Crowley Maritime Corporation History

155 Grand Avenue
Oakland, California 94612

Telephone: (510) 251-7500
Fax: (510) 251-7788

Private Company
Incorporated: 1906 as Crowley Launch and Tugboat Company
Employees: 5,000
Sales: $1.1 billion (1997 est.)
NAIC: 483111 Deep Sea Freight Transportation; 483113 Coastal & Great Lakes Freight Transportation; 48831 Port & Harbor Operations; 48833 Navigational Services to Shipping; 48411 General Freight Trucking, Local; 484121 General Freight Trucking, Long-Distance, Truckload; 49311 General Warehousing & Storage; 336611 Shipyard

Company Perspectives:

Innovating Global Logistics: Before the word "logistics" became part of the idiom of the transportation industry, Crowley was providing integrated solutions to logistics problems. As early as the 40s Crowley was involved with transportation and logistics services to remote areas in Western Alaska, resupplying military sites and native villages. Other integrated logistics projects served oil companies developing the North Slope of Alaska as well as in the Middle East. Today, Crowley offers these services on a global basis.

Company History:

Crowley Maritime Corporation is the largest operator of tugboats and barges in the world. The privately held company has two main operating subsidiaries. Crowley American Transport, Inc. provides ocean liner cargo services between the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean; its American Marine Transport, Inc. unit provides local, over-the-road, and commercial trucking services in the continental United States. Crowley Marine Services, Inc. provides worldwide contract and specialized marine transportation services, including petroleum product transportation and sales, tanker escort and ship assist, contract barge transportation and ocean towing, logistics and support services, marine salvage and emergency response services, spill-response services on the West Coast of the United States, and all-terrain transportation services. Crowley Maritime also has two other smaller subsidiaries: Crowley Petroleum Transport, Inc., which was formed in 1997 and operates petroleum tankers in the U.S. tanker trades; and Vessel Management Services, Inc., which was established in 1996 and designs, engineers, constructs, and maintains ownership of new vessels for Crowley Maritime.

Founded in 1892

Thomas Crowley was 17 years old when he founded the business in 1892. Crowley purchased an 18-foot Whitehall boat for $80 and began a water-taxi service, delivering supplies, passengers, and crew members to and from ships that were anchored in the San Francisco Bay. By 1900 Crowley was running 36-foot and 45-foot gasoline-powered launches and a few years later he began to acquire gasoline- and steam-powered tugboats. With the motto "Anything, Anywhere, Anytime, on Water," the Crowley Launch and Tugboat Company was legally incorporated in 1906.

Over the next decade or so, Crowley continued to acquire more and larger vessels, adapting his equipment to meet the needs of his customers. In 1912 a shipyard, later known as the Pacific Dry Dock and Repair Co., was built in Oakland for repairing Crowley vessels. In addition, Crowley began operating San Francisco harbor tours on double-deck passenger boats he had built for the 1915 Exposition. Crowley also bought a 25 percent share of Shipowners and Merchants Tugboat Company, owner of the Red Stack tugs, in 1918. This investment was increased over the years until Crowley fully owned the company.

The Crowley fleet continued to expand after World War I, initiating tug and barge operations into Puget Sound and tugboat service into Los Angeles Harbor in the 1920s. Crowley purchased stock in two companies, Drummond Lighterage and the Cary-Davis Tug and Barge Company, and soon acquired a controlling interest in Drummond. In 1929 these two companies merged with two others, Pacific Towboat and Gilkey Bros., to form a new corporation, Puget Sound Tug and Barge Company with 48 barges and 27 tugs. Puget Sound later became fully owned by Crowley.

Crowley's growth and diversification continued through the 1930s. The company's launch and tug services reached all major ports on the West Coast, having expanded its harbor services to Long Beach and San Diego Harbors. In 1935 Crowley purchased the Bay Cities Transportation Company, expanding the company's capability in common carrier freight service, a business it had entered a few years earlier. Harbor Carriers was established about 1960 when the company began to operate ferry services, which are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission. Before that, Crowley had operated nonregulated passenger services since its earliest years. Also in 1935, Harbor Tug and Barge Co. became a wholly owned Crowley company. Crowley added bulk petroleum transportation to its list of services in 1939, and by the onset of World War II, the company had purchased the entire petroleum barge fleet of Shell Oil Company in San Francisco and was delivering petroleum to Shell storage facilities throughout the Bay Area.

