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House Flags of U.S. Shipping Companies: B

Last modified: 2006-06-24 by rob raeside
Keywords: united states shipping lines |
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Baker-Whiteley Towing Co.

[Baker-Whiteley Towing Co.] image by Jarig Bakker

Baker-Whiteley Towing Co., Baltimore, MD - blue flag, in center white disk; in top hoist and fly and in bottom white "BWT".
Source: Loughran (1995)
Jarig Bakker, 5 November 2005

Balboa Transport Co.

[Balboa Transport Co.] image by Joe McMillan

Blue with a white disk, and thereon a blue star fimbriated red with a white "B" in the center.
Source: Wedge (1951)

Joe McMillan, 23 September 2001

Baltimore Mail SS Co.

[Baltimore Mail SS Co.] image by Joe McMillan

Baltimore Mail SS Co., Baltimore (1930-38)

Created by a group of Baltimore investors as a result of the 1928 Merchant Marine Act to provide fast cargo service to Hamburg, Le Havre, London, and Southampton. Another unsuccessful attempt by an east coast city to set up a line expressly to divert cargo away from New York, although the lack of success was more a result of government action (cancellation of all mail contracts under the 1936 Merchant Marine Act) rather than through any fault of the line's management. The flag was a variation on the Maryland state flag, white with a cross bottony per cross golden orange and black.

Source: National Geographic (1934) 

Joe McMillan, 27 August 2000

[Baltimore Mail SS Co.] based on image by Joe McMillan

Baltimore Mail Steamship Co. Talbot-Booth in 1937 and 1938 shows a slightly different version with the cross being within the field and coloured red and black.
Neale Rosanoski, 20 July 2005

Baltimore Steam Packet Co. (Old Bay Line)

[Baltimore Steam Packet Co] image by Joe McMillan

Baltimore Steam Packet Co (Old Bay Line), Baltimore

An old company dating back, I believe, to the 19th century. Flag was red with white B.

Sources: National Geographic (1934)  US Navy's 1961 H.O.

Joe McMillan, 27 August 2000

Barber International

[Barber International] image by Ivan Sache

White flag bordered in blue charged with W. The W probably came from the former parent company Wilh. Wilhelmsen
Dov Gutterman, 11 October 2003

My interpretation of the originating logo on the company website is that it represents the normal Wilh. Wilhelmsen ASA flag i.e. white with a blue "W", with the apparent border being merely a means of highlighting the flag edges, as is continued to be done with the flag pole and hence the lighter shade of blue compared to that of the letter. The company states that it has operated independently since 1975 but Lloyds still show it as being part of the Wilhelmsen group. Although it appears that they originated (guesswork here) from Barber Steamship Line Inc. they are now with a registered head office in Hong Kong, an operating head office in Kuala Lumpur, and subsidiaries worldwide and so not exactly an American company.
Neale Rosanoski, 26 January 2003

Barber SS Line

[Barber SS Line] image by Joe McMillan

Barber SS Line

Again, not much but the flag, a fairly attractive swallowtail of blue and white stripes with a white disk bearing a red star and a white B.

Source: Stewart (1953)
Joe McMillan
, 27 August 2000

[Barber SS Line] image by Ivan Sache

Originated 1902 as Barber & Co. Inc. operating the New York & Oriental Steamship Co. with sources initially showing the central white circular section being outlined black. From the 1930s they are shown as operators of American West Africa Line Inc. Talbot-Booth in 1944 advises that the flag was sometimes a swallow-tailed pennant whilst Loughran (1979) shows a normal rectangular flag but also states that in 1970 there was a change to a swallowtail divided vertically orange and white with the orange further divided by a narrow white vertical band. They do not appear to have been ship-owners as such as I cannot locate them in Lloyds but Loughran indicates they were still operating in the 1970s, possibly as charterers or possibly as agents as it is under this latter description that it is reported in 1989 that they had been renamed Wilhelmsen Lines (USA) Inc. and it would seem that that at some stage they were acquired by Wilh. Wilhelmsen and were probably the beginning of what is now Barber International.
Neale Rosanoski, 26 January 2004

Barry Brothers Transportation Co.

A short-lived Great Lakes shipping company was operated by the Barry brothers from 1900 on. Named the Barry Brothers Transportation Co., it was also known as the Barry Brothers Boat Line. Peter and Thomas Barry started out with a small ship but quickly replaced it, then bought two fine steamers from the Northern Navigation Co. of Cleveland and had them overhauled at great cost. The firm operated a route between Muskegon, Mich. and Chicago but was ambitious enough to contemplate linking Detroit and Cleveland, monopolized at the time by the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Co. It was not to be.

