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Go back in time with A.P. Moller - Maersk


1904: The first company is established

Aktieselskabet Dampskibsselskabet Svendborg (the Steamship Company Svendborg) was established on 16 April 1904 in the town of Svendborg. The company was initiated by A.P. Møller and his father Peter Mærsk Møller. Despite great difficulties, they managed to raise enough capital to purchase a second-hand steamer. They named the ship SVENDBORG after its hometown and the owning company.


1912: A.P. Møller establishes a new shipping company

A.P. Møller founded ‘Dampskibsselskabet af 1912’ (The Steamship Company of 1912) in order to secure himself operational independence. A.P. Møller was the manager of both companies (the steamship companies Svendborg and 1912), and due to favorable circumstances in the shipping business during the First World War, the new 1912 shipping company quickly expanded. The two companies were managed in parallel until the merger in 2003.

1918: A.P. Møller’s shipyard

The Odense Steel Shipyard was established “to build ships using our companies’ shipping experience”. The shipyard would become a major supplier to Maersk Line, especially after 1980 where the first container ship was delivered. The shipyard was discontinued in 2012.

1919: First office abroad

In 1919, A.P. Møller opened the first office overseas - in New York – under the name of ISMOLCO, short for the Isbrandtsen-Moller Company. This new venture was started with A.P. Møller's cousin, Hans J. Isbrandtsen, who had gained some experience from running a company with shipping and pier administration among its activities. Today, the company is represented in 130 countries.


Built at Odense Steel Shipyard, LEISE MÆRSK was a record-breaking new-build that became the world's first single screw diesel ship and the first diesel ship to be put into the tramping business. Incidentally, LEISE MÆRSK was also the first ship to be used on the USA-Asia route when Maersk Line started operations in 1928. LEISE MÆRSK was sunk while sailing under the British flag in November 1940.  

1928: Maersk Line begins operations

The first voyage in Maersk Line’s history went from Baltimore, USA, via the Panama Canal and the United States West Coast to Asian ports. The route between USA and the Far East was the only liner service provided by Maersk Line until 1947, where new routes were established. The first base cargo for Maersk Line was Ford Motor Company car parts.

1930: Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller enters the business

During 1930 – 1938, Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller started his training and gained experience in various shipping and banking related businesses in Denmark, Germany, France and the United Kingdom. In 1938, he returned to his father's company in a junior management role. Following the German invasion of Denmark in April 1940, Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller was made partner of his father’s firm. His immediate task was to manage the fleet of the Svendborg and 1912 shipping companies outside Danish waters from the office in New York.

1940: The occupation of Denmark

On 9 April 1940, German forces occupied Denmark. The night before, A.P. Møller and his son, Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller messaged all ships outside Danish territory to head for neutral ports and to take no further orders from Copenhagen. During the war, 36 out of 46 ships were requisitioned by the warring countries and used in the war effort; 150 seamen and 25 ships were lost.

1946–1959: Resumed service after Second World War

Maersk Line resumed its service on the original route from USA to Asia after the Second World War. After obtaining a licence to operate out of Japan, new routes were introduced in South East Asia, the Middle East and to West Africa.

1955: The Maersk blue

The light blue colour was first introduced as the background colour for the seven-pointed star back in 1886, when the Maersk logo was used for the first time. The new-build REGINA MÆRSK delivered from Odense Steel Shipyard in 1955, became the first Maersk vessel to have the light blue colour painted on the hull. The new appearance was positively received and within a few years the entire Maersk fleet was painted in a light blue colour. The Maersk fleet has since become known as the ‘Blue Fleet’.

1965: A.P. Møller dies in June

A.P. Møller passed away 12 June 1965 at the age of 88. At the time of his death, the Maersk fleet consisted of 88 ships (a total of 1.7 million dwt) which amounted to almost half the total Danish merchant fleet. Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller assumed responsibility of the activities and companies and continued to develop and expand the business.

1968: First sailing on Europe–Asia route

Maersk Line’s first sailing on the Europe–Asia route. Newly built general cargo vessels optimised for break-bulk cargo on pallets were deployed, and the occasional container was carried on deck.

