Vorwärts: Lloyd’s frontiers

The early years

As early as 1836-1837, Lloyd’s “second section” in Trieste started carrying out a business activity hitherto unknown in the Adriatic. It decided to employ its first four steamships to operate a regular ferry service for passengers, mail, and a small amount of cargo steamships. Something that was impossible using sailing ships which, depending first and foremost on wind and weather conditions, would have made a regular departure and arrival schedule difficult to follow.

At the beginning, the company had to face several costs, especially those related to purchase new, modern steamships, which it covered raising funds from financial circles in Vienna, later increased and guaranteed by the Hapsburg government that was extremely keen in developing transport links between the various parts of the Empire. Lloyd was thus engaged to guarantee communications between the Empire’s coastal regions (Littoral, Veneto, Dalmatia) and link the latter with other Hapsburg lands accessible by water, including the wealthy region of Lombardy, which could be reached via the Po River and its canals up to Milan and Lake Maggiore.

G. Sigon
Austrian Lloyd’s steam navigation Co.
Chromolithographic poster
Stabilimento Lit. Modiano, Trieste
1890 ca.

The triumph of machines

In 1857, the railway that linked Trieste to Vienna expanded the market for the transport of raw materials to the continent, building upon the links that Lloyd had already created with the Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean. In 1869 the opening of the Suez Canal pushed the boundaries of Lloyd’s routes even further: in 1870 they reached India, with regular service to Bombay.

Meanwhile, an arsenal had been built in Trieste for the construction and maintenance of the company’s ships which by the 1870s already employed more than 3,000 workers hired to build modern steamships. Its docks launched some of the most modern ships in the Mediterranean, equipped with state-of-the-art technology for open ocean navigation: iron hulls eventually replaced by steel hulls; side-lever engines replaced by compound engines, then by triple or even quadruple expansion engines, built by Fabbrica Macchine Sant’Andrea. As a result, over the years, a full-fledged maritime industry grew around Lloyd.

The years of the first globalisation

Between 1870 and 1914 Europe’s economy expanded to the point of turning the Old Continent into the engine of global economy, while dozens of millions of Europeans moved to other regions of the planet. These were the years of the so-called “transport revolution”, since improved links and the drastic reduction in travel costs made it much easier to transfer goods or people to and from anywhere in the world.

The miles travelled by Lloyd’s fleet doubled in those years, while the amount of cargo more than tripled. The number of passengers held more or less steady, but the length of their voyages increased greatly. By the end of the 19th century, Lloyd began transporting cargo and passengers all the way to Hong Kong and Japan.

In 1886, Lloyd’s 50th anniversary, celebrations for the launch of the new super-steamship Imperator provided an opportunity to highlight all the results achieved until then: the consolidation of the company and its services, technologically modern equipment, organisational efficiency and full integration between the company’s various activities, including the publishing sector and the training of human resources, which was necessary not only for Lloyd, but for Trieste’s entire maritime economy.

Lloyd in Italian Trieste

In the years following the Great War, Trieste’s gradual integration into Italy’s administrative structure also entailed an overall re-balancing of its economy. Unlike Austria, Italy’s maritime sector was extensively subsidised by the state. Indeed, each local port was subsidised in Italy and funding was proportionately allocated to the various ports of the peninsula, with routes and services inevitably overlapping.

Lloyd, which changed its name to the more Italian “Lloyd Triestino”, underwent a complete transformation: markets, operations, and activities needed to be overhauled. These years were marked by great quantitative growth and some of the company’s most beautiful ships and most adventurous times, in spite of the radical change in the company’s top management.
For several years, the new Italian owners (Banca Commerciale Italiana in Milan) entrusted Lloyd’s management to the Cosulich family, while in 1933 the company became the property of the Italian state, through the holding company Finmare. World War II, followed by the Allied Military Government in Trieste after 1945, made the mid-20th century a time of great turmoil for Lloyd and for the Venezia Giulia region as a whole.

Picking up steam again

In the post-WWII period, the lengthy Anglo-American administration of Trieste and the abundant resources made available by the Marshall Plan allowed for a rapid reconstruction of Lloyd’s fleet, which by the 1950s boasted modern, prestigious ships whose routes were mostly in the Mediterranean, Africa, and the Pacific.

Lloyd Triestino, like the other companies of the Finmare group, was actually owned by the Italian state. If, on the one hand, this protected the company and its employees, on the other hand it made it more difficult to compete internationally as its competitors could cunningly use all of the advantages at their disposal, including the so-called ’flags of convenience’, to keep costs to a minimum and remain competitive in an increasingly difficult and hard-fought market.

Initially, this imbalance was offset by increased public subsidies, while in the longer term the profound overhaul caused the company to abandon passenger traffic to focus on cargo. The cargo ship Lloydiana was launched in 1973, ending this difficult transition and marking Lloyd’s entry into the new era of standardised transport.

Along the logistics chains
of the second wave of globalisation

In the early 1980s, the global fleet began to shrink dramatically: in 1985 alone, gross registered tonnage fell by over 10 million tonnes. This marked a major transformation in the world mobility system, which was adopting the technological and organisational innovations of previous decades. In general, new procedures aimed at eliminating or at least reducing all possible costs, from transport itself to the handling of goods to be loaded or unloaded, and including the idle time ships spend in ports. Most operations were mechanized and automated, and the links between maritime activities and national interests which had always supported mechanical navigation became obsolete due to global transport networks.

Most traditional operators, which were tied to a specific port and specialised in managing the lines that linked it to the rest of the world, were faced with two alternatives: disappearing and leaving the field open to new globalised companies (as in the end happened to nearly all European navigation companies), or becoming the local subsidiaries of these major global corporations. Lloyd Triestino chose the second option, and survives today as a subsidiary of the Taiwanese Evergreen Corporation.