Moving for all to grow since 1866
C.F. Tietgen’s initiative to merge four Danish steamship companies to DFDS (Det Forenede Dampskibs-Selskab) in 1866 had a strong purpose: The new company enabled trade that was growing exponentially in the wake of the industrialisation, creating growth for all. Products and coal from the UK, the world’s industrial locomotive at that time, were transported to the textile and energy demanding markets in Scandinavia and other countries. And in these countries, the steam ships conversely gave farmers access to the UK’s rapidly growing market for food and raw materials.
DFDS developed quickly with the growth it helped create. Around 1900, DFDS steam ships connected farmers around the Black Sea with the new Russian industrial area around St. Petersburg. DFDS started routes to USA bringing back soya cake as feed to European farmers thus supporting their transformation from exporters of livestock to producers and exporters of processed products like butter and bacon. DFDS also connected Danish and Scandinavian cities with each other and with the world. All this was based on a fleet of more than 120 ships, among the largest in the world at the time.
DFDS transported immigrants who sought a better future in the USA. During the world wars, DFDS kept up supplies of critical food and coal to people in Europe who otherwise would have been starving and unable to heat their homes. Jobs and industry were kept alive. After the war, DFDS’ ships, many now powered by diesel engines, kept moving – products from USA to Europe, people between countries, goods between UK and mainland Europe, between the Mediterranean and Scandinavia and to and from Iceland. At the end of the sixties, DFDS were the first to develop a ro-ro service, paving the way for more efficient shipping of trucks and trailers carrying industrial cargo.
The logistics activities were developed from 1972 with the same purpose. Connecting people and businesses from door-to-door to make everyone grow. When DFDS acquired Dan Transport in 1998, the business area became one of the largest forwarding and logistics companies in Northern Europe. DFDS Dan Transport was sold in 2000 to focus the company’s resources on shipping. After the acquisition of Norfolkline in 2010 and several logistics acquisitions, DFDS has again transformed itself to become a unique European Shipping and Logistics Group providing vital infrastructure services in Europe.
Today, DFDS has set a firm course towards development of digital capabilities to continue fulfilling the purpose the company was born with: We move for all to Grow.
Explore our history
In 1866 three Danish shipping companies were merged to form the oldest large shipping company in Denmark: DFDS, ”Det Forenede Dampskibs- Selskab” (The United Steamship Company).
Today DFDS is a financially sound company, growing nicely because, through all the years of its existence, particularly the most recent ones, it has understood how to adapt its business idea – or philosophy – when necessary.
DFDS is still sailing on some of the same routes begun in the 1800s. And DFDS still has beautiful and exciting ships – fascinating to us all.
Development in DFDS in the period 1966-1999 has been more rapid in all areas than in the preceding 100 years. Technology has advanced with lightning speed, some activities have been discontinued, new ones have started and stopped, others further developed and strengthened.
The organization has undergone changes several times. It has merged with a number of companies, and in 1971 the company officially changed its name to DFDS A/S – The United Steamship Company A/S – as part of the growing internationalization.
The man who had the initiative which led to the founding of DFDS, the Danish financier Carl Frederik Tietgen, was born in Odense in 1829. After completing school he was apprenticed to a merchant.
At an early age he demonstrated the abilities that held him in good stead his entire life: quickness of perception and an astonishing memory. When he was twenty he went to Manchester, the financial and mercantile capital of that time. In 1855 he became a merchant in Copenhagen.
Operations began on 1 January 1867 with route 19 ships, with Copenhagen as the main starting point.
At the time of the founding of DFDS, the domestic and foreign routes were of virtually equal importance to the Company.
When the Port of Esbjerg opened in 1873 it was the only large port on the west coast of Denmark, and from 1875 DFDS began service from Esbjerg to England.
DFDS changed port in England from Thameshaven, near London, to Parkeston Quay, Harwich. Gradually, additional routes were started up from Esbjerg: to London, Grimsby, Newcastle, and Hamburg.
After Copenhagen, Esbjerg became the most used port in DFDS. In the beginning, livestock was the main freight on the Esbjerg routes, but this was later replaced by the rapidly growing Danish export of agricultural products.
