Bon voyage on the S.S. Great Northern in 1916

Apr 27, 2015 by

Relive the glamour of old-fashioned steamship travel with this colorful passengerIMG_2362 list from the S.S. Great Northern, a ship of the Great Northern Pacific Steamship Company. Now in our Orion’s Attic eBay store (Historical Memorabilia section), the passenger list unfolds into a panoramic view of luxury travel at its finest. Lounge in the sun or cut a rug on the dancing deck. Listen to sweet melodies in the music room. Spend an afternoon on the beach at Waikiki. This passenger list was for Voyage No. 4, which left Honolulu on February 4, 1916 and arrived in San Francisco on Feb. 9, 1916.

What makes our latest piece of historical ephemera so great is the typed note that is hand-signed. It was written to Miss M. Miller in care of The City Hall, Kansas City, Missouri. Postmarked from Honolulu, Hawaii and using a George Washington 2 Cents stamp, the return address reads “Alohanui Oe from Hawaii NEI February 9, 1916 E.C.V.” The typed note reads as follows [including the original typographical errors]:

“Sailing from Honolulu 11 p.m. Friday February 4th (19)16. This will show you how many passengers your Good Ship took away from the Islands. You will Also see that our friend MR Morse is no longer Connected with the Ship. He only made on trip After the one you made. I was sorry to learn Of his misfortune in loosing the Ship, as he Had been promoted to a good ship and the next Step would be Captain. Yours sincerely.” The note is hand-signed with two initials that appear to be E.C. as on the address and then the last name Vaughan or Vaugham.

IMG_2368I wish I had enough time to research who Mr. Morse was at that looks like another fascinating historical avenue to explore. The same goes for the note writer. I spent time trying to research the author of the note.  If it’s E.C. Vaughan, that happens to be the name of the famous British soldier from World War I whose diary was published in 1981 and became regarded as one of the best works about war written in the modern era. Unless Vaughan was capable of being in two places at once, though, I can’t imagine this is the same guy.

The Great Northern Pacific Steamship Company worked in tandem with a ship from the Great Northern Steamship Company. Both were founded by James Jerome Hill to promote business for his Great Northern & Northern Pacific Railways, of which they were subsidiaries. Both vessels were the largest passenger ships in the U.S. at the time they were built.

During summer Great Northern, advertised with her sister as “Palaces of the Pacific,” was engaged in the Astoria to San Francisco service. According to Wikipedia:

“The service was inaugurated during the Panama–Pacific International Exposition with a schedule of departure from Portland by steamer train with a three and a half hour trip to the pier in Astoria departing at 1:30 p.m. on the twenty-six hour trip to San Francisco, scheduled to arrive at Pier 25 of the Greenwich Street wharf at 3:30 p.m. starting 25 March. In winter Great Northern changed to a luxury service to Hawaii on a route of San Francisco  — Honolulu with passage out taking four days with the stop in Hilo long enough for a volcano visit by tourists. The two ships maintained into 1917 the Great Northern Railway’s sea link between the sights of the northwestern states and California with advertisements of the parks and sights connected by the railroad and the ship’s link to San Francisco.”

Despite the luxury travel that the S.S. Great Northern and its sister ship provided, however, both lines were a business failure. “The two lines were highly publicized and promoted, but ultimately were business failures owing to Hill’s lack of understanding of the shipping business,” The ShipsList.com reports.

All was not lost for the ship, though. Uncle Sam bought the S.S. Great Northern and converted it to military service in September 1917, taking the new name USS Great Northern (AG-9), USAT Great Northern and USS Columbia before returning to commercial Pacific Coast service as H. F. Alexander – according to Wikipedia writers. In 1942, the ship was acquired by the War Shipping Administration and again became an Army transport, USAT George S. Simonds. After layup in the reserve fleet 5 March 1946 the ship was sold to Boston Metals Company on 25 February 1948 for scrapping.

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