USAT Thomas

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For ships with a similar name, see USS Thomas.
Thomas in drydock to repair a broken propeller
Thomas in drydock to repair a broken propeller
Name: USAT Thomas
Namesake: General George Henry Thomas
Builder: Harland & Wolff, Belfast
Launched: 1894
Acquired: by purchase, 26 July 1898
Fate: Sold for scrap, July 1928
General characteristics [1]
Type: Transport
Tonnage: 5,713 long tons (5,805 t)
Length: 445 ft 6 in (135.79 m)
Beam: 50 ft 2 in (15.29 m)
Propulsion: Triple expansion engine, 499 nhp, twin screws
Speed: 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph)

USAT Thomas was a United States Army transport ship, launched as the SS Persia in 1894, having been built for the Hamburg America Line's service to New York. She was bought by the Atlantic Transport Line in 1897 because she was "practically a sister" to other Massachusetts class of ships already in service there. She was renamed SS Minnewaska by her new owners.[1]

Service history[edit]

Minnewaska was one of six Atlantic Transport Line ships requisitioned by the U.S. Government for service as transports during the Spanish-American War, and purchased on 26 July 1898 for $660,000 and renamed Thomas after General George Henry Thomas, a hero of the American Civil War battle of Chickamauga.[1]

Thomas could accommodate 100 officers, 1,200 men and 1,000 horses, and also had refrigerated capacity for shipping 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of meat,[1] particularly prized because beef was considered an essential element of the military diet.[2]

A brief article in the Maryville Times of 28 October 1899 describes the ship and her facilities:

During the Spanish-American War, vessels going to and from the Philippines made a point of stopping and raising the American flag on Wake Island before it was formally annexed by the United States in 1899. One of these, in July 1898, was the Thomas.[1]

The Peace Corps tradition was arguably started by the Thomasites, a group of educators who got their name from the Thomas. This ship brought the first batch of 540 American teachers and some of their family members to initiate a new era of public education in the Philippines in August 1901.[1]

In early 1916, the Thomas broke its propeller on a voyage from San Francisco to Manila and put into Honolulu for repairs. The floating dry dock that was available had a capacity of only 4,500 tons, while the Thomas was an 11,000 ton vessel, and 118 feet longer than the dry dock. Engineers allowed the bow to extend beyond the front of the dry dock granting them access to stern which was lifted out of the water, allowing them to replace the damaged propeller.[3]

According to U.S. Army service records of Private Leroy F Johnson who sailed on this voyage and served in Company E of the 27th Infantry Regiment, the Thomas sailed from San Francisco on October 16, 1919, and arrived in Vladivostok, Siberia, on November 11, 1919, with U.S. Army troops and supplies to support the American troops already in Siberia.

In October 1922 the Thomas took aboard passengers and crew of the Los Angeles Steamship Company liner SS City of Honolulu, which had caught fire about 600 miles off the coast of California, and landed them at San Pedro, California.[1]

Thomas made several trips to the Orient from New York via the Panama Canal, but was used mainly on the Manila run, stopping at Honolulu and Guam on the westward trip, and Nagasaki, Japan, and Chinwangtao, China, on the return voyage. She was the last of the more than 50 transports acquired by the U.S. Government in 1898 to remain in service and was eventually sold for scrap in July 1928.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "S.S. Minnewaska (I), Atlantic Transport Line Steamship". Retrieved 6 November 2009. 
  2. ^ "Atlantic Transport Line History: War and Wreck". Retrieved 6 November 2009. 
  3. ^ "Propeller Mended in Dry Dock Shorter than Ship". Popular Mechanics. March 1916. Retrieved 9 February 2009.