APL (American President Lines) & Toyota (the unknown history?)

San Francisco Maritime Library
San Francisco Maritime Library
San Francisco Maritime Library
San Francisco Maritime Library

On July 23, 2008, Daron Pitts and Jamie Kennedy of the Community Development Foundation visited the San Francisco Maritime Library located at Fort Mason Center Building E, near Fisherman’s Warf in San Francisco.

Several internet searches led to historical documents connecting APL and the first Toyopet samples. It was believed (according to Toyota archivists that were interviewed and previously published Toyota history) that the first samples arrived on the “Toyota Maru” ship from Yokohama, Japan in 1957. Over a dozen newspaper articles, that were located, disproved this and a connection was made to the APL archives located at the Maritime Library.

The team received copies of letters, photographs, magazine clippings, and hand written memos that prove a very strong connection to the first samples arriving on board an APL ship and arriving in San Francisco.

One letter, on official APL letterhead, dated May 17, 1985 was sent by G.B. Marshall to Mark Thompson and copies were sent to “MHigaki”, “GMHilton”, “SPotash” and “MGGoggins”.  A portion of the letter reads:

“Mark, enclosed is a very valuable photograph that was presented to us when we visited Toyota’s Tokyo office with W.B. Seaton on 5/7. It had been tucked away in an old file for years.
The vessel is the President Cleveland at Yokohama. The caption states that this was Toyota’s first export to the U.S.A. – two Toyota Crowns. The year was 1957 (Showa 32, by the Japanese calendar).
Somewhere , there ‘s a pretty good story, and Mr. Seaton wanted me to be sure and send you the photo. Hope you can use it.”

Little did Mr. Marshall know that he may have some of the only historical information concerning Toyota’s original US history. Toyota archivists that were interviewed stated that in the mid-1980’s Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. announced plans to merge with its sales entity Toyota Motor Sales Co., Ltd and “records were lost”. The frame numbers or these original samples, shipping records, and any other document proving anything more than what was discovered at the Maritime Library about this first shipment has never been located and was lost with time.

The photos that is referenced in the letter and that was included in the folder of APL documents is the “famous” two samples photograph with a Japanese caption at the bottom:

Sample Toyopets in Yokohama dock on front of the President Cleveland
Sample Toyopets in Yokohama dock on front of the President Cleveland

This official APL letter clearly proves the two samples were shipped via the President Cleveland to the US and newspaper shipping records show the President Cleveland arriving in San Francisco after leaving Yokohama…NOT Long Beach, California.

Other APL documents located in the research also tell the story of the photograph being shown at Toyota headquarters in Tokyo and Toyota executives being surprised to see it – never having seen it before. This photo has never been properly credited or sourced. Research shows it may have indeed been taken by APL and then passed on to Toyota.


2 thoughts on “APL (American President Lines) & Toyota (the unknown history?)

    1. Janis, thank you. There is so much more information, articles, and research that I hope to post on this blog about the history of the Toyota Toyopet. Hopefully that will happen soon.

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