This little pocket knife is a “safety award” that belonged to my Great Uncle John Zabowski. He was a Chief Engineer on ore boats run by the Pittsburgh Steamship Company. Pittsburgh Steamship was started by Andrew Carnegie to service his steel company, and is a perfect example of how he came to control every aspect of his steel creation from the shipping of raw materials (ore from Minnesota in this case) to the final product. In short, he helped develop the business practice that became known as “vertical integration.” In the early 20th Century it was the largest Great Lakes shipping company, so large in fact that it was larger than most US ocean going shipping companies. The company was merged a few times over the years and the name finally disappeared in 1981 when it became part of USS Great Lakes Fleet.
The knife is a great little pocket size, and while looking to be in pretty good shape it does have one serious problem… Sadly it was in the attic of my cousin Gail’s house, in Michigan, which means it was exposed to heavy humidity and has rusted shut. I’ve tried a few times to open it up but to no avail. So if you have an idea on how to get it open, let me know. I’m all ears.
This is a keychain from the Eastern Steamship Lines, which was founded back in 1901 as Eastern Steamship by a robber baron named Charles Wyman Morse. Morse was known as “The Ice King” in NYC (back when you had to purchase ice that was shipped into the city) and had strong connections with Tammany Hall. Morse found himself in legal trouble for stock manipulation and his involvement in the Panic of 1907. It was those legal troubles that help lead to the sale of Eastern Steamship.
Over the years Eastern went through various hands and names. From what I can decipher it held the name Eastern Steamship Lines Inc. from 1917 – 1954. Over all of those years it maintained routes from New Brunswick to Norfolk, VA with routes in between (Except for a break during WWII where the ships were used in the war effort.) So this keychain came from sometime over that era.
The name Eastern existed in one form or another until 1983 when it was merged with some other lines to form Admiral Cruises. Admiral still exists today and is part of the Royal Caribbean line. As far as how this keychain came into my family is a mystery. I found it in my Grandma Gen’s basement and it was her brother Johnny that was a Merchant Marine and worked on the ore ships on the Great Lakes. So maybe that is how this came about. Or maybe simply my Grandma traveled on one of their ships at some point and picked this up as a souvenir.