1975: Container vessels

Maersk Line introduced nine container vessels on the original route, which still connects USA and The Far East. ADRIAN MÆRSK departed from Newark, USA, on 5 September 1975. Learn more about Maersk Line in containerisation here: www.creatingglobalopportunities.com

1977: Consolidation of Cargo

As containerisation expanded in the 1970’s, the need for optimal utilisation of the container’s space grew (cargo consolidation). This service requirement from our customers led to the establishment of the freight forwarder Mercantile with subsidiaries in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. The activities were continued in Maersk Logistics and now Damco.

1979: Svitzer acquired by Maersk

SVITZER was established in 1833 and acquired by A.P. Moller - Maersk in 1979. Today, SVITZER is the global market leader engaged in specialised marine activities such as harbour, coastal, terminal/LNG, offshore and ocean towage as well as salvage operations, crew-boat and emergency-response services.

1979: Move to Esplanaden

Having had its main address at Kongens Nytorv 8 since 1915, A.P. Moller – Maersk moved to its new headquarters at Esplanaden, also in central Copenhagen. The original building was designed by Ole Hagen, while the extension from 2005 was designed by Henning Larsen.

1980: Further containerisation

The Europe-Asia service was containerised. In an effort to control the operations, Maersk Line established own offices in countries previously served by third party agents. This development continued: in 1990, Maersk Line was present in 40 countries – in 2000, the number had increased to over 100 countries.

1987: First acquisition within the liner trade

Maersk Line took over the liner activities in Chargeurs Réunis, France, and Cie Maritime Belge, Belgium.

1988 – MARCHEN MÆRSK - a perfect fit for the Panama Canal

The M-series (named after the first letter in the ships’ names) surprised the shipping industry, because of their ability to transport 11 containers across instead of the 10 that was thought to be the limit for ships passing through the Panama Canal. The M-series were the largest container vessels of their time and the first in the series, MARCHEN MÆRSK was delivered on 21 April 1988.

1991: MCI is established

Mærsk Container Industry was established in Tinglev, Denmark with the purpose of developing and manufacturing containers for the shipping industry. Today, the headquarters and sales office are located in Copenhagen, whereas the research and development department remain in Tinglev. Production takes place in three modern facilities in China and in Chile.

1993: Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller steps down

After 28 years at the helm, Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller stepped down as CEO and daily manager of the company. Mr. Møller remained very close to the company and he continued as chairman of the foundations, the shipping companies and Odense Steel Shipyard. He was succeeded by Jess Søderberg, who headed the company from 1993 to 2007.

1993: Acquisition of the EACBen Container Line

A.P. Moller - Maersk acquired all liner activities in EACBen Container Line Ltd. from the Danish East Asiatic Company (ØK), thus making Maersk Line the largest container shipping company in the world.


1996: REGINA MÆRSK – a world record

The world’s largest container vessel, REGINA MÆRSK with a capacity of more than 6.000 twenty-foot containers, was delivered to Maersk Line from Odense Steel Shipyard.

1997: SOVEREIGN MÆRSK – a new record

The shipyard’s own world record from the year before was surpassed when Odense Steel Shipyard delivered SOVEREIGN MÆRSK with a capacity of more than 6.600 twenty-foot containers to Maersk Line.

1999: Safmarine and Sea-Land acquired 

Safmarine Container Lines was acquired and continued to operate under the brand name Safmarine. Later that same year, Sea-Land Service Inc. was acquired. In that connection, Maersk Line changed its name to Maersk Sealand during 2000–2006.

2001: APM Terminals established

Since entering the container business, Maersk Line had invested in terminal facilities around the world. The portfolio of terminals was significantly increased with the acquisition of Sea-Land in 1999 and it was decided to establish APM Terminals as an independent business unit providing port and inland infrastructure. APM Terminals currently operates 73 ports and terminals in 36 countries and continues to expand.

