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.
After moving two more times, I think I am finally settled for a while. In a new/old town with a new job, I hope to be adding more ships to this blog. There has been some exciting hints into happenings with the SS United States, and some sad news for the venerable Delta Queen.
The happenings with the SS United States have been quite secretive due to agreements with donors and project coordinators. Every so often there is an email or a post in social media about things moving forward. I’m excited to finally see this speed queen be towed to her new home. I sincerely hope it is to her home port of New York.
The Delta Queen had been serving as a boutique hotel in beautiful Chattanooga, TN since 2009. The harsh winter of 2013-14 with its single digit temperatures (thanks to a phenomenon called ‘polar vortex’) water pipes aboard froze and burst, just as her congressional exemption to the SOLAS laws were approved. Instead of returning to service, she must be repaired. Since moving from Chattanooga, I’ve been attempting to find out what has happened to her since that awful winter.
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!
Thank you for stopping by ‘The Ocean Liner Blogger’s’ blog. If you have a passion for the era of the transatlantic passenger liner, then you are welcome to read and comment to your heart’s content!
Not long ago a friend of mine insisted that I start a blog about a passion of mine. I have many passions, but there is one passion that just won’t quit! I love American history. I also love ships, specifically the transatlantic passenger liners that brought immigrants to this country. Many people don’t realize that ocean liners are important to our national heritage. Without these marvels of engineering and purpose, the United States could not be everything that it is today. At the turn of the century when immigration was booming, the only way to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Europe was by ship. These ships became national symbols or ‘ships of state.’
For many people, upon hearing the term ‘ocean liner,’ there is only one name that comes to mind. Don’t get me wrong, RMS Titanic is well known for a variety of good reasons. (None of these reasons should have to do with the DiCaprio/Winslet film by James Cameron. The story in that film is undeniably false.) To true addicts such as myself, the term ‘ocean liner’ evokes images of grand ships with names like SS United States, RMS Majestic, SS Ile de France, RMS Mauretania, SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and many, many more.
Imagine yourself living in Europe around 1913, just before the First World War. You are a poor Irish farmer who has decided to try to make something of yourself, but realize that you cannot do this where you are. The threat of war looms over you. America is calling your name. You gather your family and sell nearly everything you have. You have begun the greatest adventure of your life. All of your money goes to paying for a train ticket to the nearest port town, we’ll say Queenstown, Ireland, and steerage class tickets aboard one of the largest moving objects ever made by man. Your train pulls into the station and everyone is unloaded. Here, you go through customs. Your body is thoroughly inspected from head to toe to ensure you carry no parasites or diseases. Your family is poked and prodded. Tomorrow is sailing day. The women and the men are separated, and you are led into a room full of bunks. Here is where you sleep. The food is not that great, but it is enough to last until you get aboard ship. The journey to port has exhausted you, but you cannot sleep for the fear and excitement of starting a new life. All of the snoring around you does not help. Neither does the smell. When the light of dawn creeps over the horizon, everyone is awakened and prepared for boarding. The steerage passengers are required to board first so the first class passengers are not offended by your presence. Nearly one thousand other steerage passengers around you are led to the ship. The next step of your journey is a week at sea aboard a behemoth you’ve only read about presuming that you can read. Where is the opulence, the service? This is reserved for the first and second class passengers. As a steerage passenger, you are treated as cattle. Only certain areas of the ship are accessible to you…
This is how the journey to the United States of America begins for nearly all immigrants during this age. This nation is built by the poor who risked their very lives to start over in the land of promise. Without the ocean liners to bring these immigrants to New York, this country would not have evolved into the nation it is today. In 1913, the ocean liner is the only way to cross.
Stay tuned for pieces of maritime history!