During the 1880s there were several important expansions of service to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
After continued expansion of the fleet in the 1880s, DFDS became one of the world's ten largest ship owning companies. It was in fact the largest, by number of steamers.
Due to illness, C. F. Tietgen retired from the board of directors in 1896.
In 1898 the Company took over the steamship company Dampskibsselskabet Thingvalla and the Scandinavian-American Line was created. The Company operated passenger and freight service Stettin-Copenhagen-Christiania-Christiansand-New York, using four steamships.
World War I was a time of hardship for crews and equipment. Service was interrupted by a great number of seizures by the German authorities, and by demands from the British government.
The Company was also required to make duty voyages, in part by the Danish government, to ensure vital supplies of coal and fodder to Denmark, and in part by the British authorities, in order to keep up supplies of bunker coal.
All the ships that were in the U.S.A. were chartered by American shipping companies from 1917 until some time after the end of the war, for service between the U.S.A. and the West Indies or South America.
In 1920 s.s. A.P. BERNSTORFF accompanied the royal yacht with King Christian X and Queen Alexandrine to the reunification ceremony in Southern Jutland.
The emigrant route Libau-Danzig-Copenhagen began as a "feeder route" for the Scandinavian-American Line.
From 1921 things went downhill, after the USA introduced immigration quotas. In 1924 the ships were rebuilt to obtain more cabin space, at the expense of the emigrant class.
In the 1930s the U.S.A. cut back the immigration quotas drastically, and the number of passengers fell so dramatically that the ships were taken out of service one after the other. In 1935 the DFDS flagship FREDERIK VIII sailed its final voyage from New York to Copenhagen for the Scandinavian-American Line.
In 1937 the most vital of the DFDS initiatives from the interwar period were resumed. A route to the Levant was opened from Copenhagen.
That same year the Stettin-Copenhagen-Oslo service was divided into two: Copenhagen-Oslo and Copenhagen-Stettin. M.s. KRONPRINS OLAV entered into service on the Copenhagen-Oslo route.
Shortly after World War II broke out in 1939, the passenger routes Esbjerg-Harwich and Copenhagen-Oslo were discontinued and the ships laid up.
Other routes had to be abandoned or restructured. After the occupation of Denmark in 1940 most of the motor ships were laid up due to lack of bunker fuel, and DFDS lost control of 31 of its ships. The domestic routes were kept going to a limited extent, with the help of passenger steamers.
The Germans regularly put pressure on Danish shipowners in order to charter or buy tonnage, and from time to time it was necessary to acquiesce. Altogether twelve ships were requisitioned, including most of the newest passenger motor ships.
Nine of them were returned to DFDS after the war, but all were in terrible condition.
Prior to the German occupation of Denmark nine DFDS ships were sunk. DFDS lost a total of 31 ships in war actions in which more than 300 people lost their lives.
In 1946 m.s. KRONPRINS FREDERIK entered into service on the Esbjerg-Harwich route, and was the first ship in the Danish merchant fleet to be equipped with radar.
The most serious "war loss" took place long after the end of the war: In 1948, 48 people drowned when KJØBENHAVN hit a mine. Five people lost their lives in the mine explosion of IVAR in 1949, and as recently as 1950 FRIGGA sank without loss of life after it ran into a mine.
To replace some of the lost ships, a number of almost-completed motor ships which had been laid up awaiting the end of the war were finished. Gradually the routes that had been discontinued since the beginning of the war were reopened.
In 1949 the motor ship tonnage surpassed the steamship tonnage, of which there had been a preponderance, for the first time in the history of the Company.
As one of the first, DFDS introduced the "door-to-door" principle when RIBERHUS and AXELHUS began service on domestic routes in 1950. The two ships were specially designed for transport of small wooden containers. The concept was a great success.
In 1957 Nordana Line began cargo service on the Gulf of Mexico-Mediterranean route. For the first time in DFDS' history the company played the role of cross trader. All former routes had either started from or made calls at Danish ports or "flag ports."
Over the course of time DFDS shares had become distributed among many shareholders, and the Company could in effect be described as "the property of the people."
