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Other Names: President Johnson, Tagus, Santa
Sisters: Mongolia, Minneapolis, Minnehaha, Minnetonka, Minnewaska (III), Arabic
Builder: New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey, yard number 6
Launched November 2, 1903; delivered May 25, 1904; maiden voyage August 30, 1904; scrapped in Italy, 1952
Hull: length 615' 4"; beam 65' 3"; 13,639 tons
Power: twin screws, 2 4-cylinder quadruple expansion steam engines; 11,000 total n.h.p.; 4 double-ended and 4 single-ended fire tube boilers, 215 p.s.i.; originally coal fired but converted to oil in 1919
With federal subsidies for ship operation under the America flag at last looking likely Bernard N. Baker decided, imprudently 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 September 9, 1902, as the Minnekahda for the Atlantic Transport Line, but she changed hands while still under construction and was launched on November 2, 1903, as the Manchuria. She was delivered to her new owner, the wealthy railroad executive Edward H. Harriman, on May 25, 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.
On July 8, 1905, the Manchuria sailed from San Francisco on a goodwill tour of the Far East carrying a large U.S. Congressional delegation under the leadership of Secretary of War, William Howard Taft. In 1906 she ran aground at Waimanalo, Oahu, and the inter-island ship Maui and Tug Fearless worked successfully to dislodge the ship from the reef.
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 Manchuria. She managed to collide with the monitor USS Amphrite in New York harbor on June 13, 1917.
The Manchuria was taken over by the U.S. Navy in April 1918 (#SP 1633) and placed in commission on the 25th of that month with Commander Charles S. Freeman in command. During the rest of World War One she made five voyages to France, carrying American service personnel to the European war zone. When the fighting stopped the Manchuria began bringing veterans home, making nine trips from France to the United States for this purpose and repatriating some 39,500 troops. The last of these voyages ended at New York in late August 1919. The ship was decommissioned there in September and returned to her owner.
The International Mercantile Marine Company wanted to use the Manchuria 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 she was instead assigned to the American Line and worked its New York Hamburg route until 1923. She was then allocated to the Panama Pacific Line ("a new venture by the IMM to run an intercoastal service between New York and California") and began making trips between the U.S. East and West coasts.
In 1929 the Manchuria was sold to the Dollar Steamship Company for their celebrated round-the-World service, and renamed President Johnson. On October 26, 1938, she was acquired by the Maritime Commission and in 1940 she passed to the Tagus Navigation Company of Panama and was renamed Tagus.
In November 1941 the ship became a transport again, this time as a War Shipping Administration vessel under the control of the U.S. Army. She steamed out of San Francisco on December 5 heading for the Philippines but turned for home after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor two days later. Eight voyages shipping troops to Honolulu followed and in November 1942 she moved to the South Pacific, where for the next two years she supported amphibious operations. She made one post-war voyage to and from the Philippines and was sold in 1947 to the Tronsmar Navigation Company of Portugal and placed under Panamanian registry as the Santa Cruz. She spent the next several years under charter to the Societa Saicen of Savona, Italy carrying Italian emigrants to South America. After a long and gallant career she was eventually scrapped in Italy in 1952.
Sources: The Atlantic Transport Line, 1881-1931; The Ships List; Passenger Ships of the World Past and Present, Eugene W. Smith, Massachusetts, 1977; Dictionary of American Fighting Ships; www.history.navy.mil ; Merchant Fleets in Profile 2; the Ships of the Cunard, American, Red Star, Inman, Leyland, Dominion, Atlantic Transport and White Star Lines, Duncan Haws, 1979; 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; A Century of Atlantic Travel: 1830-1930, Frank Charles Bowen, 1930; Stories of the Great Railroads, Charles Edward Russell, 1912, p.278; www.coltoncompany.com; The New York Times, June 30, 1898: September 23, 1906; August 14, 1915; October 21, 1928
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