In the 1940s Crowley began ocean transportation of lumber along the West Coast using tugs and barges. Crowley achieved a major breakthrough in bulk barge transportation in 1948, when Crowley's United Transportation Co. began operating the first oceangoing bulk petroleum barge service on the Pacific Coast. The shipments, which were made in a brand new barge with a 14,000-barrel capacity, traveled between San Francisco and Coos Bay in North Bend, Oregon.

A second Oakland repair facility was acquired in 1953. The facility, the Martinolich Ship Repair Co. (later renamed the Merrit Shipyards), helped meet the increasing repair needs of Crowley's growing fleet. It was later merged into the Pacific Dry Dock and Repair Co.

Moved into Alaska in the 1950s and 1960s

In the mid-1950s Crowley began to establish services in the Arctic. In 1956 United Transportation Co. started shipping large amounts of asphalt between Portland, Oregon, and Anchorage, Alaska. The barges that made this trip were capable of carrying 12,000 barrels of asphalt. In 1958 Crowley began its longstanding relationship with the Military Sealift Command when it participated in the commercial resupply of the U.S. government's Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line installations. The DEW installations, part of a radar and defense communication system, were located in remote areas along the Alaskan coastline, in the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Chain.

Within the next few years common carrier service to Alaska was added to Crowley's line. Puget Sound Alaska Van Lines was formed in 1960, providing container and roll-on cargo service to Alaska. This company was the predecessor of Alaska Hydro-Train, which began operating in 1963. Alaska Hydro-Train connected the railroad system of Alaska to that of the lower 48 states with container and ro-ro (roll-on/roll-off) railcar barge service between Seattle, Washington, and Whittier, Alaska.

During the remainder of the 1960s, Crowley played a major role in support of oil industry activities in Alaska. As oil drilling in the Arctic increased rapidly following the discovery of oil on Alaska's North Slope, so did Crowley's Arctic involvement. In 1966, in order to provide supply- and crew-boat services to oil companies attempting to set up offshore drilling operations in Cook Inlet, the Rig Tenders Company was organized in Kenai, Alaska. Then in 1968, Crowley successfully managed the first of its annual Arctic sealifts to Prudhoe Bay. Prudhoe Bay is on the North Slope of Alaska, and the voyage north from Seattle around Alaska's perimeter is close to 4,000 miles. The sealifts were made on 400-foot flat deck barges and carried oil industry cargo and plant modules, some of which were the size of an 11-story building. Crowley's 1970 sealift of 187,000 tons of cargo to Prudhoe Bay was the largest commercial sealift in the history of such endeavors.

Tremendous Growth and Diversification in the 1970s

Tom Crowley died in 1970 at the age of 95. His son, Thomas B. Crowley, Sr., had already been running the company, gradually assuming responsibilities since the 1940s. The 1970s were a decade of tremendous growth and diversification for Crowley. The company started its Marine Oil Pickup Service (MOPS) in 1970. MOPS was designed to clean up oil spills in Puget Sound. The same year, the company began passenger service between southern California and Santa Catalina Island with its Catalina Cruises. In 1971 Crowley created Gulf Caribbean Marine Lines, which was organized to carry cargo in warehouse barges from U.S. ports on the Gulf of Mexico to various locations in the Caribbean Sea. The company also began to focus on expansion into southeast Asia, establishing a company based in Singapore that provided offshore support services in that part of the world. In 1973 Crowley acquired an Alaskan trucking firm, Mukluk Freight Lines. Mukluk was the largest carrier of the 48-inch pipe used in constructing the 800-mile transAlaska pipeline.

Possibly the most important development of the 1970s occurred in 1974, with the acquisition of Trailer Marine Transport (TMT). TMT was a small tug and barge common carrier that had been operating since 1954. Crowley proceeded to transform TMT into the largest ro-ro barge operation in the world, ultimately using triple-deck barges that could carry more than 500 semitrailers. Also in 1974 came further involvement in southeast Asia, including an Indonesia-based joint venture tending drilling rigs and a second joint venture in offshore drilling services.

In 1975 Crowley Environmental Service evolved out of the earlier Puget Sound environmental operation, offering a broader range of services with offices all along the West Coast and Alaska. Upon the acquisition of the floating equipment of Pacific Inland Navigation Company, common carrier service extended to Hawaii. This acquisition also made APUTCO, previously a joint "cool barge" venture, a wholly owned Crowley subsidiary. Crowley All Terrain Corporation (CATCO), a company that specialized in transporting supplies and personnel in the Arctic, through all sorts of weather, over all sorts of terrain, was also organized in 1975. That was also the year of the worst ice conditions of the century faced by the Prudhoe Bay sealift flotilla, freezing in a number of the barges. Two additional Crowley companies were formed in 1975: Crowley Maritime Salvage and Global Transport Organization (GTO). GTO, formed jointly with two Canadian companies, was designed to perform tug and barge transportation services internationally, and was particularly active in the Arabian Gulf during Saudi Arabia's large-scale push toward industrialization.

