SS City of Paris (1888)

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SS Paris ex City of Paris in the mid 1890s
SS Paris (ex City of Paris) in the mid 1890s
Civil Ensign of the United KingdomUnited Kingdom
NameSS City of Paris
OwnerInman Line house flag.svg Inman Line (later International Navigation Company)
RouteAtlantic crossing.
BuilderJ & G Thomson of Clydebank, Scotland
Yard number241
Launched20 October 1888
Maiden voyage3 April 1889
FateMerged into American Line in 1893
Flag of the United StatesUnited States
NameSS Paris
RouteAtlantic crossing.
  • USS Yale (1898)
  • Philadelphia (1901)
  • USS Harrisburg (1918)
  • Philadelphia (1919)
FateScrapped at Genoa, Italy in 1923
General characteristics
Tonnage10,508 GRT
Displacement17,270 tons (17,550 tonnes)
Length560 ft (170 m)
Beam63 ft (19 m)
Installed power18,000hp (20,880kW)
PropulsionTriple expansion reciprocating steam engines, twin propellers.
Speed20.0 knots (37.0 km/h; 23.0 mph)
Complement1740 passengers
Crew362 Officers and crew

City of Paris, was a British-built passenger liner of the Inman Line that held the Blue Riband as the fastest ship on the north Atlantic route from 1889 to 1891 and again from 1892 to 1893.[1] A sister ship of the City of New York and a rival of the White Star Line Teutonic and Majestic, she proved to be the quickest of the pre-Campania twin-screw express liners. In 1893, she was renamed Paris and transferred to US registry when the Inman Line was merged into the American Line. She and her sister were paired with the new American built St Louis and St Paul to form one of the premier Atlantic services. Paris served the US Navy as the auxiliary cruiser USS Yale during the Spanish–American War and is remembered for slipping into the harbor at San Juan, Puerto Rico, under the Spanish guns of Morro Castle.[2] After Paris returned to commercial service, she was seriously damaged in 1899 when she grounded on The Manacles off the British coast. Rebuilt and renamed Philadelphia, she sailed for the American Line until requisitioned again during World War I as the transport Harrisburg. After the war, she continued with the American Line until 1920 and was scrapped in 1923.[3]

Development and design[edit]

In 1886, the UK flagged Inman Line became bankrupt and was taken over by its largest creditor, the Philadelphia-based International Navigation Company. The firm's Vice President, Clement Griscom immediately sailed to Liverpool with a commitment from the Pennsylvania Railroad to provide $2 million in capital towards the building of a new ship to compete against Cunard and White Star. Scottish shipbuilders were suffering a recession and proposed construction of two identical ships at the discounted price of $1,850,000 apiece by J. & G. Thompson in Glasgow. The Pennsylvania Railroad agreed to finance the second ship that became the City of Paris.[2]

Six years earlier, Inman returned the City of Rome to her builders when she failed to meet the contract's performance guarantees. At 8,500 GRT. the original design for the City of New York and the City of Paris was only slightly bigger than City of Rome, but with steel hulls instead of iron. The final designed called for ships almost 25% larger at 10,500 GRT. To address the vibration problems of most liners of the period, the new Inman liners were given a ratio of length to beam of 8.3 to 1 as compared to the then common ratio of 10 to 1. The hull was more extensively subdivided than previously attempted. The ships were equipped with a full double bottom and 15 transverse bulkheads that reached the saloon deck. They also received a fore-aft bulkhead over their entire length.[3]

Power was supplied by two triple expansion engines of 9,000 indicated horsepower each that were placed in separate compartments. While the engines for the two sisters were identical, City of Paris produced 1,500 more horsepower.[2] The ships were the first express liners with two propellers. Single screw liners were prone to shaft failure that forced them to return to port using auxiliary sails. With the introduction of twin screws, liners were more reliable and no longer needed sails.[1]

The new Inman "Cities" are still regarded as among the most beautiful liners to ever cross the Atlantic. The plan included City of Rome's classic clipper bow and three raked funnels.[3] Designed for 540 first, 200 second and 1,000 steerage passengers, luxuries included hot and cold water, electric ventilation, and electric lighting. First class public rooms, such as the library and smoking room, were fitted with walnut panels and the dining salon had a massive dome that provided a natural light to the passengers.[2]

Service history[edit]

