The company Wilh. Wilhelmsen was founded in the little Norwegian town Tønsberg 1 October 1861
by Morten Wilhelm Wilhelmsen.
The name of the new firm was "Wilh. Wilhelmsen" (WW) from the very start, with brokering and ship chandlering as its declared
purposes. In 1865 he purchased two-seventh share in the barque MATHILDE and that marks the beginning of WW as a shipowning firm.
In 1886 the age of sails was nearing its end. One person who read this message was the founder's eldest son,
Halfdan, born in 1864. His exceptional business talent was evident from an early age, and he was the driving force
behind the purchase of the company's first steam freighter TALABOT in 1887. The results and prospects were so
good that from their very first steamship purchase the letter "T" was to become synonymous with WW nomenclature.
From now on the future WW strategy was set with "Full Steam Ahead", both literally and figuratively: WW was to be
turned into a modern and forceful steamship company, not only by Norwegian, but also by international standards.
As early as 1901 WW began to take an interst in regular liner service, but there was always an element of
natural caution. However, 1911 proved to be a memorable year: the firm Fearnley & Eger and
Wilh. Wilhelmsen established the "Norwegian Africa and Australia Line" (NAAL).
Extensions of NAAL's services were soon to follow and India, The Straits, China and Japan were included in
the sailing lists in 1913 and 1914. At about the same time the two companies also took over the Norway Mexico
Gulf Line. At the outbreak of World War I, WW and Fearnley & Eger were thus operating a Norwegian network
of overseas liner services which extended from Mexico in the west to Japan in the east and from Scandinavia
in the north to Australia in the south.
The first tanker SAN JOAQUIN of 10.360 dwt. was handed over in 1913. By 1918, WW had taken delivery of
no less than ten oil carriers, representing 92% of Norway's entire tanker fleet at the end of World War I.
And by that time the company had moved their head office to Oslo.
The main features of the inter-war years were the great expansion of the liner trade, based on motorships,
and the disappearance of trampships and tankers from the fleet. This policy can largely be ascribed to
Captain Wilhelm Wilhelmsen, who took over the leadership of WW when his brother Halfdan died in 1923.
WW was financially well-positioned in the 1920's to realise Captain Wilhelmsen's vision of a highly
specialised, global shipping line in the international top class.
In 1920 WW took over the sole management of Norwegian Africa and Australia Line and the Norway Mexico Gulf
Line and it was at that time that the familiar title Wilhelmsen Lines was introduced. Later, the
slogan "For Speed and Service" was adopted.
Between 1920 and 1940 WW took delivery of no less than 59 newly-built cargo liners, representing a total
investment of 204 million pre-war Norwegian kroner. This tremendous investment was achieved without any
debt whatsoever being incurred. Every penny was fully financed and paid for by the owner. WW had thus
further consolidated its position throughout the 20th century as Norway`s largest shipping company.
26 of WW's 54 ships were lost and 52 WW sailors gave their lives during World War II. 44 vessels
served the Allied cause under the auspices of the exiled Norwegian government through Nortraship, with
headquarters in London and New York. The most famous WW vessel during the war was TORRENS
built in 1939 and engaged in the Pacific region with transportation of troops and ammunition from 1942
until the end of the war. She transported more than 60.000 American soldiers during the period and
she was never hit. TORRENS was named "the ship of good cheers".
An ambitious post-war newbuilding programme was put into effect immediately. Already by 1946,
18 motor liners had been ordered and in the fifteen years from 1946 to 1961, when WW celebrated its
100th anniversary, a total of 52 cargo liners joined the fleet. WW had regained its position as one of the
world's leading liner operators. More interesting, though, is the fact that the fleet also
included nine tankers totalling 217.000 tdw.
A new ro-ro concept was developed jointly by WW, Transatlantic and East Asiatic in the Australian trade.