In 1964 J. Lauritzen owned more than 50% of the share capital and the shipowner Knud Lauritzen and Director Henry Jensen were elected to the board of directors. DFDS continued to be run as an independent company, and there soon was a "marriage of convenience" between the two companies.
Share capital was increased from DKK 80 million to DKK 120 million. M.s. ENGLAND entered into service on the Esbjerg -Harwich route and plans were made for ro/ro tonnage and for a car ferry connection between Sjællands Odde and Ebeltoft.
In 1965 the Transport Rationalization Department, which later became DFDS Transport, began its activities. M.S. AKERSHUS, the first real passenger-and-car ship which could also take trucks and trailers, began service on the Frederikshavn-Oslo route.
The 100th anniversary was celebrated with a reception on board M.S. ENGLAND in Copenhagen. A special performance at The Royal Theatre was arranged for the employees, and an anniversary dinner took place at the old Stock Exchange, attended by the Danish king, queen and two princesses.
The fleet consisted of:
- 13 passenger ships
- 53 cargo ships
- 4 tugboats 39 barges
- Total gross tonnage was 188,725 tons or 215,650 tons deadweight
DFDS had interests in:
- Mols Line A/S
- Hotel Codan A/S
- Elsinore Shipyard A/S
- Frederikshavn Shipyard A/S
A comprehensive newbuilding program with 25 ships on order.
SUFFOLK and SUSSEX, the first ro/ro ships entered service.
Mols Line began operation on 18 May.
New liners to USA and South America entered service.
BOTNIA, the last steamship, was sold after more than 50 years of service. DFDS was no longer a steamship company.
In January 1967 the white cross logo was introduced on the funnel.
New tonnage on the Copenhagen-Oslo route KONG OLAV V and PRINSESSE MARGRETHE entered into service in 1968.
Mols Linien had four ferries in 1969 - departure every hour. Expansion of Esbjerg Container Terminal.
Domestic passenger traffic was discontinued in 1970 and domestic freight service in 1971. A great chapter in the history of DFDS had come to an end.
Passenger service in the Mediterranean from Genoa to Tunis and Malaga began on 25 June 1971 with DANA CORONA and DANA SIRENA, the converted newbuildings from the Copenhagen-Aalborg service.
The requirement for transport of cars was sharply on the rise at the beginning of the 1970s. Tonnage was designed to accommodate this, and all DFDS passenger routes were served by passenger ships with roll-on/roll-off facilities.
At the same time, DFDS passenger traffic was converted to "floating hotels." So now the voyage was part of the vacation.
In 1972 all conventional freight traffic was switched to ro/ro traffic. The fleet was reduced to 20 ships through sale of unprofitable tonnage. Hotel Codan and other properties were sold.
DFDS began to "go ashore." From operating sea transport exclusively, DFDS started its own land transport company with the takeover of the haulage companies E.O.Hooks Ltd. in 1975 and Th. Pedersen & Søn Aps. and Marsden Freight Services Ltd. in 1976.
The 150,000th bacon container was transported across the North Sea since the beginning of ro/ro traffic in 1967.
The Transport Division was established and an integrated door-to-door transport system became a reality. In 1977 DFDS had achieved a leading position on the door-to-door market between Denmark and England.
In 1978 the passenger ship DANA ANGLIA entered into service on the North Sea together with the ro/ro ship DANA MAXIMA. The first collaboration with Tor Line AB began.
Upon acquisition of the German shipping company Prinzenlinien, in 1981 and the ships PRINZ HAMLET and PRINZ OBERON, DFDS began service between Hamburg and Harwich with DANA FUTURA in 1982.
In 1982 DFDS acquired Tor Line AB´s freight activities and six time-chartered ro/ro ships, and Scandinavian World Cruises began operation. Unfortunately there were large losses in the first year. Board and management disagreed on intervention, and the management resigned.
In 1983 the company was reorganized. An action plan was put into effect, unprofitable activities discontinued, tonnage sold, and number of employees reduced. Operation of Scandinavian World Cruises was discontinued, and Nordana Line and Mols Linien were sold.
In 1985 Niels Bach took over the helm. In 1986 DFDS was organized in four divisions: Passenger, Transport, Liner, and Tor Line, and for the first time in five years this lead to a positive operating result.
