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Initially a Seattle-based company, Alaska Steamship became part of a conglomerate funded by J.P. Morgan and Guggenheim money in 1909. The company operated passenger and freight service from Seattle to Alaska. The Jones Act, passed by Congress in 1920 prohibited shipping between any two U.S. ports in anything but American-built and flagged ships, greatly benefited the company by forcing two Canadian shipping companies out of the Alaska market.
During World War II, the government took over the company's ships and after the war, the company struggled to compete with the new Alaska Highway and the emergence of faster, cheaper air service. The company discontinued passenger service altogether in 1954, though by then it had established itself within the container ship industry. Despite these efforts, the Alaska Steamship Company shut down in January 1971.