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House Flags of U.S. Shipping Companies: O

Last modified: 2003-03-01 by rob raeside
Keywords: united states shipping lines |
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Occidental and Oriental Steamship Co

[Occidental and Oriental Steamship Co]  by Joe McMillan

Occidental and Oriental Steamship Co, San Francisco (1874-1908)
The O&O was organized by the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads in response to the refusal of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company (then the dominant firm in the trans-Pacific trade) to handle cargoes from the newly completed transcontinental railroads. (Pacific Mail's owners also owned the Panama Railroad, whose business was threatened by the direct lines across the United States.) The O&O was originally operated under the British flag and manned by Chinese crews with British officers. O&O gave the better-established Pacific Mail several decades of stiff competition, but in 1893 both companies were acquired by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Southern Pacific merged the businesses, but retained the O&O trade name and flag until 1908. The flag was divided per saltire, blue in the hoist and red in the fly, with the upper and lower quadrants white, each inscribed with a red O. Not to be confused with the similarly named but much later Oceanic and Oriental Navigation Company.
Source: 1908 supplement to Flaggenbuch (1905)

Joe McMillan, 7 November 2001

Ocean Steamship Company of Savannah (Savannah Line)

[Ocean Steamship Company of Savannah (Savannah Line)]  by Joe McMillan

Ocean Steamship Company of Savannah (Savannah Line), Savannah, Georgia (1867-World War II)
A coastal passenger and freight line serving the southeastern United States, owned by the Central of Georgia Railway to feed freight to the railway's Savannah terminus. The flag was white with a blue saltire between the initials O, S, S, and Co in red.
Sources: Lloyds 1912, Talbot-Booth (1937),

Joe McMillan, 7 November 2001

Ocean Transportation Co

[Ocean Transportation Co]  by Joe McMillan

Ocean Transportation Co, New York
I know nothing about this company, but the flag was blue with a white torch with yellow flames, the upper part surrounded by a yellow circle and three short lines apparently representing rays.
Source: US Navy's 1961 H.O.

Joe McMillan, 7 November 2001

Oceanic and Oriental Navigation Co

[Oceanic and Oriental Navigation Co]  by Joe McMillan

Oceanic and Oriental Navigation Co, San Francisco (1928-1938)
The Oceanic and Oriental (not to be confused with the similarly named Occidental and Oriental) was a joint venture by Matson Navigation Co. subsidiary and the American-Hawaiian SS Co. It was created to take over the operation of government-owned freighters in transpacific service from the financially troubled Swayne and Hoyt Company. Oceanic-Matson managed the ships operating from California to Australia and New Zealand while AHSS managed those going to China. Heavy government subsidies were not sufficient to keep the OONC in operation, however, and the line was disbanded in 1938. The flag was a red-white-blue horizontal tricolor with the initials O&O in black on the center stripe.
Source: National Geographic (1934)

Joe McMillan, 7 November 2001

Oceanic Steamship Company (Spreckles Line)

[Oceanic Steamship Company (Spreckles Line)]       [Oceanic Steamship Company (Spreckles Line)]  by Joe McMillan

Oceanic Steamship Company (Spreckles Line), San Francisco (1878-1976)
This company operated from California to New Zealand and Australia via Hawaii. It had its roots in a fleet of sailing vessels created in 1878 by Claus Spreckles, then a major sugar planter in Hawaii, to move raw sugar to his refinery in California. He switched to steam in 1881 and incorporated the Oceanic Steamship Company to operate his new ships under the Hawaiian flag (reflagged under the US flag when Hawaii was annexed in 1898). The large steamers gave him more cargo space than he needed for sugar, so he expanded into merchant shipping more generally. The line was economically dependent on trans-Pacific mail contracts from the US government, which at the time were awarded through a political process by act of Congress. Oceanic thrived when it had the contracts but fell into economic problems when it didn't. Meanwhile, the Spreckles family's position in the sugar business was overtaken by other firms, calling into question the basic reason for the shipping company's existence. As a result the line was sold to Matson Navigation Co. in 1926 and operated as a Matson subsidiary thereafter. I have found two flags; based on the dates of the sources, I would speculate that the change of flags coincided with the purchase of the company by Matson.
Sources: Lloyds 1912, Wedge (1926): white with a red border, and on the center a red star within a blue circle (or letter O).
National Geographic (1934), US Navy's 1961 H.O., Stewart & Styring (1963): divided horizontally red over blue, on the center a white diamond with a blue circle (or letter O).

