This is another German marvel from the North German Lloyd, SS Kaiser Wilhelm II. She was launched August 12, 1902, at the Vulcan Company in Bredow near Stettin. She was a great leap forward in liner design for her time. She was the largest liner in the world at the time of her introduction. She was also one of the ‘safest’ ships afloat. Her capacity was 775 first class passengers in 290 rooms, 343 second class in 107 rooms, and 770 third class. In addition to being large, she was also built to be fast. She won the Blue Riband for the fastest eastbound crossing in 1904. This ship was not the first to be named Kaiser Wilhelm II. There was another built in 1889
Kaiser Wilhelm II saw regular service on the Atlantic run. Her popularity with the immigrant trade had much to do with her appearance. Her paired four funnels towered overhead. Her speed made her even more attractive. Her accommodations in each class were impressive for her time. Her massive first class dining room was three decks high with a stained glass rectangular dome allowing sunlight through.
The first World War broke out and the Kaiser was steaming west. Every effort was made to keep her from encountering British cruisers and she arrived late in New York two days later. In 1917, she found herself in New York again as the United States entered the war. She was seized. Just before the Americans came aboard, the German crew sabotaged her engines.
The United States worked to repair the damage and began converting the Kaiser to a troop transport. During this refit, she housed American troops. The Kaiser Wilhelm II was renamed Agamemnon and she began carrying men destined for war. Speeding back and forth across the Atlantic, she often encountered German u-boats. There was also a severe outbreak of the flu aboard.
After the war ended, Agamemnon transported soldiers back to their homeland. Nearly 42,000 soldiers were ferried home between her decks. Quite a bit more than she took to the front lines. The United States decommissioned her late 1919 and the War Department took control of her to continue her transport mission.
In the 1920s, the Agamemnon was removed from service as a transport and renamed Monticello. This ship would never sail again. She sat for decades and was considered too old to be useful in a new World War. She was scrapped in 1940.
The third four funneled liner from history was also German. Her name was Kronprinz Wilhelm. She was the successor to the wildly popular Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. She entered service in 1901 on the on the North Atlantic immigration route. She was quite fast and caught the Blue Ribband speed record in 1902. She was considered to have beautiful interiors. Her magnificent first class dining salon rose three decks with a glass dome overhead. Her suites were fitted out in the best satins and silks. As with the other German four funneled liners before her, she followed the pattern of pairing the funnels in pairs. A person could tell from a distance they were looking at a German greyhound. Germany was very proud of their new ship.
The onset of war means the ships that belong to the involved nations often get used for purposes other than what they were originally designed for. During the First World War, the SS Kronprinz Wilhelm became an armed merchant cruiser. She was to begin raids on allied commerce. She was staffed with a crew specially trained in search and seizure, expecting to capture ships belonging to the enemy. She was successful with at least 15 of these seizes.
Coal is a very important element in the stories of the early superliners. It was the fuel for the engines. Without it, a ship can’t go much of anywhere. During WWI, coal supplies became very difficult to find. These big and fast ships burn tons and tons of coal in order to maintain speed. This fact and an outbreak of sickness aboard resulted in SS Kronprinz Wilhelm’s internment in 1915. She was laid up in Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth. She was in American territory because the US was still a neutral country. She would be safe in this environment.
In 1917, after the sinking of the RMS Lusitania by a German u-boat, the United States entered The Great War. SS Kronprinz Wilhelm was seized by the US government and renamed USS Von Steuben. She returned to her previous war time roll of being an armed merchant cruiser, but this time for United States. By the time Von Steuben returned to the seas, America and the Allies controlled most of the Atlantic. There was not much need for an armed merchant ship. (Had she remained in German hands, she would have been more active.) Von Steuben was reassigned to be a troop transport. For four weeks she stayed along the American east coast, taking men and supplies from one port to another. On Halloween of 1917, she embarked on her very first transatlantic voyage under her new name. Von Steuben received a bit of damage from colliding with the USS Agamemnon, which was also began her life as a German ocean liner SS Kaiser Wilhelm II. This resulted in men being thrown off the ships forcibly due to the accident. Von Steuben headed to Halifax, Nova Scotia for coal in December of 1917 and was rocked by a massive explosion. This explosion was not on Von Steuben. It was the SS Mont Blank, a French ammunition ship. The explosion devastated the shore line and caused a tsunami wave to crash into the land. The blast could be heard and felt for miles. Von Steuben stayed to help on the scene. She then headed toward Philadelphia. During the next months she went to Cuba and Panama.
This ship made it’s way into history’s sunset in 1923 when she was scrapped, but not before having her name changed again to USS Baron Von Steuben,and then back again to Von Steuben. She was scrapped in Boston.