In 1987 the Transport Division and the Liner Division merged into DFDS Transport. The new division soon expanded, first in Sweden and subsequently acquired several forwarding companies in England and Holland.
As part of the continued internationalization it was decided in 1988 to introduce the marketing name Scandinavian Seaways for the DFDS passenger operations as a whole.
In 1989 Quality Crew, a project to improve service quality on the passenger ships was begun. In the same year DFDS Transport began air freight activities and expanded logistics activities.
Renewal of the passenger tonnage on the Copenhagen-Oslo route started with the acquisition in June 1990 of QUEEN OF SCANDINAVIA, a ship with a capacity of 2,000 passengers and 400 cars. QUEEN was followed by CROWN OF SCANDINAVIA, with a similar capacity, in 1994.
In 1992 DFDS took over Danish Food Transport, and the name was changed to DFDS Food Transport. DFDS Transport joined the European groupage alliance TEAM.
After two years of preparation the new DFDS logo was introduced in 1993, streamlining the DFDS identity.
During the 90s several companies were acquired, including:
- Georges de Ryck & Co,
- Elbe-Humber Line, Germany
- Enterprise Freight, Scotland
- Dan-Liet Line, Denmark Vejle Transport Co., Denmark, with subsidiary in Vilnius, Lithuania
The haulage companies:
- Transport-Service, Norway
- Dahlqvists Åkeri, Sweden
- Blueflite, Ireland
- ASAP Scandia, France
- John T. Howard, England
- TLM, England
- Spetra, Denmark
In 1995 the DFDS Group's new joint port in Immingham, England - DFDS Nordic Terminal - began operations. All DFDS ro/ro freight shipping in the UK was concentrated in Immingham and Harwich.
DFDS Travel and Maersk Travel were merged into Maersk-DFDS Travel - the biggest Danish-owned business travel bureau.
Tor Line introduced the "Bridge concept" : Anglo Bridge, EuroBridge, and ShortBridge, and four new transport systems: the Trailer System, the Car System, the Paper System, and the Steel System.
In 1998 DFDS took over Volvo's and Stora-Enso's terminals in Immingham. New terminals in Venlo, Holland, Birmingham and Manchester, England, began operations.
President and CEO Niels Bach retired after 14 years at the helm and Thorleif Blok became new president and CEO.
The DFDS Corporate Identity Program was updated. It was decided to include "DFDS" as part of all Group company names.
The acquisition of Dan Transport in 1999 was one of the largest in the history of DFDS. It concerned Dan Transport Holding A/S, including the Dan Transport Travel Bureau and Canal Tours Copenhagen. However, 17 months later the whole transport division, named DFDS Dan Transport Group A/S, was sold to transport group DSV. The focus was once again on the former core business activities: ro-ro liner traffic and passenger shipping on overnight routes.
After the sale of DFDS Dan Transport Group A/S, Thorleif Blok, President and CEO, resigned at the end of September 2000. He was succeeded by Ole Frie as new President and CEO of the DFDS group.
In connection with the takeover of Dan Transport Holding A/S in 1999, the share capital of DFDS A/S was increased by DKK 300 million to DKK 800 million. At the annual general meeting on 11 April 2002 Jan Erlund resigned after 17 years as Chair of the Board of DFDS. Ivar Samrén took over as new Chair.
In June 2001 the deal to acquire a 76.36% share in the Lithuanian shipping company LISCO was finalised. This formed the basis of DFDS’ current route network in the Baltic Sea.
In 2001 DFDS acquired the passenger vessel Pearl of Scandinavia, sailing on the Copenhagen/Helsingborg – Oslo route.
On 2 October 2002 a new passenger route between Copenhagen/Trelleborg and Gdansk in Poland was opened. Dana Anglia, which was renamed Duke of Scandinavia, was put into service on the route. However, the route was discontinued approximately one year later.
In September 2003 the DFDS headquarters moved from Sankt Annæ Plads, Copenhagen, where it had been since 1871.
In September 2004 a new terminal, the DFDS Terminal, opened at Dampfærgevej 30, Copenhagen, and the DFDS Seaways Oslo service moved to the new premises after being based at nearby Kvæsthusbroen since 1974.