Joe McMillan, 7 November 2001

David Ogden (Red Cross Line)

[David Ogden (Red Cross Line)]  by Joe McMillan

David Ogden (Red Cross Line), New York (ca. 1850s)
From the design of the flag (a red St. George's cross on white), this was also known as the St. George Line. It was operating between New York and Liverpool by at least 1851 and was probably the fourth or fifth largest US-flagged carrier of Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century.
Source:  chart of "Private Signals of the Merchants of New York",

Joe McMillan, 8 November 2001

John Ogden Pioneer Line

[John Ogden Pioneer Line]  by Joe McMillan

John Ogden Pioneer Line, New York (ca. 1850s)
This line operated primarily between New York and San Francisco during the California gold rush years. It later added service to Australia when the gold rush there began. The flag was white with a blue cross, and on the center a small white lozenge bearing a red disk. (Note the similarity of this flag to that of the Australia Pioneer Line of R. W. Cameron).
Source:  chart of "Private Signals of the Merchants of New York"

Joe McMillan, 8 November 2001

Old Dominion Line

[Old Dominion Line]  by Joe McMillan

Old Dominion Line, New York (1867-WWII)
The Old Dominion Line was the post-Civil War successor of the earlier New York and Virginia Steamship Company, which had been founded in 1850. It provided service between Norfolk and New York. The name comes from Virginia's nickname, "the Old Dominion," a reference to the colony's loyalty to the Stuarts during the English Commonwealth period. After 1923, the Old Dominion Line was a subsidiary of the Eastern Steamship Co. The flag was a white swallowtail with blue upper and lower edges and the initials OD (sometimes shown with periods after the letters) in red on the center.
Sources: Manning (1874), Lloyds 1912, Wedge (1926),

Joe McMillan, 8 November 2001

Olyphant, Talbot & Co

[Olyphant, Talbot & Co]  by Joe McMillan

Olyphant, Talbot & Co, New York
One of the three or four most important companies in the mid-19th century China trade, this was the parent company of the well-known Olyphant & Co of Canton, whose offices were called "Zion's Corner" because of the firm's refusal to deal in opium--the only major trading house at the time not to do so. The house flag of the shipping firm was a red over white swallowtail with the countercolored letters O and T.
Source:  chart of "Private Signals of the Merchants of New York"

Joe McMillan, 8 November 2001

Olympic SS Co

[Olympic SS Co]  by Joe McMillan

Olympic SS Co, Seattle
A small line (only four ships as of 1949) in the Pacific Northwest. The name undoubtedly has nothing directly to do with Greece but rather from the Olympic mountains of Washington state. The flag somewhat resembles that of the Standard-Vacuum Oil Company. It is blue with a white area inscribed with the company name surmounting a large letter O all in red.
Sources: US Navy's 1961 H.O., Stewart & Styring (1963), Styring (1971)

Joe McMillan, 8 November 2001

Ore SS Co.

[Ore SS Co.]  by Joe McMillan

Ore SS Co., New York (1927-1976)
See also: Calmar SS Co., New York (pre-World War I through post-World War II) )
These two companies were subsidiaries of the Bethlehem Steel Company, the second largest in the United States and, at the time, the second largest in the world. Like US Steel, Alcoa, and other companies, Bethlehem found general shipping companies unresponsive to its needs. Ore was a purely proprietary company that carried only Bethlehem cargoes--ore to the mills and steel to markets--while Calmar operated between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, taking steel products westbound and lumber eastbound. By the late 1940s, Bethlehem operated not only these but three other steamship companies. After closing down Calmar in 1976, Bethlehem still operated one remaining carrier, the Interocean Shipping Company, until 1986. Both Calmar and Ore flew blue flags with white upper and lower edges and the company initial, "C" or "O" in white stencil-style block letter.

Source: Stewart (1953)

Joe McMillan, 7 September 2001

Oriental Exporters, Inc.

[Oriental Exporters, Inc.]  by Joe McMillan

Oriental Exporters, Inc.
I have nothing on the company. The flag was red with white stripes along the upper and lower edges and a white O on the center.
Source: Styring (1971)

Joe McMillan, 9 September 2001

OMI Corporation claims to be a corporate descendant of Oriental Exporters. See and click on the "About Us" button (also note that since 1998 they have not operated US flagged ships). You can see at their website that OMI's funnel markings and logo are based on the Oriental Exporters' houseflag.
Unfortunately I was unable to find an image of the actual OMI houseflag in use.

Ned Smith, 11 November 2001

Orion Shipping & Trading

[Orion Shipping & Trading]  by Joe McMillan

Orion Shipping & Trading
I believe this was a relatively small tramp operator. The flag is interesting and unusual: medium blue with a black diagonal stripe across the upper hoist and a white star in the lower fly.
Sources: Stewart (1953), US Navy's 1961 H.O.

Joe McMillan, 9 September 2001

Thomas Owen & Co

[Thomas Owen & Co]  by Joe McMillan

Thomas Owen & Co, New York
As with other flags from "Private Signals of the Merchants of New York", mid-19th century but no other information. A yellow flag with a red stripe from upper hoist to lower fly between the letters T and O in black.
Source:  chart of "Private Signals of the Merchants of New York"

Joe McMillan, 9 September 2001