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FreightWaves Classics/Fallen Flags: Lykes Lines was a U.S.-flagged carrier for over a century

Lykes Bros. Steamship Co. (also called Lykes Lines), was a U.S.-flagged cargo shipping line that was in business for over 100 years. 

Early history

The seven sons of Dr. Howell T. Lykes founded a shipping business on Florida’s Gulf Coast in 1898. Using a 109-foot three-masted schooner, they shipped cattle to Cuba to help replace herds that were killed during the Spanish-American War. 

Their tradition of naming the company’s ships after family members dates back to that time; their first schooner was named Doctor Lykes after their father. Three years later, the brothers opened an office in Galveston, Texas, and the business began offering general cargo transportation between the U.S. Gulf Coast and Caribbean ports.

The 1920s

It wasn’t until 1922 that the Lykes Bros. Steamship Co. was set up as a separate company (also owned by the seven Lykes brothers). The brothers had been trading cotton, lumber and grain for years; owning their ships was a natural extension of their operations. Lykes’ ships began to travel beyond the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean during the 1920s. The company opened sales offices in Europe, and routes were extended to the Mediterranean and Far East.

The 1930s

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Lykes Bros. acquired 52 ships from Dixie and Southern States Lines. The acquisition increased the number of the company’s fleet to 67 ships. 

Then Congress passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1936. Among its provisions, the law established federal subsidies for the construction and operation of merchant ships. This led to the brothers’ decision to replace their fleet with modern freighters. 

World War II

Sixteen of these freighters had been delivered by December 1941, when the U.S. entered World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor. During the war, Lykes’ ships carried 60 million tons of cargo. The company also operated as many as 125 cargo ships on behalf of the government. Of those, 22 ships were lost, as well as 272 merchant mariners.

Post-war and 1950s-1960s

The company returned to commercial shipping activities after the war. By the 1950s, its fleet included 54 ships. Recognizing the need for modern ships, the company replaced its entire fleet between 1960 and 1973; it had 41 new ships built.


Lykes Bros. Steamship Co. became a subsidiary of Lykes Corp., and then in 1978 Lykes Corp. merged with LTV Corp. Lykes Bros. Steamship Co., Inc. was purchased by Interocean Steamship Corp. in 1983. Interocean was a Florida corporation; its stockholders included descendants of the seven Lykes brothers.


Although Malcom McLean began the container era in the early 1950s, many shipping companies did not shift to containers until the late 1960s/early 1970s. Lykes became a container carrier, and was serving the U.S. East and Gulf coasts, northern Europe, the United Kingdom, the Mediterranean, Mexico and Africa. Because the company was registered in the U.S., it was authorized to transport cargo for the U.S. Army.

The 1990s brings upheaval

The company moved its headquarters from New Orleans to Tampa in December 1994. Less than one year later (October 1995), the company filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Alexander Paskay approved a bid by CP Ships, Ltd. to buy Lykes Brothers Steamship Co. on February 24, 1997. 

The 2000s and the disappearance of the brand

CP Ships integrated Ivaran Lines (acquired in May 1998) and Christensen Canadian African Lines (acquired in August 2000) into the Lykes Lines brand.

The Lykes Lines brand was replaced by the CP Ships brand in late 2005. CP Ships shifted to a one brand strategy (its “One brand – One team” project). However, that was short-lived; CP Ships was acquired by TUI AG and merged into the Hapag-Lloyd organization in mid-2006.