The Cuxhaven – Harwich passenger route was opened in March 2002. It was closed in November 2005 due to increasing economic pressure from low-cost airlines and the cessation of on-board duty-free sales between EU countries in 1999.
From 2003-2006 DFDS Tor Line took delivery of six large ro-ro vessels built by Flensburger Schiffbaugesellschaft GmbH. They were named Tor Magnolia, Tor Primula, Tor Begonia, Tor Petunia, Tor Freesia and Tor Ficaria.
Lys-Line Rederi AS and Lys-Line AS were taken over 100% by DFDS in 2005. In August 2005 DFDS purchased 66% of the trailer forwarding company Halléns NV in Belgium.
In 2006 DFDS acquired the container shipping company Norfolk Line Containers BV. In July 2006 DFDS Nordic Terminal in Immingham was opened. It covers a total area of 720,000 sq m, and has six ro-ro berths. The extension cost more than GBP 40 million and was built in co-operation with Associated British Ports (ABP). More than 600 people are employed at the terminal.
In September 2006 DFDS took over the route between Bergen/Haugesund/Stavanger – Newcastle from the Norwegian shipping company Fjord Line, and the DFDS route between Gothenburg/Kristiansand –Newcastle was closed on 1 November 2006. The acquired route was not profitable, however, and was closed in 2008.
At the end of 2006 Ole Frie retired as CEO after 46 years at DFDS, and Niels Smedegaard was appointed new CEO.
In 2008 the passenger service between western Norway and Newcastle was closed due to lack of profitability.
In 2009 the ro-pax route between Lübeck and Riga was sold to Baltic ferry company Scandlines, and in 2010, after the takeover of Norfolkline, the Zeebrügge – Rosyth (Scotland) route was changed to a freight-only service.
Between 2001 and 2007 the Group sold 27 vessels, including five passenger vessels, as part of the fleet strategy set out in 2001 to reduce the average age of the fleet.
From 2008 to 2010 four ro-ro newbuildings were chartered by DFDS from a yard in China and put into service on routes in the Baltic Sea (Tor Corona) and the North Sea (Tor Fionia, Tor Jutlandia and Tor Hafnia).
In 2009 Tor Ficaria, Tor Freesia and Tor Begonia were extended by 30 metres, and Tor Ficaria was equipped with a scrubber, which can remove sulphur and other particles from the exhaust gases.
With a new strategy from 2007, the focus was on raising the profitability of the existing activities in order to prepare for new acquisitions. This strategic goal was reached in 2010 when DFDS made the largest and most important acquisition in its history, taking over Norfolkline from AP Moller – Maersk. Norfolkline operated shipping routes on the English Channel, the North Sea and the Irish Sea, and also had substantial logistics activities.
Furthermore, in 2010 DFDS sold DFDS Canal Tours, since it was not regarded as a core activity and produced no synergies with the DFDS Group’s other activities.
In 2008 Niels Smedegaard introduced a new structure and appointed a new executive board. In 2009 Bent Østergaard became Chair of the Board of Directors. In 2010, when the takeover of Norfolkline was completed, Niels Smedegaard introduced the present structure: a shipping division and a logistics division for the commercial activities, and a finance division.
In 2010 DFDS introduced a new branding strategy with new colours for the ships and trailers, and the new brand names DFDS Seaways and DFDS Logistics replaced all former names. There was also a new visual identity for the company, still based on the Maltese cross, which has been a part of the company logo since 1866. This logo was further refined and updated in 2015.
Later, in 2010/2011, the unprofitable routes on the Irish Sea were sold to Sweden-based ferry company Stena (Belfast – UK) or closed (Dublin – UK).
Between 2012 and 2019 the following logistics companies were acquired by DFDS: Karlshamn Express (2012), cold chain companies Steff and Quayside (2014). Shetland Transport was bought in 2016, Sweden-based Italcargo in 2017, Netherlands-based Alpha Trans in 2017 and Huisman in 2018. Finnish logistics company Freeco followed in 2019. UK fish delivery service company Colley brothers became part of DFDS in 2019.
