Learn about maritime passenger and cargo transportation at the harbor.
Transit Shed Interior with Pallet Freight 1947
The American Presidents Line emerged out of the wreckage of the once-great Dollar Steamship Company. Unable to pay the interest on Dollar Line's multimillion-dollar debt, R. Stanley Dollar was forced by the U.S. Maritime Commission to relinquish control of the company that his father had built and passed to him. In 1938, the government seized the Dollar Steamship Company and all its subsidiaries and renamed it the American President Lines (APL). The name of the company was inspired by the Dollar Line's tradition of naming its ships after U.S. presidents. The government retained control of APL until the early 1950s.
Many vessels in the APL's large fleet were used in World War II: APL was an agent for the government's War Shipping Administration, transporting troops and cargo and providing maintenance and fueling services. After the war, APL reestablished its commercial standing by reintegrating "around-the-world" cargo and passenger service, making the company a leader in the shipping industry. By 1951, 234 APL vessels called at the Port of Los Angeles. Most docked at Berths 153-155, where APL's Port facilities were located for more than a decade. APL passengers embarked and disembarked at Berth 154. But passenger service provided only part of APL's profits; APL's cargo vessels also brought significant revenue to the harbor. These vessels carried materials such as citrus fruit, borax, chemicals, asphalt, cotton, baled old newspapers, glass bottles, and canned fish. In the Korean Conflict, APL played a vital role by transporting tons of important cargo to the war zone.
In 1945, R. Stanley Dollar filed a lawsuit against the government in an attempt to regain control of what had been the family business. It took the courts nearly a decade to settle the dispute. In 1952, the U.S. government put the steamship line up for bid, then split the proceeds with R. Stanley Dollar. California oilman Ralph Davies, along with his associates, won the bid and purchased the APL for $18,360,000.
Berth 155 Break-bulk Cargo Loading 1937
Passenger travel on the Pacific routes grew at an astounding rate during the 1950s, and APL became the largest shipping empire in the western hemisphere. Tickets for cabins on the APL's luxury passenger ships sold for as much as $2,470 for the around-the-world cruise. APL became a publicly traded company after a profitable merger with the Natomas Company in 1956, and the company made plans to expand. In anticipation of its growth, APL constructed a new 300- by 200-foot slip at the harbor, at Berths 90-93. The completion of this new APL terminal in 1963, combined with the rise of jet travel, caused a gradual decline in the use of Berths 151-157 as a passenger terminal. Because of its relatively small size, the terminal eventually became inadequate for passenger travel. Even by 1958, the number of ships berthing at the terminal had fallen to only 112, from a high of 234 in 1951.