So many people in this world are familiar with the date of April 15. What does April 15th mean to you? Not only is it American ‘tax day,’ but it marks the anniversary of the most famous world changing maritime disaster in all of history. This was the “Night to Remember.” Hollywood has made many films about this night. There have been countless books published and music albums, television parodies and even a Broadway musical released about this night. In the year 1912, April 15 became a date that would change the world. Nightmares were born this night, as approximately 1,500 came face-t0-face with their own mortality, amongst the ice fields and frigid temperatures of the North Atlantic Ocean.
By now, you realize the identity of this event. However, that is probably due to a Hollywood production directed by James Cameron. While I laud this film because of set decoration and design, special effects, core love story, and a renewed spark in the interest of this historic night, it is far from truth. There are details to the story of the wreck of the RMS Titanic that weren’t even touched in this film. In fact, it nearly angers me that most of my friends think that EVERY four funneled ocean liner they see a photograph of is RMS Titanic.
With this said, I’d like to ask a few questions. Can anyone name the very first four stacker in history? Can you name the last four stacker in history? Do you know why the Olympic class liners were built? Can you name RMS Titanic’s two sisters? (Titanic was a ‘middle child.’)
This is the introduction to a series of informational blogs that will highlight the careers of each of the only fourteen four funneled ocean liners in maritime history. Never forget the lesson we learned due to the disaster of RMS Titanic, or the ships that led to and followed her concept. Never cease to learn about immigration history, world history, and maritime history. Ships are celebrated because of their personalities and the connections they have with millions of American immigrants who came to the United States aboard these very vessels. Some have broken speed records. Some have been admired for interior design. All should be celebrated as amazing pieces of technology. Come take a look at the histories of the very ships that shaped our perceptions of the classic ocean liner. What ship first captured your attention?
The topic I am about to expound on is not that of an ocean liner. I want to discuss a different kind of vessel. While ocean liners are designed to battle the ferocious North Atlantic Ocean with its mountainous swells unpredictable storms, steamboats are designed for the peaceful inland waterways of America’s rivers. The legacy of the riverboat is undeniable. They have been immortalized in song, in literature, in film, and in photograph. These vessels are a triumph of American invention and necessity. The configurations of riverboats are extremely diverse, as their form usually follows their ultimate function. The passenger steamboats are a triumph of design. Very few images capture the romance of the Mississippi River region from days-gone-by like the stern wheel of a river steamboat.
I currently live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. We have a beautiful downtown waterfront that just begs to be photographed. As I was walking with a friend on a gorgeous spring day I looked down toward Coolidge Park from the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge. There I saw a beautiful classic river steamboat docked below. This wasn’t the Southern Belle riverboat, Chattanooga’s tourist riverboat built in the 1980s.
This riverboat was authentic, and many times bigger than Southern Belle. Just above the huge red stern paddle wheel was the name DELTA QUEEN. I couldn’t resist and started snapping photos. At the time, I thought Delta Queen was just in for a visit. I soon learned that this was her new berth and that she was opening as a boutique hotel. I became fascinated with finding out everything I could about this vessel and her history.
In 1924, a nearly identical pair of riverboats were built in Dunbarton, Scotland at the William Denny & Brothers shipyard on the River Leven adjoining the River Clyde. (Incidentally, the Clyde in Scotland is the same river that John Brown & Co. is located on. This is the shipyard that built the famous Cunard ocean liners RMS Queen Mary, RMS Queen Elizabeth and RMS Queen Elizabeth 2.) These riverboats were dismantled in Scotland and shipped to Stockton, California in 1926. They were intended for use along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers (known as the ‘delta route’) and were named Delta King and Delta Queen. At the time of their assembly, they were the most lavishly decorated stern-wheel riverboats ever constructed.
On the main deck in the heart of each riverboat was built a magnificent grand staircase trimmed in teak and brass. The Delta Queen’s appointments were noticeably more detailed and expensive than the Delta King’s, but the pair were quickly to be come known as “the million dollar steamboats.”
The Delta King and Delta Queen began their careers on June 1, 1927 and replaced the aging steamboats Fort Sutter and Capital City. Both the King and the Queen sailed reliably for thirteen years before their service ended in 1940 due to the construction of a highway between Sacramento and San Francisco. Both steamboats were retired and laid up for a short time.
Then in October of 1940, the US Navy requisitioned the Delta Queen. She became a receiving ship for naval reservists and served for about a year in this manner. Both Delta Queen and Delta King were sold to a New York company, and were intended to be towed through the Panama Canal to the Hudson. However, just as the US Navy had completed their use for Delta Queen (and King), Pearl Harbor was attacked. Both vessels were rushed back into service with the US Navy where they became emergency hospital transports. Now the Deltas were known as ‘Yard House Boats – YHB.’ Delta King was YHB-6 and Delta Queen became YHB-7. In 1944, they were re-classified as ‘Hard House Ferries.’