In 1901, the ‘State of Michigan’ sank but there is also the anecdote of the ‘Empire State’ being caught in the ice for a week while the passengers remained cheerful and had a good time (1902). Later this ship caught fire when moored (1906) and this may have hastened the demise of the company but I’ve been unable to find out when this happened.


A card recently offered on eBay (Item no. 6591171240) shows the ‘Badger State’ at Duluth and offers a partial view of the house flag (see this image). At any rate it had a dark colour, was traversed by a light-coloured cross throughout and apparently had the company’s light-coloured initials in the corners. Hopefully, a clearer picture will emerge some day.
Jan Mertens, 30 December 2005

Bartlett Line

[Bartlett Line] based on image located by Jan Mertens, 23 August 2005

A sailing card advertising connections to South America can be found at (fifteenth card, ‘Golden Era’). Although the ship belongs to the Thorndike company, “Wm. Bartlett was the agent, and the color vignette on this card shows a man on a tropical island holding the Bartlett flag”. The card is not clickable and very small but large enough to see that it is white with something red on it. Luckily the Directory of Private Signals helps out, see:, showing a red capital ‘B’ on white as the first flag on this page: 3.4.1. It is presented as “William Bartlett, Agent (?), New York (1850)”. Ref. provided by William Crothers is no. 51 being "Shipping House Flags" by H. Percy Ashley. Additional snippets of information are provided by the Mystic Seaport Library (Matthew Bartlett-John F. Brooks Papers (Coll. 157):

“The John F. Brooks Records total 111 volumes dated 1858 to 1915. (…) Volumes with entries prior to 1880 are primarily records of the M. Bartlett shipping  business of which John Brooks was a partner. Matthew Bartlett died in May 1880, and thus for all practical purposes entries after that date detail the business activity of the Boston shipping firm known as John F. Brooks.”
“Sometime during the 1860's John F. Brooks entered into a partnership with Matthew Bartlett, a shipping agent in Boston who conducted an active trade with numerous West African ports.”
Jan Mertens, 23 August 2005

W. E. Bedmont

[W. E. Bedmont] image by Joe McMillan

W. E. Bedmont, Boston
No information on the company. The flag, quarterly red, white, yellow, and blue, is from Flaggenbuch 1905.

Bermuda Line

[Bermuda Line]  image by Joe McMillan

Bermuda Line
This may not be a US company, as Manning does not give home ports. Not terribly interesting in any case--the initials L.B. in white on a red burgee.
Source: Manning (1874)

Joe McMillan, 15 September 2001

Bernuth Lembcke Co.

[Bernuth Lembcke Co.] image by Joe McMillan

Bernuth Lembcke Co., New York

Likewise, only the flag--white with a red border and the black initials of the firm.

Joe McMillan, 27 August 2001

Bethlehem Steel Corp.

Bethlehem Steel Corp.] image by Rob Raeside

A famous company, no longer with us, operating vessels on the Great Lakes was Bethlehem Steel. On this page we read under ‘Fleets and stack insignia’:
"Several insignia date back more than a century. Many are made up of common geometric shapes in combination with colored bands and initial letters while a few use corporate logos or other unique symbols. One might expect to see an initial "B" on Bethlehem Steel's insignia, pictured at left. Instead, one of the firm's products, an I-beam, is symbolized." A further link explains that an I-beam is “a rolled iron or steel joist (beam like those used in house construction) having an "I" section, with short flanges”. See, for instance, the lower corners of this company sharee (picture is clickable).

The house flag is seen flying on this (clickable) picture: It is yellow and bordered by narrow black-white stripes (upper horizontal edge) and white-black stripes (lower horizontal edge) respectively; in the centre is a shield-shape, narrowly outlined in black, containing a red I-beam.

Interestingly, this source (last picture on the page) shows the firm’s emblem once again but also a red flag, fringed in yellow, showing the shield but adding the words ‘BETHLEHEM STEEL’ (black letters; partly visible). There seem to be no narrow stripes edging the red field, moreover the shield is white. Was this the main company flag? (Picture taken April 4, 2002.)

