The History of the American Bureau of Shipping
The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) is very focused on the needs of the Shipping Industry and the creation of marine standards and certifications. Since these classifications and regulations have a direct impact on the LED Lighting Industry, I thought it would be good to know more about the ABS and its history.
The Start: The California Gold Rush: On August 20, 1857, several hundred passengers boarded the S. S. Sonora, of the Pacific Mail Steamship Line, and left San Francisco headed south toward Panama City. Aboard was over $1.6 million in gold from the California Gold Rush – thousands of freshly minted 1857-S Double Eagles, ingots, and gold in other forms.
There was no canal back then, so the gold was unloaded in Panama and transferred by train to the Atlantic, for the next leg of the trip, where it was re-loaded aboard the sidewheel steamer S.S. Central America . Called the Ship of Gold because of its precious cargo, the S.S. Central America continued on its journey up the east coast to New York City.
Trouble Begins: During its last fateful trip, a breeze intensified to a strong wind, finally reaching gale force. The S.S. Central America was tossed about in the waves, and conditions worsened, until wind was screaming through tattered sails and rigging. The S.S. Central America was in the middle of a terrible hurricane.
A tremendous wave then hit the S.S. Central America, and she slipped beneath the waves. Thousands of coins struck predominately by the San Francisco Mint went down with the ship along with 425 passengers and crew. At the time of sinking, the amount of gold carried on board was valued at approximately $2,000,000, which would be equivalent to roughly $300,000,000 today.
The Panic of 1857
The year was 1857, and U.S. banks had invested in businesses that were failing, and this was causing the American people to panic. Investors were losing heavily in the stock market and railroads were unable to pay their debts. Land speculators who had counted on the construction of new railroad routes were losing money. People feared financial ruin. They ran to the banks to withdraw their money, but the banks did not deal in paper money. They used silver and gold.
Adding to the troubles of the banks, when the S.S. Central America lost its battle with the hurricane and sank to the bottom of the ocean, this had a major financial impact on Wall Street in New York City. With their failed investments, and the gold lost at sea, it was impossible for the banks to gather all the gold their customers demanded.
On August 24, 1857, the New York branch of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company failed. Soon, all across the nation, banks began to collapse. The Panic of 1857 led to a severe economic depression in the United States that lasted three years.

The American Shipmaster’s Association (ASA): Still suffering the effects of the Panic of 1857, and with the onset of the U.S. Civil War with Confederate ship raiders attacking Union ships, a meeting was convened in 1861 in New York by Maritime Insurance Underwriters, Ship Builders and Ship Masters. In 1862 they created The American Shipmaster’s Association, an organization dedicated to the preservation of life and property at sea. They began with a modest goal of certifying ship’s officers, and during the first five years, ASA issued 65 percent of all Master’s Certificates. Vessels that sailed with a certified ASA shipmaster were more likely to find favorable insurance coverage.
ASA Rules: The ASA published its first technical standards, Rules for Survey and Classing of Wooden Vessels, in 1870. When wooden ships became obsolete and gave way to iron as a shipbuilding material, the ASA published its first Rules for Survey and Classing of Iron Vessels in 1877. Similarly, when iron gave way to steel, ASA Rules for Building and Classing Steel Vessels were established and published in 1890.
As its business shifted from the certification of shipmasters to the classification of ships, the American Shipmasters’ Association renamed itself the American Bureau of Shipping in 1898. The ABS continued its program of certifying shipmasters until May of 1900. By this time, federal law required that most sea officers be licensed by the United States government.

During the past 157 years ABS has grown, evolved and changed to become the one of the world’s largest maritime certification societies for ships and maritime equipment. The world headquarters as well as the ABS Americas Division headquarters for ABS are located in Houston, Texas.
The divisional ABS headquarters for Europe is located in London and the divisional headquarters for Asia Pacific is located in Singapore. ABS has more than 5,500 employees worldwide and is broadly divided into 2 groups: Engineering review and Surveying. ABS Engineers work in Houston, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Shanghai, Busan, Yokohama, Genoa, Gdansk, Hamburg and other cities. Surveyors are employed in ports and shipyards worldwide to verify that ships are built according to the drawings.

ABS has maintained Standards for Marine Safety and Excellence, and been at the forefront of marine and offshore energy innovation. ABS works alongside its partners tackling the most pressing technical, operational and regulatory challenges so that the marine and offshore industries can operate safely, securely and responsibly. ABS is committed to setting standards for maritime safety and excellence as one of the world’s leading classification organizations.
Bill Nagengast, Lighting Engineer
Solas Ray Lighting
Holds over 20 patents in the lighting industry.
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