Ferdinand Laeisz was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1801, one of the 10 sons of Johann Laeisz. At an early age he showed his interest in the sea by shipping out on the Schooner Elizabeth. This turned out to be a short voyage as the ship was damaged in an accident.
In 1821 he went to work in Berlin in a top-hat factory - very fashionable in that time. Two years later he opened his own factory and by 1825 was exporting his hats to South America.
At 25 he married Miss Kreutzberg, their only son, Carl was born in 1828.
In 1830 Ferdinand sent three of his assistants to Valparaíso, Chile, on the sailing ship Princess Louisse, to establish a branch of the business. Two years later he opened a branch in Lima, Peru which was quickly followed by factories in Ecuador and the Philippines. These successful enterprises led him into importing cotton and sugar to Europe.
In 1839, at the age of 28, he ordered the construction of his first ship, a 220-ton wooden brig, from the Lübeck shipyards. He named the ship Carl in honor of his son.
In 1852 he brought his 24 year old son Carl into the business as a partner. To build up their shipping activity they bought the schooner Sophie Und Frederike and the brig Adolph. Followed in 1857 with the order from Stulcken shipyard in Hamburg of a 485-ton ship. This ship was named PUDEL after the nickname of Carl's wife, for her curly hair. The Pudel started the tradition of naming all later ships built for Laeisz with names beginning with the letter "P". Of the total of 84 sailing ships and 90 steamers and motor vessels of the Laeisz fleet, 76 received names that began with "P".
The shipping company became known as the "Flying P-Line" and was much respected in the international shipping circles for its 'day's run speeds'. The name was maintained through the two World Wars.
In 1862 the first of Laeisz's German sailing ships reached Valparaíso. The "Flying P Line" became quite well known in Chile with 70 of its ships serving the saltpeter trade, rounding Cape Horn with each voyage.
Names of ships related to Chile were Pampa, Paposo, Patagonia, Patria, Pera, Pisagua, Placilla and Poncho. For Chile the most famous ship was the 4 masted sailing ship PRIWALL which was sold to Chile at the start of the Second World War. She was renamed LAUTARO, whose unfortunate destiny is sadly remembered in this country.
Ferdinand Laeisz began to focus the company direction to shipping and away from export and import. He was instrumental in the founding of HAPAG and later in 1872 of KOSMOS and of HANSA in 1881. His ships covered shipping traffic to India, Africa, Australia and the Far East in addition to diverse Pacific routes which necessarily passed Chile.
Before his death in 1887 he founded various insurance and reinsurance companies to service exterior commerce and maritime transport.
This history briefly details the life of a young German, who with tenacity and imagination created the largest fleet of sailing ships in the world. He was a major participant in Chilean shipping at the height of its glory in the 19th century. His ships laden with saltpeter and other merchandise repeatedly rounded Cape Horn, giving testimony to the daring of their crews that sailed these waters to keep seaborne commerce flowing.