Some history, very briefly, quoted from
“Founded in 1899 in Pennsylvania, Bethlehem Steel expanded rapidly during the 1920s and became the second-largest U.S. steelmaker by the eve of World War II. (…) But (…) the American steel industry declined (…) In May 2003, its assets were acquired by the International Steel Group”

Jan Mertens, 11 October 2005

George E. Billings

[George E. Billings] image by Joe McMillan

George E. Billings, San Francisco
A vertically divided swallowtail, blue and red, with a white "H" on the center. No idea why "H."
Source: Lloyds 1912
Joe McMillan, 27 August 2001

I think George E. Billings was not the name of a shipping line, but the name of a ship - possibly the flag represented the Hall Brothers company of Washington state, who built it and who apparently also operated a fleet. According to and the George E. Billings was a five-masted schooner built by the Hall Brothers shipbuilding company of Puget Sound in 1903 and was named for the manager of the Hall Bros. fleet.
Ned Smith
, 25 September 2001

The flag, as shown by Lloyds 1912, is actually tapered.
Neale Rosanoski, 26 January 2004

George E. Billings was the name of a ship. In my capacity as Project Archivist, I have encountered a photograph of a ship bearing the name of George E. Billings tied to the pier (locally referred to as The Embacadero).
Robert Ross, 20 May 2004

E.N. Bisso & Son

[E.N. Bisso & Son] image by Ivan Sache

Yellow flag charged with a device made of a wheel, two spoons (?) and "1880".
Dov Gutterman, 11 October 2003

Black Ball Line

[Black Ball Line] image by Joe McMillan

Black Ball Line (1818-1878), New York

The Black Ball Line, later also called the Old Line, was one of the historic endeavors in all of shipping history, the first "line" of vessels crossing the the Atlantic (from New York to Liverpool) on a regular schedule--initially monthly departures in each direction using a fleet of four ships.  I believe it is also of special vexillological interest as the name of the company came from the design of the house flag--a red swallowtailed flag with a black disk in the center.  A black ball also appeared on the fore topsail (the second sail up from the deck on the foremast).  The custom of naming or nicknaming the line after the flag was picked up by many others:  the Red Cross, the Blue Swallow Tail, the White Diamond, the Black Star, etc.

Source:  chart of "Private Signals of the Merchants of New York"

Joe McMillan, 30 August 2001

There is a ferry from Washington State to Victoria BC, CA which wears a flag 'gules a pellet fimbriated argent' (a red flag with a white edged black ball). This line is sometimes referred to as the Black Ball Line (Puget Sound Navigation Co.). A little digging turns up that "Black Ball" is the nickname (flag-derived of course) for the WA state ferries, originally the Puget Sound Navigation System.  Some of Seattle's maritime history is at:  They use the name "Black Ball Line" for the PSNS, although not the State-owned system (from 1951).

Dean McGee, 1 September 2001

Black Diamond SS Corp.

[Black Diamond Line] image by Joe McMillan

Black Diamond SS Corp. (1918-ca. 1955), New York
Originally called the American Diamond Line, this company carried cargo between New York and Rotterdam and Antwerp.  It was hit very hard by the restriction imposed by US neutrality in the early stages of World War II.  During the war, the company sold off all its ships--which were under government control for the time being anyhow--then tried unsuccessfully to get back into business after the war, ceasing operations in the mid-1950s.  The flag was a black horizontally arranged diamond on a yellow field.
Source: Stewart & Styring (1963)

See also: American Diamond SS Corp.

Joe McMillan, 30 August 2001

Black Star Line

[Black Star Line]  image by Joe McMillan

Black Star Line (Manning 1874)
I believe from verbal descriptions I have seen that this is the Black Star Line that was a major force in Irish immigration via Liverpool to the United States in the mid-19th century. As best I can figure, a variety of New York lines operated from New York to Liverpool under their own names, but on the return trip flew the red pennant with black star of the Black Star Line. It was, in effect, a consortium, or at least that's what I make of the characterization of various companies' ships as "clearing from Liverpool in the Black Star Line." On the other hand, Williams & Guion Black Star Line were one of the companies so characterized, and their own flag featured a black star on a blue and white flag (also reported as a blue-white-blue horizontal triband). Maybe others know more about this history.
Source: Manning (1874)
Joe McMillan
, 15 September 2001

I found several on-line sources that make it clear to me that the Liverpool "Black Star Line" was the Williams & Guion company (US flagged) before 1866 and the Guion Line (British flagged) after 1866. The flag for this company under both names was blue with a white lozenge and a black star on it. Most pictures have a five-pointed star but I've seen some with six points. In any case, I now don't know what "Black Star Line" would have flown a red swallowtail with a black star, but I did find it in the source I mentioned, without explanation as to its use.
Joe McMillan
, 20 September 2001

