Greek Steamship Company

Greek Steamship Company

There was no earlier steamship company in Greece. The Greek Steamship Company was established in 1856 and had its headquarters in the city of Hermoupolis (often spelled "Ermoupoli"), on the island of Syros (Syros was often known as "Syra" in the 19th century and earlier). The primary task of the company was (1) to link up the Greek islands (particularly the Cyclades) and the coastal cities and (2) to better connect Greece with wider Europe and the Middle East.

The voyages of her steamships began in earnest the following year (1857). At this time the Greek Steamship Company possessed three ships: "Hydra", "Queen of Greece" and "Panhellenion". The early routes went to Greek shores, notably to Piraeus (near Athens) and the Peloponnesos (the Peloponesian peninsula). In 1858 two more ships were added to the original three and the routes were lengthened to go to Thessalonika and Crete. By 1862 there were eleven ships making regular voyages to Smyrna, Constantinople (Istanbul) and ports along the Turkish coast. The company was enormously successful from 1857 until a decline occurred in the 1880s.

The driving force behind the company was Ilias Kehayas from its founding until his death in December 1885.

The Greek Steamship Company's steam-operated ironworks

The steam-operated ironworks established by the Greek Steamship Company was the first large factory building in Hermoupolis. At the time it was the only building of its kind not only in the eastern Mediterranean, but in the entire Middle East. The design was produced in western Europe and the work was carried out by Mr. Sampo, the municipal architect in Hermoupolis. The ironworks were established in order to facilitate the building, repair and maintenance of ships. The building is still plays a significant part in the modern Syros Shipyard, though there have been a few alterations to the building over the many decades. Nonetheless the rectangular building still retains its original shape.

The steam-operated ironworks began work in April 1861. David Smith, an Englishman, was the engineer in charge. Countless ships were repaired in the factory (and work still goes on there at the present time). They also built steamships, as well as providing a school for educating Greeks who desired to become mechanical engineers or to work in shipping.

1880s Decline

Sometime towards the end of the 1880s decline became apparent at the Greek Steamship Company. One factor was the opening of the Corinthian Canal in 1882 which meant that much shipping travelled by a more direct route rather than going round by Syros. Another factor was the expansion of railways, offering alternative methods for getting goods between destinations. A third factor was the growth of Piraeus, the port of Athens, which had evolved into the primary port in Greece (Athens in the meantime had overtaken Hermoupolis as the chief centre of Greek trade). The decline in ship building and repair on Syros was further accelerated following the Balkan Wars of 1912 when centres such as Crete, Chios, Samos, Epiros and southern Macedonia were united into Greece -- each of these became important commercial centres.

As he sensed the competition coming from Piraeus and Athens (and other locations), Mr. S. Skouloudis led strenuous campaigns in both 1881 and 1890 to seek to forge a large "Greek National Steamship Company" (which would have included the Greek Steamship Company), but these efforts failed. In 1892 the company found itself compelled into bankruptcy. John MacDowell and Barber Co. (owners of the "Hephaistos" shipyard at Piraeus) rented the ships and factory.

Significant effort went into launching the "New Greek Steamship Company" later in the 1890s, but this was shortlived and in 1905 was declared bankrupt.


  1. HERMOUPOLIS: THE CREATION OF A NEW CITY ON SYROS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE 19TH CENTURY written by John Travlos and Angeliki Kokkou (English language work published by the Commercial Bank of Greece, Athens, 1984)

  2. PANDORA No. 16 (Greek language periodical, 1866)

  3. KUKLADIKA, B issue 7, 1957-58 (this Greek language periodical contains a major article on the Greek Steamship Company with bibliography)

  4. ERMOUPOLI - SYROS: A HISTORICAL TOUR written by Christina Agriantoni, Angeliki Fenerli and Ioakeim Karakoulidis (an English language guidebook sponsored by Ermoupoli Municipal Development Enterprise, published by Olkos Publications, 1999)

  5. Non print sources include the various museums and archives on the island of Syros, particularly the Industrial Museum in Hermoupolis.

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