By Diane E. Buccheri



Since 1873!


What a picture!  In 1873 the port was filled with boats of all sorts going about their business within the bustle of the harbor.  Steamships, square riggers, barks, barkentines, and schooners filled the harbor’s docks and shores in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey.  Others were anchored in the harbor while some rode through the channels amongst the tugs, ferries, and scows.  Already, the Port of New York had become one of the world’s busiest ports.  And certainly, it was the most prominent port in America, housing the world’s most impressive ships and conducting a vast amount of business.

In fact, New York’s maritime community was so busy and so optimistic about the future of the port’s seaborne trade that the Maritime Association of the Port of New York was organized at that time.  Unofficially, the Association first opened on February 5, 1873, and on April 11, 1874, it incorporated officially at the 61 Beaver Street meeting hall.  One of New York City’s most prominent shipping men, Thomas P. Ball, was the first president.  All together, there were twenty-seven incorporates.  The newly established offices were paid for by twenty-five dollar contributions from over one hundred and forty companies.

On February 6, 1873 the New York Times announced the formal opening of the Maritime Association.  The paper’s same issue spoke of warring Modoc Indians  and a murder of gruesome proportions in the Bowery.


The formal opening of the Maritime Association of the Port of New York was held yesterday at their new rooms at no. 61 Beaver Street.  Thomas G. Ball, president, D. R. Novell, Sec.  A large number of members whose names are enrolled upon the books of the Association were present.  The president called the meeting to order and in a few remarks explained the objects of the Assn.  Mr. H. A. Blakelee followed with a few remarks appropriate to the occasion.  Several other gentlemen also spoke briefly after which the meeting adjourned.  The membership of the Assn. is 240.  The hours during which the Exchange is open are from 10½ o’clock a.m. and from 2½ to 3½ o’clock p.m. during week days.


With rapid growth, the Association’s headquarters expanded.  The new organization bought the space it shared with the Merchants Exchange and News Association.  The finances for the purchase were raised by selling membership certificates at one hundred dollars for twenty five.  Considered a real bargain, over seven hundred and fifty companies subscribed.  Soon after, even more space was acquired on Beaver Street when membership exceeded one thousand.




Business was conducted at convenient meeting places such as coffee houses.  Shipowners, merchants, captains, and traders often convened at the Tontine Coffee House at Water and Wall Streets to arrange details of commercial shipping and share information regarding ship movements.  Even the mail was collected at the Tontine which was one of the most popular and famed places for conducting shipping business at that time.  The mail was forwarded onto voyaging ships for distant delivery.  For instance, the packet ship James Monroe took a bag of mail from the Tontine while making the first scheduled packet sailing from the North Atlantic to Europe in 1818 on January 5.

As the nation’s foremost shipping and commercial center, New York’s energy was high and growth was ensured.  Maritime activity flourished and the need for more information exchange was increased.



Since the early 1860’s the Merchants Exchange and News Association collected and distributed information concerning ships’ sailings and arrivals, water catastrophes, and the most updated information of New York’s ships’ positions as they traveled, in addition to other necessary related maritime information.  Founded by D. H. Craig, manager of the Associated Press from 1850 to 1867, this maritime information center was referred to as the Pine Street News Room.  The reliable shipping news was due, in part to the first superintendent, John C. Smith, a marine editor for several papers, and his assistant, Gordon W. Young who was formerly with the Boston Exchange Ship News Room.  By 1869, Smith and his associates founded Smith, Young and Company which gave shipping news on a weekly schedule.

Another means of gathering the latest shipping information and making business contacts in those years was by meeting at “the downtown five points” which was at the corners of William, South William, and Beaver Streets.  Often though, this method proved inadequate with poor weather and limited space.  To accommodate the large number of shipping industry people, an informal committee formed the Maritime Association of the Port of New York to conduct business in meeting rooms.




The Association’s founders aimed to report ship arrivals and departures, movements to and from other ports, and locations of vessels in the port, accurately and with timeliness. To do so, the Sandy Hook Quarantine and City Island Telegraph Company were formed in 1878 and took over the Sandy Hook Telegraph Company which the Merchants Exchange and News Association had established in 1874.  The line extended eighty-one and ¼ miles.  By 1890 it was sold for twenty-five thousand dollars to Western Union.

All kinds of information was posted at the Exchange!  The business people of ships and foreign trade went there for news of ship movements, ship sales, cargoes, anchorages and berthings, towing charges, depth changes in channels and anchorages, quarantine information and other government regulations, and ship repairs, to name a few examples.  Ship auctions, too, took place there, it being more conducive for business transactions than the docks.

The “Exchange” was the Association’s rooms, and business contacts were soon known to be conveniently provided there.  The organization’s usefulness gave it prestige and by 1879 it became Lloyd’s of London’s U.S. ship intelligence representative. A form of that agreement remains in effect to this day.

With membership numbering one thousand in 1883, more space was needed and the Association relocated to the newly built Produce Exchange Building on Broadway.  Membership continued to boom with the port.  Eighteen hundred members by 1891 caused another need for more space.  The members voted to buy and renovate for $350,000 the Popham Building at 80 Broad Street.  With optimistic enthusiasm about port business, this large financial expense for those days was accepted and business began at the Popham Building on June 5, 1904.  Ships brought merchandise from all over the world and the piers and streets were full.  The new liners carrying goods across the Atlantic were growing in physical size to accommodate the amount of trade taking place.  Flags flew and whistles blew!  The ships hustled and bustled!  Time for traveling across the Atlantic Ocean was decreased by using twin screws and two or three engines on the new liners.  Every nation built their ships to accommodate the New York port.  The two largest, the Teutonic and the Majestic of the White Star Line, were an amazing five hundred and eighty-two feet in length and had 17,500 horsepower engines.  Business was impressive!

