The merchant navy, which for a long time was of modest importance vis-à-vis the British navy, made tremendous progress during the world war, and has now reached second place in the world, comprising about a quarter of the world tonnage.
The merchant navy, as well as shipbuilding, were in the United States, from the beginning, protected and assisted by all means, and experienced periods of great growth especially after the revolution, when the traffic fleet gradually ascended from 123,893 tons. of 1789, which carried 23.6% of foreign traffic, to 981,019 tons of 1810, which carried a very high share: 91.5%. Then there is a period of regression attributable to various causes, including, pre-eminently, the fact that the shipping industry is no longer predominant among the other Americans, while the United States had started that push towards the West which opened up an immense hinterland to life.. On the other hand, the protective system showed the first cracks; the navy fell into decline until 1830 (tonnes 537,563), but then gradually resumed,
The American traffic fleet, however, had reached its peak in 1860: 2,496,000 tons; from that year the forfeiture began. The Civil War reduced the material to 1.387.756 tons. in 1866 and absorbed all other energy; in 1845, postal subsidies to steamship lines had begun (“Ocean Steamship” for a New York-Le Havre-Bremen service; then, in 1847, another subsidy to the “Collins Line” for a fortnightly service to Liverpool); but a law of 1858 greatly reduced the tax assistance; the American yards, whose prosperity had been based on the abundance of timber, were no longer able to react against the English ones who had resolutely adopted iron. It should be added that after the Civil War the attention of the public, in the stupendous luxuriance of artificially protected mainland industries, it was increasingly diverted from the sea; the competing vessels were reduced to minimal numbers, while that assigned to the traffic reserved for the flag (cabotage and the Great Lakes) reached almost seven million tons in 1913. The seafaring sense, however, was not completely extinguished; it regained strength step by step along with the rebirth of the warship navy, which had also fallen to a low level after 1866, but which could prove itself in the Cuban war of 1898. This conflict proved that the national trafficking navy did not she had managed to supply the army with the necessary auxiliary ships, albeit for a short war with a power not of the first order; this discomfort was better assessed during the Boer War, when about 250 British ships that ensured the transport of the United States were withdrawn causing serious damage to American trade. The outbreak of the World War hastened times, as US shippers and importers quickly felt they could no longer rely on the British and German flags. On 18 August 1914 he Ship Register Act completely repealed the ban on nationalization of ships purchased abroad; consequently, as of June 30, 1915, 523 thousand tons already. gross had come to increase the American navy. The events matured until 1916, when the Shipping Act on September 7 he created an autonomous state body, the United States Shipping Board, which was of enormous importance in the formation of the new American merchant navy. This was entrusted with the following tasks: 1. to order, preferably from American shipyards, to purchase or charter ships suitable for serving as auxiliaries to the army, for military transport or for other war, maritime and land purposes, to such an extent as to respond to needs of national traffic and to take over its management; 2. control private weapons in order to avoid discrimination or unfair methods against American shippers.
Since the merchant shipping available became all essential to the continuation of the conflict, a state fleet was created, based on a law of 1916, purchased and managed through an Emergency Fleet Corporation, established in April 1917 with 50 million dollars of capital, practically all underwritten by the Shipping Board on behalf of the Treasury.
The entry into the war of the United States accelerated the rate of increase in shipping; new appropriations were approved by Congress, which, between June 15, 1917 and July 1, 1918, authorized the expenditure for shipbuilding of $ 2,884,000; to support the effort, one hundred new sites were added, in 1917, to the thirty pre-war; at the date of the armistice they had become 223 with 1099 stopovers, 40% of which suitable for metal constructions; the production, limited in 1914 to 143 thousand tons. gross, it rose, in 1919, to four million tons; four ships a day were delivered to the Shipping Board that year. As of June 30, 1919, the size of the American merchant navy was already rising to tonnes. 6,665,000 compared to 1,006,000 of the same date of 1914 it, on 30 June 1921, passed to tons. 11.081.000, of which 7,993,000 – almost all cargo ships – owned by the Shipping Board; the share of the national flag in US shipping rose from 9.7 percent in 1914 to 71.9 percent in 1919; 42.7% in 1920. After the armistice, state ordinations stopped; from 3,579,826 tons launched in 1919 it dropped to 1,004,093 in 1921, to 100 thousand tons. on average in subsequent years. Then the problem of the profitable use of this arises emergency fleet, built with such haste, therefore composed largely of low-performance units and paid for at a high price. The Board attempted, in the early 1920s, to initiate the sale of the ships, but with failure, given the high asking price; it entrusted its operation to managers, remunerated with a share of the gross freight, all expenses being borne by the Treasury. Meanwhile, the collapse of the world freight market took place; American trade demanded the urgent liquidation of the state fleet and a return to private administration assisted by the treasury; the Jones Act was enacted for this purpose of 5 June 1920, which reorganized and consolidated the Shipping Board, giving it, at the same time, the directives for the urgent liquidation of the ship and organizing a system of tax assistance of the national navy, destined to pass into the possession and management of private individuals. The welfare system was then completed and perfected by the Jones White Act of May 22, 1928.
For this, the Shipping Board was charged with establishing the number and characteristics of the most suitable shipping lines to favor the expansion of national traffic; to sell (or charter, if the price is not satisfactory) their ships to shipowners who are obliged to establish and maintain such lines for a certain period. Not finding buyers and renters, the Board would have managed them directly, always awaiting the eventual sale; however, as regards services in competition with American lines, he was prohibited from quoting freight rates below the operating cost, including reasonable depreciation and interest on the capital.
The protective system was based: 1. on the establishment of an insurance fund; 2. on that of a loan fund, at a low rate, to shipowners who intend to order new ships or to modernize or modify existing ones; 3. on tax reductions on war surplus profits for a decade; 4. on the reserve of postal transport to the flag.
