basin.
Entry taken from the website of Steve Potash at www.PotashCo.com
and is used by permission. Unauthorized use of this copyrighted
material or the images is strictly forbidden without permission
from the author, steve@PotashCo.com.
P.S. Additional source: Kemble, John: The Panama Route,