See also: Taylor and Merrill's Black Star Line

According to Chandler in Liverpool Shipping (1960) Williams & Guion had prior to 1866 owned the Black Star Line of sailing packets ceasing the emigrant trade by this means in 1863 when they moved into steam, initially by chartering, and then with their own vessels in 1866 as the Guion Steamhip Line based Liverpool, U.K.. It would seem then that this Black Star Line was American whilst Liverpool also had its Black Star Line formed by James Dowie & Co. Ltd. in 1855 with their last sailing vessel being sold in 1904 and sources show their flag as that given here. According to Chandler the Dowie company mainly operated with chartered ships which would explain the use of the flag on the return voyage to USA. The only problem with this theory is that Chandler only mentions the Dowie company as operating to Australia but that is not to say that they also did not operate across the Atlantic.
Neale Rosanoski, 26 January 2004

[Black Star Line]  image by Rob Raeside, 6 May 2006

I have 3 original documents which have the flag of the New York based "Black Star Line" of the mid 1800's printed on them. Reasonably good histories of the various New York packet companies can be found in the books:

  • "Square-riggers on schedule: the New York sailing packets to England, France, and the cottonports." - Robert Greenhalgh Albion.
  • "Queens of the western ocean; the story of America's mail and passenger sailing lines." - Carl C Cutler.

Andrew Pettit, 6 May 2006

Bloomfield SS Co.

[Bloomfield SS Co.] image by Joe McMillan

Bloomfield SS Co., Houston (1946-1968)

Founded to take advantage of the supply of cheap surplus vessels after World War II with the intention of operating between the Gulf of Mexico ports and Europe and the Mediterranean.  It faced bruising opposition from Lykes Brothers SS Co, which had ruthlessly suppressed competition in that market for decades.  Korean War business kept Bloomfield afloat, but it was soon taken over by the much larger States Marine Corporation, which stopped using the Bloomfield trade name in 1968.  The flag was a blue swallowtail with a white star superimposed on a red "B."

Sources: US Navy's 1961 H.O., Stewart & Styring (1963)

Joe McMillan, 30 August 2001

Boland and Cornelius

[Boland and Cornelius] image by Joe McMillan

Boland and Cornelius, New York
Messrs Boland and Cornelius founded what is now the American Steamship Co in 1907. American SS Co, now a subsidiary of GATX Corporation, operates one of the largest fleets on the Great Lakes.
Stewart (1953)

Joe McMillan, 12 October 2001

[Boland and Cornelius] image by Joe McMillan

Boland and Cornelius
A white flag with a large red "A" and a blue border--I take it that the "A" is for American and that what Stewart (1953) calls Boland and Cornelius is in fact American Steamship.
Stewart (1953)

Joe McMillan, 15 September 2001

I speculated above that this was actually the flag of the American Steamship Co, then a Boland and Cornelius subsidiary and now the shipping arm of GATX Corporation. I have since found this additional source from the same general period that shows a different Boland and Cornelius flag: a white burgee with red upper and lower edges and the initials B&C in blue. Clearly this was the flag of the parent company and the A flag probably, as I had suggested, that of the subsidiary.
Source: Talbot-Booth (1937)

Joe McMillan, 12 October 2001

Boston & Philadelphia SS Co.

[Boston & Philadelphia SS Co.] image by Joe McMillan

Boston & Philadelphia SS Co., Boston

Oddly enough, the house flag of this coastwise line was, for all practical purposes, the same as the modern Japanese national flag, a red disk on a white field.

Source: (no longer available)

Joe McMillan, 1 September 2001

Boyd & Hincken

[Boyd & Hincken] image by Joe McMillan

[Boyd & Hincken] image by Joe McMillan

Boyd & Hincken, New York (by 1823 to at least 1851)

Boyd & Hincken was one of the major firms of sail packet operators in New York in the mid-19th century. Its ships displayed an unusual triple tailed flag consisting of a red hoist with a white ring (or letter "O") and three tails of yellow, white, and yellow. The ship's of the firms New York & Havre Line (also known as the Second Line of Havre Packets) had the same flag but with the letter "B."

Source:  chart of "Private Signals of the Merchants of New York"

Joe McMillan, 1 September 2001

Brander & Mabry

[Brander & Mabry] image by Joe McMillan

Brander & Mabry, New York

Nothing on this 19th century sailing company except the flag, red with a white disk bearing a black "B."

