In shipping, it is not always easy to distinguish between "the line" and "the owner".

One of the most famous lines, the Red Star Line, can serve as an example. "Red Star Line" was only a trade name, not a corporation. It is not entirely clear who owned the name, but we can assume it was the International Navigation Company.

At Philadelphia, in 1871, a company was created by some business men under the name of International Navigation Company. The transportation of petroleum from the Pennsylvania oil fields was then an important item in the business of ships plying to Antwerp. The oil was carried in barrels, on American sailing vessels. Progressive minds that afterwards were responsible for building up the Red Star Line conceived the idea of carrying petroleum in bulk, and the first steamer to fly the Red Star Line house flag, the 'Vaderland', 2773 tons, was the first ship build for that purpose. After the the Vaderland, the International Navigation Company ordered the slightly larger'Nederland' in 1873. In 1874 another ship was added, the 'Switzerland', and in 1879 two others, the original 'Belgenland' and the 'Rhynland'.

At Antwerp, in 1872, the company Société Anonyme de Navigation Belgo-Américaine was founded. The International Navigation Company put into this new venture the three vessels under construction. Consequently, the newly formed company became the owner of the s.s. Vaderland, the s.s. Nederland, and the s.s. Switzerland. In 1873 both companies started operating a line under the name of Red Star Line.

The 'Vaderland' was ahead of her time as a tanker and she never was used as one. Adequate facilities had not been developed at Antwerp for handling bulk petroleum and storing it on shore. The Vaderland was refitted as a freight and passenger carrier. There was a growing demand for a first class passenger line between Belgium and the US, and the founders of the Red Star Lines devoted themselves to building up one of the finest passenger services at the times.

Some months before the International Navigation Company was created in Philadelphia, another company was founded in that same city: American Line, plying between Liverpool and the United States. In 1884 the American Line was taken over by the International Navigation Company. In 1886 also the English Inman Line has been taken over.

In 1893, the shipping activities were restructured. One company, the International Navigation Company of New Jersey would manage the ships under American flag including the Red Star Line. The second company, the International Navigation Company of Liverpool, would manage the ships under British flag.

In 1902, J. Pierpont Morgan started consolidating his shipping activities. A new conglomerate came into existence under the name of International Mercantile and Marine Company. Through this holding, J. Pierpont Morgan not only controlled the International Navigation Company of New Jersey (with the Red Star Line) but also the International Navigation Company of New Jersey, the International Navigation Company of Liverpool, as well as other shipping lines, such as the White Star Line, the Atlantic Transport Line, the Dominion Line, and the Leyland Line. The total fleet comprised 133 units.

In 1906 the Red Star Line was the third most important shipping line out of the 26 offering sailings out of Europe. In 1908 they offered direct weekly sailings to New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, and a fortnightly service to Baltimore.

Main competitors were: Hapag Lloyd, Holland Amerika Lijn, Cunard Line, and Anchor Line.

Vlaamse Vereniging voor Familiekunde, Afdeling Antwerpen, 1992, Emigranten naar Amerika, page 136. KINT, André, and VERVOORT, Robert. Red Star Line: Antwerpen's Vergane Glorie