FreightWaves Classics/Fallen Flags: American Diamond Lines and Black Diamond Steamship Co.

An intertwined story

The Black Diamond Steamship Company (BDSC) was established in 1919 after World War I by JE Dockendorff. He sought to build a line of passenger and cargo ships.

Meanwhile, American Diamond Lines was founded around the same time by the United States Shipping Board (USSB). As noted in a previous FreightWaves Classics article, the USSB was created as an emergency agency by the Shipping Act of 1916 on September 7, 1916. Once the United States entered World War I, the USSB’s task was to increase the number of American ships supporting the nation. war efforts. The USSB program controlled many U.S.-flagged ships from 1917 until its powers were transferred to another federal agency on March 2, 1934.

Launch of the SS Ambridge in 1919 at the Federal SB shipyard in Kearney.  (Photo: SB Federal Court)
Launch of the SS Ambridge in 1919 at the Federal SB shipyard in Kearney.
(Photo: SB Federal Court)

From its inception until 1931, the American Diamond Line operated freight routes between New York and Rotterdam and Antwerp in the Netherlands. In 1929, the USSB put American Diamond Lines up for sale. Two companies lobbied the USSB to buy American Diamond Lines – BDSC and Cosmopolitan Shipping Company. Lobbying and appeals were carried all the way to President Herbert Hoover.

In 1931 the USSB sold American Diamond Lines to BDSC and American Diamond Lines became a subsidiary of BDSC. BDSC operated 20 ships and was profitable in the 1920s and early 1930s.

Ports of call

American Diamond Line ships continued their previous routes between Boston and New York to/from Antwerp, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Black Diamond had weekly connections to Charlottetown, Montreal, Sydney and St. John’s in Canada, while also serving Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and Norfolk/Newport News.

The flag of the Black Diamond Shipping Company.  (Image:
The flag of the Black Diamond Shipping Company. (Image:

The 1930s and World War II

Dockendorff resigned as senior manager in 1934. In the same year he also sold the only ship he owned (the SS New Britain), which he had purchased in 1918. The other 20 ships in the fleet were owned at USBS.

Prior to the United States’ entry into World War II, its ships were neutral and transatlantic trade continued with Allied nations. American Diamond Lines has also chartered some of its vessels to foreign-flagged shipping companies to continue its European trade. However, as Nazi Germany invaded Western Europe and its submarines began to sink shipping in the Atlantic, much of the liner trade came to an end.

During World War II, BDSC sold most of its American Diamond Line ships. Also during the war, the Black Diamond Steamship Company switched to charter operations, under contract with the Maritime Commission and the War Shipping Administration. BDSC operated the Victory and Liberty merchant ships for the US government. A chartered vessel was manned by its crew while the United States Navy provided armed United States Navy guards to man the deck guns and radio. The most common armaments on these merchant ships were the 20mm Oerlikon MK II autocannon and 3″/50, 4″/50 and 5″/38 deck guns.

After the war ended, there were hundreds of surplus ships and great competition. Although the Black Diamond Steamship Company continued to operate for a decade after the war, it ceased operations in 1955, largely due to market changes and increased competition. The ships he owned were sold or scrapped due to their age.

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