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Mongolia at sea, a familiar image in this case from a contemporary print

S.S. Mongolia

Other names: Minnelora, President Fillmore, Panamanian
Sisters: Manchuria, Minneapolis, Minnehaha, Minnetonka, Minnewaska (III), Arabic
Builder: New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey, hull number 5
Laid down June 7, 1902; launched July 25, 1903; delivered February 5, 1904; maiden voyage May 7, 1904; scrapped in Hong Kong, 1947/8
Hull: length 615' 5"; beam 65' 4"; 13,639 tons; schooner-rigged; 4 decks and shelter deck sheathed in wood; 9 cemented bulkheads; cellular double bottom, aft 160',
under engine and boilers 113', forward 229', 2,270 tons; deep tank aft 25', 584 tons and 25', 588 tons; forward 35', 978 tons; forward peak tank 123 tons; aft peak tank 89 tons; holds 31' deep
Power: twin screws; quadruple expansion engines by her builders with cylinders of 30", 43", 63" and 89" diameter, stroke 60"; 1,923 n.h.p.
4 double-ended and 4 single-ended boilers; 36 corrugated furnaces; grate surface 636 sq. ft.; heating surface 28,276 square feet; 215 p.s.i.; originally coal fired but converted to oil in 1919
Code letters KSTH

 

With federal subsidies for ship operation under the America flag at last looking likely Bernard N. Baker decided, perhaps a little prematurely, to build up a fleet of American-flagged steamers. With a loan from J. P. Morgan he ordered two Minne class ships and four freighters from American yards. But the shipping subsidy bill failed and the International Mercantile Marine Company, which now owned the Atlantic Transport Line, decided to sell these ships as soon as possible because they could not be operated profitably under the American flag.

This ship was laid down on June 7, 1902, as the Minnelora for the Atlantic Transport Line, but she changed hands while still under construction and was launched on July 24, 1903, as the Mongolia. She was delivered to her new owner, the wealthy railroad executive Edward H. Harriman, on February 5, 1904. Initially she was leased to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company but in 1911, two years after Harriman's death, Mongolia was sold to it. She and her sister were used on the on the trans-Pacific service (San Francisco, Hawaii, Hong Kong) from 1904 to 1915.

The Mongolia went aground on the western side of Midway Island on September 16, 1906, but succeeded in getting off again even before the arrival of the ships Buford, Iroquois, and Restorer, all of which went to her aid from Honolulu. She later ran aground off the Japanese coast at Moji on April 23, 1907, and again at Idzu on July 16, 1910.

In 1915, according to the New York Times, the Pacific Mail Steamship Company began selling its fleet "owing to inability to compete with Japanese steamship lines in the Pacific trade under the La Follette Seaman's Law." The five largest steamers in the fleet (Manchuria, Mongolia, Korea, Siberia, and China) were sold to the Atlantic Transport Company of West Virginia for $5,250,000 to replace wartime losses. Evidently $1,500,000 was paid for Mongolia. When the Mongolia arrived in San Francisco for the last time on October 27, 1915, she was searched by customs officials acting on a tip, who found 86 Chinese stowaways on board. "There were stowaways everywhere imaginable, some in places that spoke of great inventiveness," according to Robert Barde's article about the incident in Steamboat Bill.

The Mongolia steamed out of San Francisco on November 9 bound for New York via Cape Horn. She commenced her first voyage to London on January 5, 1916. Her ninth and final voyage on this route started on March 18, 1917, and afterwards she became a U.S. Transport (#SP 1615). On 19 April 1917, en route to England, she engaged a German submarine in the Channel and claimed to have sunk it with her first shot — the first round fired by American forces in the war. The Mongolia was taken over by the Navy in April 1918 to serve as a transport and made 13 voyages to France before she was decommissioned on 11 September, 1919, and returned to her owners. See Joe Hartwell's Mongolia page for more wartime images and information.

The International Mercantile Marine Company wanted to use the Mongolia on the Atlantic Transport Line's first class only London to New York passenger cargo service after the war ended but the U.S. Shipping Board would not permit the service to be resumed. As a result the Mongolia was instead assigned to the American Line and in Jan.1920 commenced her first voyage for it from New York to Hamburg, Antwerp, Southampton and New York. From February 1925 she sailed on the New York to Panama and San Francisco route for the Panama Pacific Line ("a new venture by the IMM to run an intercoastal service between New York and California"). Her last voyage on this route, which ended in October 1929, was marred by the suicide of a troubled young man in tourist class and the death of a 37-year old lady passenger.

