This article surveys the Pacific Mail Steamship Company’s transpacific steamship business during the six decades after its inauguration in 1867. The company played a crucial role in facilitating transpacific movements to and from the United States in a period leading up to U.S. colonization of the Philippines and other insular territories in the Pacific. By examining the company and government records, contemporary press coverage and pictorial images, and first-hand accounts of steamship travelers, I argue that the Pacific Mail Steamship Company’s operation of the transpacific ocean liners revealed the inherent tension within U.S. society’s dealings with the Pacific Ocean and a global empire. In the steamships’ physical space and cultural images, the elitist desires for transpacific commerce collided with popular demands against transpacific migration. The formal acquisition of colonial possessions across the Pacific and immigrant restrictions at the turn of the twentieth century would eventually domesticate, to a degree, the tension within the transpacific connections and redirect the company's business to enrich and exploit the new imperial connections.

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