Source:  chart of "Private Signals of the Merchants of New York"

Joe McMillan, 1 September 2001

Bremen Line (Ocean Steam Navigation Co)

[Bremen Line (Ocean Steam Navigation Co)] image by Joe McMillan

Bremen Line (Ocean Steam Navigation Co), New York (1847-1857)

The Ocean Steam Navigation Company, or Bremen Line, was the first U.S.-flag steamship company to offer regularly scheduled trans-Atlantic service. It was founded in response to a U.S. government decision to subsidize a steamship operation by means of mail contracts in an attempt to compete with British government subsidies to British lines. Edward Mills, a novice in the shipping business, led the syndicate that received the contract for mail delivery to Le Havre and Bremen but was unable to attract sufficient capital to carry out his original business plan and began operations with only one ship, the Washington, in June 1847. It was a poorly designed ship, slow and with insufficient cargo space, and the government soon revoked the Le Havre portion of the mail contract because of the line’s poor performance. Nevertheless, the Bremen Line survived until it was driven out of business in 1857 by Cornelius Vanderbilt’s more modern fleet in 1857. The house flag of the Bremen Line was the red and white striped Bremen ensign, defaced by a white panel bearing a profile of the ship. The flag shows the line’s first ship, the steamer Washington.

Source: description in North Atlantic Seaway I:186

Joe McMillan, 1 September 2001

S. Broom

[S. Broom] image by Joe McMillan

S. Broom, New York (Source: PSMNY)
A New York firm operating to California in the Gold Rush period of the 1850s.

Source:  chart of "Private Signals of the Merchants of New York"

Joe McMillan, 7 September 2001

Brunswick Steamship Co.

[Brunswick Steamship Co.] image by Joe McMillan

Brunswick Steamship Co., New York
Simple and effective, a red cross on blue.
Source: Lloyds 1912

Joe McMillan, 24 September 2001

Bucklin & Crane

[Bucklin & Crane] image by Joe McMillan

Bucklin & Crane, New York
In the China and California clipper trade in the mid-19th century. The flag was white with the initials B over C in red.

Source:  chart of "Private Signals of the Merchants of New York"

Joe McMillan, 4 September 2001

A. H. Bull & Co.

[A. H. Bull & Co.] image by Joe McMillan

A. H. Bull & Co., New York (1902-1963)
An early version of the flag, with the border all the way around instead of just on the upper and lower edges and fly.
Source: Lloyds (1912)

[A. H. Bull & Co.] image by Joe McMillan

Archibald H. Bull was the founder of the British-flagged New York and Porto [sic] Rico Steamship Co in 1885, which succeeded an earlier line of sailing packets on the same route that he had established in 1873. In 1900, his stake in the company was bought out by his partners in a hostile takeover, and Bull was forced to give up running steamers to Puerto Rico for 10 years. So in 1902 he set up the Bull Line to serve the US Atlantic coastwise trade and operate sail vessels to Puerto Rico. Bull's heirs eventually failed to see wave of containerization coming, sold out to American Coal Shipping in 1956. Sea-Land, the pioneer container firm wanted to buy the line in 1961, but instead it was sold to Greece's Manuel K. Kulukundis, whose companies all went bankrupt in 1963, bringing the Bull Line's history to an end. The flag was a white swallowtailed pennant bordered in red, with a blue initial B.

Sources: Stewart (1953), US Navy's 1961 H.O.

[A. H. Bull & Co.] image by Joe McMillan

In 1914, A. H. Bull bought the Insular Line, which had been established in 1904 as a successor to his old company, and renamed it the Bull Insular Line. It flew a flag similar to that of the Bull Line itself, but with a red letter I interlaced with the blue B. (Wedge, 1926)
Joe McMillan
, 4 September 2001

Lloyds 1912 actually shows a normal swallow-tailed flag, as does the 1904 version though these are probably incorrect renditions. The tapered version, being the first shown here, does not appear until Brown 1934 but I get the impression that none of the regular sources were exactly sure what flag applied with the main problem being the Baltimore Insular Line Inc. [not Bull Insular Line according to Talbot-Booth and Lloyds] with the version shown being that of number 3 here but with a red border at hoist and those sources showing this as being for A.H. Bull & Co. Inc. though Talbot-Booth in 1938 does comment that the "I" no longer applied on the flag but for all that he continued to show it included through to 1949. Of the main originating sources, Wedge (Brown series) shows the 3rd version here in 1926 and 1929 but with a red border also at hoist, thereafter showing the 1st version. Talbot-Booth shows the 2nd version and Stewart & Styring (1963) (I understand Styring had a lot of input into the US Navy publication) show the 2nd version. All very confusing and I for one remain completely unsure of what is a legitimate answer.
Neale Rosanoski, 26 January 2004

L. G. Burnham & Co.

[L. G. Burnham & Co.] image by Joe McMillan

L. G. Burnham & Co., Boston
No information on this--and a boring flag with a white B on a red field.
Source: Reed (1896)

Joe McMillan, 15 September 2001