The Maritime Association went one giant step further in 1927 with the construction of its thirty-five floor headquarters and office building.  The new building stood proudly at 80 Broad Street and was dedicated as the Maritime Exchange Building on June 3, 1931.

During World War I, the New York port was the main port for troop and supplies embarkation.  For the utmost use of the port and its safety, the Association assisted the military.  Ship news was limited during both world wars for security reasons.  However, the Association members took part in Liberty Loan drives.  Five hundred members marched up Broadway in the October 1917 Liberty Loan drive!  During World War II, the Association led a committee of shipping and rail experts to aid with efficient shipments and eliminate impairing congestion of ships at the piers.  This committee was credited with New York’s very efficient functioning while trafficking thousands of ships and millions of tons of cargo, in addition to the vast number of troops.



In 1944, the Maritime Association organized another committee named the Joint Committee on New York Port Protection, which joined such agencies as the Coast Guard and Navy to protect piers, ships, and cargo from damage.  By this year more ships traveled through the New York port than any other port in the world’s history.




Technology has made changes, vast changes, and quickly.  Ocean shipping and cargo handling have certainly been included in these changes!  Now passengers are primarily transported by the airplane, which has displaced the spectacular ocean liners once crowding the North River ports.  To carry more cargo with each voyage and lessen traveling time, ships have continued to increase in size, speed, tonnage, design, and carrying capacity.  Container ships have now revolutionized moving freight on the water and on the shore.  Hence, much of the shipping business has migrated from Manhattan to New Jersey where there is space for container handling facilities.  Some of the world’s finest facilities are located on the New Jersey shore.

Not only has the Association always provided pertinent information regarding the shipping industry, but it has striven to constantly improve the port in numerous ways.  In 1915 the Association expressed concern regarding sewage and other pollutants dirtying the water.  Its Committee on Rivers and Harbors spoke about pollution before that was a common word and pressured the city, state, and federal governments to improve this situation it referred to as an “intolerable menace”.




The Association has been at the fore of other endeavors related to the port over the many years. These include dredging, new pier construction, rail rates, Panama Canal tolls, and improvements on the New York State Barge Canal.  Never ending in its efforts, the Association continues in its active endeavors to improve the port and business with working committees which include participants from the port’s various maritime capacities.

The Harbor Operations Committee, formed in 1982, enables discussions between industry representatives and government regulatory agencies to remedy marine operations issues in the harbor.  The 1999 Harbor Safety Committees National Conference brought together the nation’s committees to share vital information and discuss ways of improving safety in the ports while promoting business.

As new technology began to change radio and computer information exchange, the Communications and Electronics Committee was formed to improve methods of employing these technological changes and improvements.  .  Ships can be more sure of accurate and timely information for their safety and efficient traveling within the port.  The Marine Intelligence staff works twenty-four hours every day to be fully informed of ship traffic and passes necessary information on when needed.

To stress the importance of the maritime industry, now that people no longer meet on the street at “the downtown five points”, the Association both sponsors and participates in numerous maritime and civic events. The Association played a central role in 1978when the Maritime Association reached out to the general public and restarted the long neglected international lifeboat races which took place during the Harbor Festival, and also had a central role in OpSail 2000 which brought magnificent array of sailing events to the harbor during in July 2000 to celebrate the port’s entrance into a new century and millennium.

Furthering its efforts as the world grows smaller, the Association has sponsored and co-sponsored international conferences, dynamically leading maritime affairs dealing with the industry’s most important concerns.  In recent years the conferences have included the Dynamics of World Coal Trade, Marine Salvage, Navigational Aids and Communications, Ship Operations, Weather, and Hazardous Wastes.  As a result, worldwide attention has been brought to the New York Port, once again, and to the Maritime Association’s activities, at the same time benefiting the industry for everyone.



In 1983, the Maritime Association sold its property at 80 Broad Street, the Maritime Exchange Building, after occupying it for fifty-two years.  Its move to the Whitehall Building at 17 Battery Place allowed for a stronger financial position to face the upcoming challenges in the industry.  The breathtaking view allows the Marine Intelligence Center to see the New York harbor unobstructed.

Every year the Association hosts the much acclaimed International Maritime Hall of Fame Awards.

The Statue of Liberty’s 1982 renovation was accomplished due to the Maritime Association.  The great symbol of American freedom was rejuvenated with respect and admiration.

“The Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey,” says Executive Director Edward J. Kelly, “has seen the need in this great shipping center for a continuing forum in which the many issues of the maritime industry can be put into focus and solutions evolved.  The Association will provide these forums on its own or in partnership with other organizations.  It intends to serve the industry with as much enthusiasm and vigor as it did to the shipping community since the days of its founding.”

The Maritime Association continues its activities and efforts at this very crucial time.  Maritime industry issues are at a particularly crucial point with technological changes and improvements.  The Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey will continue to report accurate and timely ship traffic information, act as a liaison and an advocate for the valued Association members, promote the port of New York and New Jersey as the world’s leading center of trade, work nationally and internationally to improve ship operations, and make the port a safe and busy place for all maritime industry members.