2003: New Name: A. P. Møller - Mærsk A/S

The two original companies, Dampskibsselskabet Svendborg and Dampskibsselskabet af 1912 (the Steamship Companies Svendborg and 1912) and their partnerships were merged under the name A.P. Møller - Mærsk A/S.

2003: Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller resigns as chairman

Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller stepped down as chairman of the Board of Directors of A.P. Møller - Mærsk A/S. Mr. Møller retained his chairmanships in the A.P. Møller Foundation and two other foundations with significant shareholdings in A.P. Møller - Mærsk as well as the Odense Steel Shipyard.  Mr. Møller was succeeded by Mr. Michael Pram Rasmussen who remained chairman until 2017.

2005: The P&O Nedlloyd acquisition

The British P&O and the Dutch Nedlloyd container shipping companies were merged into P&O Nedlloyd in 1995. In 2005, the constellation was acquired by A.P. Moller - Maersk. During the integration process, the Maersk-Sealand brand was changed back to Maersk Line (as before 2000). The integration of one large, global organization into another large, global organization proved difficult, but eventually provided Maersk Line with a scale that would not have been possible through organic growth.

2006: EMMA MÆRSK – a new world record

For the third time in 10 years, Odense Steel Shipyard delivered the world’s largest container vessel – this time with a capacity of more than 15.000 twenty-foot containers. Maersk Line received a total of eight vessels of this size.

2007: Change of CEO of A.P. Moller - Maersk

Nils Smedegaard Andersen succeeded Jess Søderberg as CEO of A.P. Moller – Maersk in 2007. Nils S. Andersen had been a board member of A.P. Møller - Mærsk A/S for two years when he accepted the position as CEO, leaving a similar position with Carlsberg. Mr. Andersen remained the CEO until 2016.

2009: Merger of logistics brands

When Sea-land was acquired in 1999, the acquisition included a portfolio of container terminals and logistics activities. Mercantile (established in 1977) integrated the Sea-land logistics under the new name Maersk Logistics in early 2000. Damco Sea & Air (established in 1905 as C.W.H van Dam & Co) was the forwarding arm of P&O Nedlloyd Logistics and acquired together with the container shipping activities in P&O Nedlloyd in 2005. Four years later, Maersk Logistics and Damco merged under the brand name Damco. Today, Damco is one of the world’s leading providers of freight forwarding and supply chain management.

2012: Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller passed away

Still active at the age of 98, Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller passed away on 16 April 2012. His youngest daughter, Ane Mærsk Mc-Kinney Uggla assumed her father’s position as Chairman of the A.P. Møller Foundation.

2013: The first Triple-E ultra large container ship

In 2013, the first Triple-E containership was delivered. The ship was named after the late Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller, who passed away the year before. Upon delivery, MÆRSK MC-KINNEY MØLLER was the largest ship in the world, with its 400 metres in length, a capacity of more than 18.000 twenty-foot containers and 165.000 dead weight tonnage. The unique design features of the Triple-E series ensure more energy-efficient ships, economy of scale, while also greatly reducing the CO2 emission per container.

2015: APM Terminals Maasvlakte II 

On 24 April, the official opening of APM Terminals most technologically advanced and sustainable container terminal Maasvlakte II took place. The Maasvlakte II runs entirely on power generated by wind turbines and is the world's most automated container terminal to date.

2016: New CEO of A.P. Moller - Maersk

Søren Skou was appointed CEO of A.P. Moller – Maersk In 2016. Søren Skou has been with the company since 1983 and been a member of the A.P. Moller - Maersk leadership team since 2001.

2017: New chairman of the Board of Directors

Jim Hageman Snabe succeeded Michael Pram Rasmussen as chairman of the Board of Directors of A.P. Møller - Mærsk A/S.

Further Reading:

  • Ove Hornby, ”With Constant Care…” A.P. Møller: Shipowner 1876-1965 (J.H. Schultz Information, 1988)
  • Chris Jephson & Henning Morgen, Creating Global Opportunities. Maersk Line in Containerisation 1973-2013 (Cambridge University Press, 2014)

Photo credits:

Photographs not credited are from the A.P. Møller - Mærsk archives, from private collections or of unknown origin.