During this period, acquisitions included Scandinavian Shipping Line (Kapellskär – Paldiski) in 2012.
In 2015 DFDS chartered two freight and passenger ferries from Eurotunnel to operate on the Channel routes, following a competition case about Eurotunnel’s involvement in MyFerryLink. This was the company established by the cooperative SCOP by ex-employees of SeaFrance after SeaFrance’s bankruptcy. This triggered an industrial dispute that included the closure of the Channel services and the hijacking of the two vessels by union members. Negotiations were held with the French government and court cases were pursued until settlement agreements were entered into.
In 2016 DFDS celebrated its 150th anniversary with several initiatives, including assembling the world’s largest Lego ship, put together in blocks by colleagues at locations throughout DFDS. The Board granted all employees 30 shares in DFDS.
From 2016 to 2018 DFDS ordered a series of six mega-freight ferries with capacity for 450 trailers each – the largest ever in the DFDS fleet – from the Jinling shipyard in China. The ships were delivered in a series from 2019-2021 for service in the Mediterranean and the North Sea. They were named Ephesus Seaways, Gallipoli Seaways, Humbria Seaways, Hollandia Seaways and Flandria Seaways.
In 2017 two very large combined freight and passenger ferries for the Baltic Sea were ordered from the Guangzhou Shipyard in China. They will be delivered in 2021.
In 2017 DFDS signed an agreement with Stena Ro-Ro for the charter of a new passenger and freight ferry for the English Channel, to be delivered from a Chinese shipyard in 2022.
On 21 December 2017 DFDS closed its Esbjerg terminal after many decades of service to buy terminal services at Blue Water Shipping’s new terminal in Esbjerg. Due to a change of structure, larger ships and unified trailer goods, there were too few tasks for a dedicated terminal.
In 2018 DFDS made its financially largest expansion ever with the acquisition of the Turkish freight ferry operator U.N. Ro-Ro. It operated 12 ro-ro vessels between Türkiye and Italy/France, and terminals in Trieste and Pendik in Türkiye. A terminal and further ships were added to the company to help it offer rail transport to and from industrial regions in the EU.
On 1 May 2019 CFO Torben Carlsen assumed the role as CEO of DFDS, following Niels Smedegaard’s resignation.
Torben Carlsen gathered a new Executive Management team consisting of:
Karina Deacon, CFO
Peder Gellert, EVP of Ferry Division
Niklas Andersson, EVP of Logistics Division
Anne-Christine Ahrenkiel, Chief People Officer and EVP of People Division
Rune Keldsen, Chief Technology Officer, EVP of Technology and IT.
In 2019 DFDS opened a new route between Gothenburg and Zeebrugge, mainly to service Swedish paper manufacturer Stora Enso. Two ships operating on the previous route (Schieborg and Slingeborg, which were renamed Belgia Seaways and Gothia Seaways) were taken over by DFDS.
In 2020 DFDS was massively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions between countries. The Amsterdam – Newcastle passenger ferries were laid up for several months, as were the ferries on the Oslo – Copenhagen route. When the Copenhagen – Oslo route reopened on 4 July, DFDS also opened a new route between Frederikshavn and Oslo, also serviced by the Oslo ferries Pearl and Crown Seaways.
COVID-19 affected DFDS operations, schedules and results throughout the year, and caused redundancies of about 10% of all employees. It also forced new ways of working from home, using digital solutions.
Carl Frederik Tietgen
DFDS' founding father, the Danish financier Carl Frederik Tietgen, was born in Odense in 1829. After completing school he was apprenticed to a merchant, before becoming one of the most important figures in the history of Danish shipping.
A History of Mergers and Acquisitions
DFDS is always trying to improve our customer’s experience, and this can sometimes mean joining forces with another company in order to enter a new region or a new market.
See the history of DFDS’ recent mergers and acquisitions, and learn more about our expanding Freight and Logistics networks.
DFDS purpose and strategy
DFDS strives for continuous improvement of our customer services and operational efficiency, development of our digital capabilities, and leveraging the strength of our European platform through acquisition.
How DFDS is structured
DFDS' business structure comprises of two divisions and two corporate service functions.