In October of 1929 she was replaced on the West Coast run by the new turbo-electric liner Pennsylvania and sold to the Dollar Line. She was reconditioned (rebuilt to 15,575 gross tons), fitted with accommodation for 300 first class passengers and renamed President Fillmore. She sailed for this line on its celebrated "round the world" service until November 1931 when she was laid up at New York. While laid up, she came under the ownership of American President Line in 1938. She was sold to Wallem & Co. in February 1940, transferred to Panamanian registry, and renamed Panamanian. She was badly damaged by fire while loading flour at the north wharf at Fremantle in January 1945. Although repaired after the fire she was scrapped at Hong Kong in 1947-48.

Sources: The Atlantic Transport Line, 1881-1931; The Ships List; Gilbert Provost's Register of Ships; Passenger Ships of the World Past and Present, Eugene W. Smith, Massachusetts, 1977; Stories of the Great Railroads, Charles Edward Russell, 1912, p.278; A Century of Atlantic Travel: 1830-1930, Frank Charles Bowen, 1930; The Red Star Line and the International Mercantile Marine Company, Vernon E.W. Finch, Antwerp, 1988; "The Scandalous Ship Mongolia," Robert Barde, Steamboat Bill, Spring 2004; Transpacific Steam: The Story of Steam Navigation from the Pacific Coast, E. Mowbray Tate, 1986; http://home.vicnet.net.au; Joe Hartwell's Mongolia page; http://oceans1.customer.netspace.net.au; www.apl.com; www.coltoncompany.com; The New York Times, June 30, 1898; August 14, 1915, March 9, 1917; May 22, 1917; December 23, 1918; December 11, 1922; October 17, 1929

Mongolia at sea, a familiar image in this case from a contemporary print (Kinghorn)
Mongolia at sea, a familiar image in this case from a contemporary print (Kinghorn)

This brochure issued by the Panama Pacific Line c.1910-15 describes the ships and their service (Kinghorn)
This brochure, issued by the Panama Pacific Line c.1910-15,
describes the ships and their service (Kinghorn)
Click for PDF file (40,441 KB)

This image of a steamer coaling in Nagasaki appears to depict either Mongolia or Manchuria,
This image of a steamer coaling in Nagasaki appears to depict either Mongolia or Manchuria,
or a remarkably similar ship (Kinghorn)

Colored postcard of the Mongolia
Colored postcard of the Mongolia at sea (Kinghorn)

The Mongolia at sea, from a photo postcard (Kinghorn)
The Mongolia at sea, from a photo postcard (Kinghorn)

Colored postcard of the MongoliaColored postcard of the Mongolia
Colored postcards of the Mongolia at sea (eBay)

ongolia painted with neutrality markings, circa 1915-1917
The Mongolia painted with neutrality markings, c.1915-1917 (Navy History and Heritage Command)

Navy Historical center Photo #: NH 41973
One of the forward six-inch guns, taken at sea in April 1917 (Navy History and Heritage Command)

Navy Historical Center Photo #: NH 50252
The Mongolia at the New York Navy Yard, June 28, 1918, after being painted in pattern camouflage (Navy History and Heritage Command)

Mongolia in peacetimeMongolia at war
Two photographs of Mongolia, in peacetime and at war

Postcard "issued by the Jewish Welfare Board to the soldiers
Postcard "issued by the Jewish Welfare Board to the soldiers and sailors of the U.S. Army & Navy"
(Navy History and Heritage Command)

The Mongolia tied up in Hamburg while sailing for the American Line, from a photo postcard (Kinghorn)
The Mongolia tied up in Hamburg while sailing for the American Line, from a photo postcard (Kinghorn)

Color postcard issued by the Pacific Mail SS Co.  (Kinghorn)
A color postcard issued by the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. (Kinghorn)

 


For more information ...

Kinghorn "The Atlantic Transport Line 1881 - 1931" McFarland, 2011

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