In 1838, the steam-powered SS Great Western made the crossing from Bristol to New York in 15 days, ushering in a new age in transatlantic trade. The Browns, who thrived on moving goods and information as quickly and efficiently as possible, were quick to seize this opportunity.
William Brown was among the original investors in the Cunard line, the first transatlantic steamship line that entered service between Liverpool, Halifax, and Boston in 1840. His brother, James, went in on a competing steamship venture by Edward Knight Collins, a shipping magnate who, in 1848, won a contract from the U.S. government to deliver mail between New York and Liverpool. James also rounded up investors from among his American partners and agents. Today’s BBH flag descends from the burgee of the Collins Line.
In 1864, James saw to it that Brown Brothers itself took a major stake in the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, which delivered mail between East Coast and West under a contract to the US government. With shipping routes between New York and San Francisco via Panama and from there across the Pacific to China and Japan, Pacific Mail symbolized the shift of American commerce westward.
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