More Information | Print Page | Sign In
Virginia Maritime Association's History

America's First Port

The Virginia's ports have been a boon to Virginia and the world for nearly four centuries. From the early founding as "America's First Port" at Jamestown in 1607 through the era of the great clipper ships to the present day sophistication of computerized inter-modal technology, Virginia has been at the forefront of every major change in the shipping industry. The early growth of the Commonwealth was due to the cooperative effort of private and public servants, each investing their time to strengthen the outlook for Virginia’s future. Soon commerce and trade began to flourish.

The Virginia Maritime Association

The Virginia Maritime Association (VMA) was organized in 1920 to promote, protect and encourage international and domestic commerce through Virginia’s ports. First known was the Norfolk Maritime Exchange (1920), the association has undergone several name changes reflecting the growth and influence throughout the region and Commonwealth over the past century:

  • Hampton Roads Maritime Exchange (1922)
  • Hampton Roads Maritime Association (1945)
  • Virginia Maritime Association (2006)

The Virginia Maritime Association seeks and advocates for the continued growth of Virginia’s maritime industries and plays a significant leadership role to ensure that Virginia remains competitive as it relates to waterborne commerce.

Highlighted advocacy & historical milestones by vMA:

1920 13 February, 56 maritime business leaders sign as the founding members of the Norfolk Maritime Exchange.
1923 Exchange actively persists and purchase of fire-boat to protect port.
1924 The exchange recommended to Congress to fund Norfolk Harbor project and Thimble Shoal Channel, the beginning of VMA's journey on advocating for the widening and deepening of the harbor and channels.

The first Virginia Ports Annual is published.
1926 Requests and achieves funding from Congress for channel improvements for Southern and Eastern Branches of Elizabeth River.
1928 Exchange obtains authorization for additional anchorage off Lambert's Point to manage increased demands.
1936 Installation of bulk cargo handling facilities, placing port in forefront of the ports on Atlantic coast.
1939 Exchange lends aid to the development of a Municipal airport in Norfolk.
1941 In 1941, the Hampton Roads Maritime Exchange developed a committee to address ways to aid the government defense program in WWII. Vessels were assigned to Hampton Roads under the Lend Lease Act, and moved $11B in war material.
1956 Quote from 1956 Annual " This was a banner year. Never before in the long history of the port, has there been as much business, as many ports, as many new and expanded facilities and services, as many ships loading and unloading, or sailing to as many ports, as many people earning a living on maritime activities, nor a keener understanding of the value of the port to the community and the State."
1957 Initiated and sponsored by Hampton Roads Maritime Association (HRMA) in 1945, the Craney Island Disposal Area project began operations in 1957 at the cost of $6.5M.
1966 Harry M. Thompson, executive vice president and secretary retires after 46 years of service to the Association.
1972 Through the efforts of VMA, in 1972 the ports of Norfolk, Portsmouth, & Newport News were unified under the VA Port Authority.
1977 Lack of proper state funding for port development is impetus for HRMA to employ a legislative representative in Richmond.
1981 Many factors have contributed to the port's phenomenal growth, but none is as important as unification of the ports in the Hampton Roads harbor. In 1981, the Virginia General Assembly passed landmark legislation designed to unify the ports under a single agency, the Virginia Port Authority, with a new single operating company, Virginia International Terminals, Inc. Unification has made Hampton Roads one of the fastest growing port complexes in the United States.
1986 After years of advocacy by HRMA, legislation passed authorizing 55-foot channel project for Hampton Roads.
1993 HRMA awarded the President's "E Star" Award for export service by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
2003 Defended against a major initiative to tax waterfront pier owners retroactively and prospectively that would have cost the industry millions of dollars annually. VMA efforts resulted in a statutory exemption for the maritime industry.
The Association's name changes officially from the Hampton Roads Maritime Association to the Virginia Maritime Association. (Clipping from the Daily Press)
2008 Secured state funding to enable construction of the Heartland Corridor project designed to significantly reduce transit times to the Midwest market.
2013 Reacted to unsolicited proposals for privatization of the state-owned terminals. The General Assembly took three actions related to privatization of the operations at state-owned terminals: 1) Legislation was passed that will institute reforms at the Virginia Port Authority (VPA)/Virginia International Gateway (VIT) designed to eliminate redundancy and reduce expenses. This legislation also prevents the Commonwealth from accepting unsolicited proposals under the PPTA for VPA facilities and operations while preserving its ability to partner with the private sector. 2) The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) is directed to study the port’s competitiveness, efficiency and governance structure and report its findings to the General Assembly. 3) Lawmakers amended the state budget to include language prohibiting any sale or lease of the Port of Virginia until a comprehensive study of port operations has been completed, and any such sale or lease has been subsequently approved by the General Assembly.
2014 The General Assembly amended the Code of Virginia relating to the Board of Commissioners of the VPA to specify "the Governor shall appoint at least one member with maritime shipping experience from a list of at least three nominees provided by the Virginia Maritime Association, who shall not be a paid member of the Virginia Maritime Association or have any other conflict of interest with the Virginia Port Authority.” This change was sought by VMA to ensure the maritime community would always have representation on the Virginia Port Authority Board.
2016 Virginia General Assembly appropriates $350 million in funding toward capital improvements for Norfolk International Terminals. This one time funding is the largest single allocation of state funds toward port infrastructure to date.

February 13, 2020 is the 100th anniversary of the Virginia Maritime Association, marking a century of maritime growth in Virginia. The event is known as "VMA2020."

Thank you to our Anchor Members



Virginia Maritime Association
236 E. Plume Street Norfolk, VA 23510
Phone: 757-622-2639
Fax: 757-622-6302