In 1976 Crowley introduced a seasonal common carrier service to western Alaska from Seattle with the creation of Pacific Alaska Line-West. The following year, tanker-assist and escort services were initiated at the southern end of the transAlaska pipeline at Valdez, Alaska. In the late 1970s Crowley added to its fleet the Arctic Challenger, a 310-by-105-foot icebreaker barge followed by the salvage vessel Arctic Salvor, built through a vessel conversion in 1980. Among the companies formed or acquired during the 1970s was Salmon Carriers, an important Bristol Bay salmon industry hauler. During the 1970s Crowley developed the "float-on" loading technique, in which a barge is submerged in a controlled manner and cargo is floated into place.

Expansion Continued in the 1980s

Crowley's rapid expansion and emphasis on a more international focus continued through the 1980s. In 1981, in order to help meet the heavy lifting and hauling needs of its Alaskan land operations, Crowley acquired Shaughnessy and Company, based in Auburn, Washington. The company purchased Delta Lines from Holiday Inns Inc. in 1982. Delta, which operated 24 ships on five trade routes between the United States and South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and West Africa, was sold again just two years later. American Shipper estimated that in 1982 the company earned $42.5 million profit on revenues of $550 million.

Profits were cut in half in 1983, however, largely due to a severe drop-off in South American trade that caused Delta Lines alone to lose $20 million, but Crowley continued to expand. In 1984 TMT's Caribbean business benefited from the lengthening of five of its specially built triple-deck barges. These barges, formerly 400 feet long, were enlarged to 730 feet by the insertion of 330-foot sections into the middle of their bodies. By that year, Crowley controlled 35 percent of the barge business between ports on the Gulf of Mexico and Puerto Rico. At that point the company had about 500 vessels, and brought in about 70 percent of its sales revenues through its barge and tug operations. In 1985 Crowley established Pacific Alaska Fuel Services to serve western Alaska with the transportation and sale of petroleum products, through tank facilities located in Nome, Kotzebue, and Captain's Bay.

Further expansion took place over the next couple of years, as two major developments stretched Crowley's service area to include northern Europe, the entire Caribbean, and both coasts of South America. The first of these was the acquisition in 1986 of Coordinated Caribbean Transport, soon renamed Crowley Caribbean Transport (CCT). CCT had been in operation since 1961, when it consisted of two converted Navy landing vessels. CCT's main role was to carry agricultural products north from the Caribbean and head south loaded with industrial equipment. Among the stops included on the route were Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Peru. Then in 1987, Crowley created American Transport Lines (AmTrans). AmTrans, organized as two separate ocean liner services to South America and Europe, quickly became the predominant American carrier to South America's East Coast. By the early 1990s AmTrans was carrying over 50 percent of the containerized cargo between the United States and Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela. The company's "Sea Wolf" class containerships were equipped with their own cranes and were capable of carrying heavy-lift, ro-ro, and oversized cargoes. Crowley's revenues in 1987 were estimated between $700 million and $850 million. At the time, Crowley consisted of about 40 separate companies with approximately 4,000 employees.

By 1988 Crowley's share of the West Coast-Alaska market was about 18 percent. The company suffered through the worst financial year in its history, however, losing $30 million. Half of this loss was due to a Far East line, purchased from Pacific-Atlantic Navigation, that proved to be unprofitable. Catalina Landing, an unsuccessful real estate venture, and a strike by the Inland Boatmen's Union also contributed to the loss.

A remarkable turnaround occurred for Crowley in 1989, thanks in part to the $40 million the company grossed from the rescue of the Exxon Valdez, the oil tanker that ran aground in Alaska, spilling its cargo in Prince William Sound. Crowley was the primary contractor for the provision of cleanup support equipment and personnel. In the same year Crowley designed, built, and operated the Responder, the first barge in the world specifically geared for oil-spill contingencies for use in exploratory drilling operations. Crowley involved itself in other disasters that year as well, sometimes for profit, other times without financial gain. The Red and White Fleet transported 15,000 stranded commuters, at no charge, following the San Francisco earthquake. In addition, rebuilding projects that followed the destructive Hurricane Hugo increased cargo traffic, although the company also suffered damages from the storm.