The Board stepped up attempts to break free from the state fleet. From 1921 to 1928 he managed to sell a complex of 5½ million tons. dw; but as of June 30 of that year the state fleet was still made up of about 6 million tons. dw, of which 3,875,000 absolutely inefficient, in decommissioning. Part of the shipping continued to be managed by the Merchant Fleet Corporation, which persisted in competition with American free armament; a part passed into private management, which the Board, dating from 1927, compensated with a more effective system than the previous one, that is, with a commission inversely proportional to the operating losses. And of course, also given the reduction of the state fleet, the operating losses decreased, which were around 190 million dollars from 1922 to 1928, and which passed, from $ 41 million in the 1923-24 financial year to 16.3 in the 1927-28 financial year. In 1928 other measures were deemed necessary to strengthen the American situation on the sea, also renewing the antiquated material; thus we arrived at the aforementioned Jones White Act which in addition to strengthening, as we have seen, tax assistance, brought an important innovation: postal subsidies or Ocean Mail contracts. As of June 30, 1933, 45 agreements had already been stipulated for the operation of 57 lines, with an annual expenditure of 20 million dollars; but the characteristic element of these conventions is constituted by the enormous disproportion between the disbursements of the Treasury and the actual cost of the service rendered. In the financial years 1929-33 the state disbursed 89 ½ million dollars while, on the basis of the weight, the cost of transporting postal items should have remained less than 13 million. The margin of protection inherent in American subsidies is therefore very high, which are, more than anything else, intended as a reward for achieving the qualitative and quantitative development of the national shipping. However, it should be noted that the two acts appointed they have achieved their intended purposes; the state fleet is now almost completely demobilized, the free shipowners have taken advantage of the mortgage fund (and in fact the loans which in 1928 rose to less than 15½ million went to 147½ in 1933); the planned subsidized shipping program (69 new constructions and 57 modernized ships) has largely been completed.
The autonomy of the Shipping Board ceased on 10 June 1933, as the entity passed to the Ministry of Commerce; many criticisms were leveled against him; however, it must be recognized that, in the 17 years of its existence, the crews have been trained, the shipowners have been trained; the mechanically propelled navy went from 1,971,903 gross tons in 1914 to 10,088,438 tons. of 1934. Of the enormous state fleet it constituted and managed after the war – 2356 ships of all types, 14.706.217 tons. dw – as of June 30, 1933, he had only 2,598,261 tons left, of which only 49,896 (all cargo) in armament; the rest, apart from the part that went into demolition, is now owned by private armament. These results have been achieved, it is true, at enormous expense, but today there is an American navy which is, for quantity, the second in the world; about seven hundred ships for almost 4 million gross tons are involved in the international movement, the traffic of the United States with Europe has increased by 50%; with South America by 200%; with Africa by 325%; with Asia by 380%.
According to the Lloyd’s Register (1935-36), the American navy dedicated to maritime navigation constitutes a block of 10,190,091 tons on 30 June 1935. gross, including: 2205 steamers per ton. 8,956,834; 348 motor ships per ton. 707,831 (in this respect the United States ranks 3rd in the world); 663 sailing ships per ton. 226,864 (570 ships per tonne 2,583,280 are dedicated to lake navigation). Liquid fuel steamers prevail in this mass: 1545 per ton. gross 7,919,355; tanks of unit tonnage exceeding 1000 tonnes. are 388 per ton. gross 2,491,368, giving, in this respect, the American Navy the first place in the world. The fleet, however, has aged; this is demonstrated by the fact that only 922.991 tons. are under the age of 10; the most notable block is made up of 1333 ships per ton. 5,872,300.
The US Navy, which aspires to transport almost all national imports and exports, has a vast field of action both in cabotage, which extends to the Atlantic and the Pacific, and in service of the transport of raw materials produced at home: cotton, rubber, petroleum, grains, fruit, etc. However, the operation is hampered by the high cost: the construction price, too high, has repercussions on insurance and depreciation. This is mainly attributed to the high wages of the workers: a normal phenomenon, moreover, which is part of the high wage policy adopted in the United States. Marina, therefore, with a high operating cost; to which tax assistance will always be needed to give it the opportunity to compete with other low-cost flags. The protective forms devised so far have not given results corresponding to the immense financial effort; as early as 1934, President Roosevelt decided that tax aid should be based on new systems, particularly direct aid (straight subsidies).
A very notable fraction of the huge traffic of American ports belongs to foreign ships, among which the English flag stands out, followed at a distance by the French, Italian, German, Dutch ones, etc. The traffic is concentrated in the large ports of the Atlantic coast and mainly in New York, where 38% of the goods landed and 19% of the goods shipped overseas passed in 1930. New York is by far the first commercial port and the port of entry for travelers, as it is home to all the fast lines of the Atlantic.
Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Newport follow in importance, and even in them imports prevail over exports: the greater distance of these ports from NE Europe. and the fact that they are more interned on the continent hinder their development, especially as they do not have easy access to the interior. In the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans, on the Mississippi delta, receives a large number of products from Central America and the Antilles, but it is especially the outlet for cotton and other products from the southern zone: although far from the open ocean, it occupies the second place among the ports of the Union and its traffic has been growing after the opening of the Panama Canal. Galveston, a port of Texas and New Mexico, exports oil, cotton and large quantities of products. The commercial ports of the Pacific are: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, excellent and well equipped: they are the terminal stations of the great transcontinental railways and the starting point for regular transpacific services. But their overall importance is still modest compared to that of the Atlantic ports, because their hinterland is restricted by the area of highlands that close them tightly and the industries there are still in an early stage.