Five ro-ro vessels with a service speed of 21,5 knots entered the service in 1972 and 1973. Three were built
for WW, and TRICOLOR started the ro-ro history in 1972. The new service was marketed as ScanAustral and later as ScanCarriers.
Ever closer cooperation had also characterized the US - Far East service. In 1969 WW, Fearnley & Eger and
A.F. Klaveness came together and established Barber Lines. Later WW took over full ownership and
established a joint venture with Brostrøms and Blue Funnel Line of Liverpool under the name of Barber Blue Sea Line
in 1975. A few years later five ro-ro vessels, the world largest of their kind till then, were ordered.
WW entered into car transportation in 1983 with the car carrier TAKAYAMA and later acquired a 50% ownership in
the car transportation pool NOSAC (Norwegian Specialised Auto Carriers). From 1987 on the partner in the
pool was Den norske Amerikalinje.
WW's boldest and biggest step into new activities during the 1970s was unquestionably their involvement in the
offshore oil industry. This included drilling operations as well as supply services.
It was the great commitment to large-scale ro-ro liner shipping and the offshore oil industry that characterized
above all the strategy of WW during the 1970s and early 1980s. The stakes were high, but so were the yields,
in contrast to most other maritime sectors. However, the war between Iran and Iraq in 1979 led to a total
collapse in the trade to Middle East, seriously affecting the profitability of the expensive ro-ro fleet.
At that time WW was able to compensate for the setbacks in the liner trade with healthy results in
the North Sea offshore industry. In 1985 65% of WW's total operating result came from the
offshore activities. By the mid 1980s, however, the depression also hit the offshore sector. Many
of the seven rigs were redelivered from their charters and found no profitable employment. From
lifebuoys they turned into millstones, seriously threatening WW's financial strenght.
The administration worked very hard on a restructuring of the entire company in order to face
future challenges. In 1989 the restructuring began to show results. The situation was also much
helped by a general turn for the better in the international shipping market.
It was a terrible shock to all WW employees and a blow to the promising development of Wilhelmsen
Lines when 50 employees, half the staff of Wilhelmsen Lines' office staff in Oslo, lost their lives when a
chartered aircraft crashed on 8 September 1989. They were en route from Oslo to Hamburg to
attend the naming ceremony for a new addition to the ro-ro fleet.
A further restructuring of WW took place in the first half of the 1990s. Wilhelmsen Lines bought
back the outstanding owner interests (45%) and in 1995 acquired the Norway America Line giving
the company access to a large modern fleet of car carriers. The offshore drilling activities in
Wilrig were sold, and in 1995 WW moved to new headquarters at Lysaker, outside Oslo.
In 1999 WW and Walleniusrederierna AB (“Wallenius”) of Sweden agreed to form a joint
operating company for the activities in Wilhelmsen Lines and Wallenius Lines under the name
of Wallenius Wilhelmsen Lines, a company that fully satisfied requirements for delivering transport
services with global coverage.
Two WW success stories in the 1980s and 1990s have been the development of the agency chain Barwil
and the ship management/consultancy company Barber International, both 100% owned by WW. Barwil
Agencies is one of the world's leading ship agency companies with more than 200 offices around the world.
Barber International is equally strongly positioned in ship management and manning and is the manager
of a modern fleet of more than 250 vessels employing 7 000 seafarers.
The acquisition of the car carrier division of Hyundai Merchant Marine together with Wallenius,
Hyundai Motor Company and KIA Motors Corporation was unquestionably the most improtant event
in our liner and car carrier business in 2002.
A new company named EUKOR Car Carriers, Inc. (“EUKOR”) was established in December the same year. The
partners WW and Wallenius each own 40 percent of EUKOR, and the Hyundai Motor Group holds the remaining 20 per cent.
The acquisition will provide great flexibility for adapting to volume fluctuations in the freight market and clear
opportunities thereby exist for coordinating activities in EUKOR and Wallenius Wilhelmsen in order to achieve
effective utilisation of their respective tonnage.