The American-Hawaiian Steamship Company was founded in 1899 to carry cargos of sugar from Hawaii to the United States and manufactured goods on return trips. Brothers-in-law George Dearborn and Lewis Henry Lapham were the key players in founding the company.
At the time of the company's founding, its steamships sailed around South America via the Straits of Magellan to reach East Coast ports. By 1907 the company began using the Tehuantepec Route. Shipments on the Tehuantepec Route would arrive at Mexican ports—Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, for eastbound cargo, and Coatzacoalcos for westbound cargo—and would traverse the Isthmus of Tehuantepec on the Tehuantepec National Railway. When American political troubles with Mexico closed that route, American-Hawaiian returned to the Straits of Magellan route.
When the Panama Canal opened for traffic in August 1914, American-Hawaiian began routing all of its ships via this route. The temporary closure of the canal because of a series of landslides forced the company to return to the Straits of Magellan route for the third time in its history.
In World War I, twelve of the company's ships were commissioned into the United States Navy; a further five were sunk by submarines or mines during the conflict.
Roger Dearborn Lapham, a future mayor of San Francisco, California, served as company president in the mid 1920s.
In World War II, the company operated many Liberty Ships and Victory Ships under the War Shipping Administration, including the Daniel Boone, the John Milledge, the John Drake Sloat, the Benjamin Goodhue and the Chanute Victory.
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