One major distinction for Delta Queen over Delta King is the Queen’s involvement in the 1945 founding of the United Nations. Between April and June of 1945, Delta Queen hosted delegates of the original 51 nations gathered to create the United Nations, touring San Fransisco Bay. This important task was short-lived and the boats were laid up once more, this time as part of the ‘mothball fleet’ of Suisun Bay. Fortunately for Delta Queen, this lay up wouldn’t last long, and the King and Queen would part ways.
Delta King was nearly bought in 1946 by Southeast Asia Importing & Exporting Co. of Siam. After placing their bid, SAIE lost interest in purchasing the steamboat when they realized she was a paddlewheeler and not intended for ocean voyages. The Delta King was intended to be sold at auction several times, but nobody seemed interested, or intended plans failed. Finally in 1952, Delta King was sold to Kitmat Constructors in British Columbia to be used to house workers at their aluminum plant construction site. Sadly, her engines were removed and sent back to California where they would be bought by the owner of Delta Queen as replacement parts. Delta King would never sail under her own power again. She was beached at high tide and became a landlocked housing dormitory for the next seven years. Then in 1959, Delta King was re-floated and returned to Stockton, California where she was originally assembled. The intention was to transform Delta King into a museum and theater boat. This scheme never came to be. Inadequate funding, inexperience and legal issues halted the restoration. Delta King sat neglected as legal disputes surrounding the ownership of the riverboat waged for about a decade.
In December of 1946, a man named Captain Tom R. Greene bought Delta Queen for use on the historic Ohio River route. Delta Queen was prepped for a long voyage through the Panama Canal, and was accompanied by the tow boat Osage. After braving over 5,200 miles of open sea and the canal, Delta Queen arrived in New Orleans on May 18, 1947. She re-entered service in the summer of 1948 after a refit and a $750,000 overhaul. Delta Queen ferried passengers along the Ohio River for 10 years. In 1958, she was put up for sale. Fortunately a California businessman bought her and she continued her service until 1966 when the US Congress passed a bill declaring all ships and boats with a passenger capacity of over 50 to be required to have a metal superstructure due to fire hazard. Fortunately, exemptions were made by influential congressmen and supporters for the Delta Queen which allowed her to continue her service through 1970. In this year, the Queen was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and a she sailed a farewell cruise from St. Paul to New Orleans as her congressional exemption expired. Just as it seemed to be the end of the line for Delta Queen , President Nixon personally signed another exemption for her to continue service. The very next year, Delta Queen was given her own postmark when she was contracted to carry US Mail.
On the west coast in the famous summer of 1969, a group of people calling themselves “Riverboat’s Comin’!” took interest in returning Delta King to Sacramento. In a controversial scheme involving the owner of the property where Delta King was moored, “Riverboat’s Comin’” obtained a request to have the riverboat moved away from the dock. Even though this group technically did not own the riverboat, they had the King towed to Sacramento where she was greeted by onlookers, newspaper reporters, television cameras and the police. In Sacramento the night of July 20, the news of the moon landing (which took place on that very night) competed with the news about Delta King’s return. Opinions about the event ranged from joy over preservation of a historical vessel to outrage over the piracy of ‘stealing’ a riverboat. On the 25th the Delta King was re-christened during a large gala attended by the mayor and other city officials, just before US Marshals seized the riverboat. Eventually, “Riverboat’s Comin’” won the rights to Delta King and they continued their fund-raising and restoration efforts. On October 12, 1969, the group threw the very first Dixieland Jazz Festival in Sacramento and Delta King was the center attraction. However in 1973, the ownership disputes returned and Delta King was once again towed away. The public was told the riverboat was returning to San Fransisco. In reality, she was hidden in a marsh near Collinsville and was left completely unattended. There, the King became stuck in the mud. When the tide rose, she was flooded up to her freight deck. Eventually, the water was pumped out and she was freed from the mud, then towed to Rio Vista while the legal battles continued to rage. Years later, while still sitting empty due to ownership legalities,
Delta King got stuck again and partially sank in much the same manner as she had done before, only this time the damage was greater. Finally in 1982, Delta King was pumped out once again as investors took interest in restoring her for the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park. This plan never came to be. The details over Delta King’s ownership went back and forth for a number of years while she was being refurbished. In 1989, Delta King Hotel opened to the public. She remains a beautiful part of the Sacramento riverfront to this day. You can learn more HERE.
Part TWO coming soon! Until then, enjoy my slide show video Delta Queen: A Photographic Tour. All photos by me!