In 1990 Crowley moved its headquarters from San Francisco--its base of operations for 98 years&mdashø Oakland, California. By the beginning of the 1990s, the company had outposts throughout the world, with offices in over 100 major cities. During the crisis in the Persian Gulf, including both Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, Crowley chartered several vessels to the U.S. Military Sealift Command. These ships, which supported the United Nations forces with transportation of personnel and supplies, included three ro-ro containerships, a tug, and a barge. After the conflict, Crowley was selected by the government of Saudi Arabia as primary contractor for the cleanup of oil spills covering 450 kilometers of Saudi Arabian coastline, brought about by the demolition of Kuwaiti oil tankers and facilities during the war. These various government contracts helped raise Crowley's 1991 revenues to an estimated $1.1 billion.

Reorganized in 1992

In 1992 Crowley underwent a legal reorganization. The 45 companies owned by Crowley were divided into two corporations based on the types of services they performed. Crowley American Transport, Inc. was created to encompass all companies that carry cargo on oceanliners or perform related services. The remainder of the companies, primarily those that provide marine contract services such as tugboat operations, were organized as Crowley Marine Services, Inc. The privately held Crowley Maritime Corporation would serve as a holding company maintaining full ownership of both corporations.

In mid-1994 the top leadership of Crowley Maritime changed for only the second time in company history; at age 28, Thomas B. Crowley, Jr., was elected chairman, president, and CEO following the death of his father from prostate cancer. Also in 1994 Crowley American Transport began scheduled service to the Bahamas from Port Everglades, Florida. Crowley Marine Services formed two joint ventures, Marine Response Alliance (established in 1994) and Clean Pacific (1995) to provide emergency service in accordance with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

In 1995 the San Francisco local of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union refused to allow Crowley Maritime to reduce crew sizes by one, prompting the company to pull its tugboats and ships out of its home port, after 100 years operating there. Crowley moved the vessels to Seattle and Los Angeles. Around this same time, an exhaustive study, dubbed Focus 2000, led to the identification of core activities for Crowley Marine Services: oil transportation, contract barge and towing services, marine fuel sales and distribution in western Alaska and Puerto Rico, docking and emergency response services for tankers, vessel salvage and spill cleanup services, western Alaska deck cargo services, and all-terrain transportation services. The study resulted in the divestment of several noncore operations, including the Red and White Fleet ferrying service as well as Catalina Cruises, both of which were sold in 1997.

In 1996 and 1997, Crowley American Transport greatly expanded its Central American operations, adding vessels and weekly fixed-day sailings. Crowley Maritime created a new subsidiary called Vessel Management Services, Inc. in 1996 to be responsible for the design, engineering, construction, and ownership maintenance of new company vessels. The following year another new subsidiary, Crowley Petroleum Transport, Inc., was inaugurated with the purchase of two 658-by-100-foot, double-bottom oil tankers that would provide bulk oil transportation in the U.S. tanker trades. Also in 1997 Crowley American Transport expanded geographically, adding Chile to its U.S. East Coast-West Coast South America service. Estimated 1997 revenues for Crowley Maritime were in excess of $1.1 billion, and the company had about 5,000 employees that year.

Principal Subsidiaries: Crowley American Transport, Inc.; Crowley Marine Services, Inc.; Crowley Petroleum Transport, Inc.; Vessel Management Services, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Burstiner, Marcy, "New Captain Preparing to Take the Helm at Oakland's Crowley Maritime," San Francisco Business Times, April 22, 1994, pp. 1, 16.
  • "Crowley Maritime Corporation: A Century of Service, 1892-1992," Pacific Maritime, May 1992.
  • "Crowley Maritime's Fight to Keep a Shaky Line Afloat," Business Week, August 20, 1984.
  • "Crowley Selling Passenger, Ferry Units," American Shipper, February 1995, p. 87.
  • Davies, John, "Crowley Maritime: A Study in Diversity," Journal of Commerce, March 6, 1987.
    Hauls of Fame, Vol. 10, Oakland, Calif.: Crowley Maritime Corporation, 1991.
  • Knee, Richard, "Crowley's Next Generation," American Shipper, July 1994, p. 20.
  • ------, "Rebound for Crowley Maritime," American Shipper, November 1989.
  • "Leo Collar," American Shipper, October 1987.
  • March, Ann, "Beating the Third-Generation Curse," Fortune, November 30, 1998, pp. 186--88.
  • Special Supplement, Journal of Commerce, November 10, 1988.
  • "Thomas B. Crowley," American Shipper, January 1984.
  • Tirschwell, Peter, "Crowley's Brent Stienecker to Retire: Chairman Will Take on Larger Role," Journal of Commerce, July 14, 1998, pp. 1B, 3B.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 28. St. James Press, 1999.