City of Paris was launched seven months after City of New York and began her maiden voyage on 3 April 1889. A month later, she won the Blue Riband with an average speed of 19.95 knots on the first westbound voyage under six days. On March 25, 1890 City of Paris was steaming towards Liverpool when her starboard propeller shaft broke, causing the starboard engine to race and then disintegrate. Fragments pierced the hull and the bulkhead causing both engine rooms to flood. Fortunately, the ship's extensive subdivision proved successful and she was not in danger of sinking. However, City of Paris was dead in the water and was towed to Queentown by the tramp steamer Aldersgate, commanded by Captain - and Master Mariner - George Humphrey James Chesshire. It was ultimately determined that the accident was caused by failure to synchronize the engines, a common problem with early twin screw express liners.[3] City of Paris was out of service for a year undergoing repairs.[2] In July 1891, her westbound speed record was broken by White Star's Majestic and then Teutonic. City of Paris regained the Blue Riband in 1892 and held it until 1893 when Cunard's Campania entered service.[1]

International Navigation did not register most of its ships in the United States because of high American wage rates. Even before City of Paris was completed, the British Government responded to Inman's ownership change by revoking the line's mail contract. International Navigation lobbied the US Congress to replace the subsidy. Under US law, only US built ships could be registered there. After considerable controversy, Congress waived this requirement for Inman's two record breakers and enacted the subsidy. Under this legislation, International Navigation was required to build two similar ships in the US and make all four twin screw liners available to the government in the event of a crisis. On February 22, 1893, the Inman Line was officially merged into International Navigation's American Line and New York's American flag was raised by President Benjamin Harrison. As Paris was in the UK preparing to depart from Liverpool, her American flag was raised two weeks later by Clement Griscom's 13-year-old daughter when the ship arrived in New York.[2] As a part of the change, the former Inman liners now used Southampton as their UK destination.[3]

Spanish–American War[edit]

USS Yale in Cuba

During the mid-1890s, the Navy stored guns at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to speed the conversion of Paris and her running mates in case of war. On April 14, 1898, ten days before the Spanish–American War was declared, the Navy requisitioned the big four as auxiliary cruisers. The U. S. Navy chartered her on 27 April 1898 from the International Navigation Co. Paris was approaching Southampton and did not arrive in New York until April 28. In just three days, the Navy installed her 12 six-inch main guns, 20 six-pounders and numerous secondary weapons. Under the command of Captain William Wise USN, the renamed Yale, commissioned on 2 May 1898, was dispatched to Puerto Rico to look for the Spanish fleet.[2]

On the day of her commissioning into the Navy, Yale put to sea from New York, bound for Puerto Rico to patrol and help locate Admiral Cervera's Spanish fleet.

Off of San Juan, Captain Wise realized that he must pass the Spanish guns at Morro Castle and sail into the harbor to determine if the Spanish Fleet was anchored there. Because Yale had not been painted gray, she still looked like a passenger liner. Wise knew that the Spanish government was trying to acquire passenger ships and that one of the vessels potentially available was the Anchor (former Inman) City of Rome, which was almost identical to the Yale. In fact, City of Rome was later chartered by the Spanish. The Captain ordered the Union Jack raised along with City of Rome's recognition signals as Yale passed the fort. After determining that the Spanish Fleet was not in the harbor, Yale dipped her flag in salute as she returned to sea. The Spanish returned the compliment, not realizing that an American auxiliary cruiser was directly under the fort's guns. When out of range, Yale captured (2 May 1898) the Spanish Steamer Rita and put a prize crew aboard to sail her to Charleston, South Carolina.[2]

The following day she had another brief encounter with the enemy off San Juan when a Spanish armed transport came out and fired a few shots. Yale was far more weakly armed than her opponent and retired from the scene. She returned to San Juan the following day, where a shore battery at Castillo San Cristóbal, under the orders of Captain Angel Rivero Mendez, fired two poorly aimed shots at her with its Ordóñez guns; both shots fell far short.

Pursuant to her orders, Yale patrolled off Puerto Rico until 13 May, at which time she left for St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies (Virgin Islands) to telegraph her report to Washington. She returned briefly to Puerto Rico on 16 and 17 May, then headed for Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, in company with St. Paul. She remained at Cap-Haïtien until 21 May, then headed for waters off Santiago de Cuba where the Spanish fleet had been discovered. Yale remained there while the United States fleet assembled off Santiago to blockade Cervera's ships in that port. On the 28th, she quit the area; stopped briefly at Port Antonio, Jamaica; and then set a course for Newport News, Virginia. The ship spent 20 days at Newport News, heading back to Cuba on 23 June. She arrived off Santiago on 27 June but remained there only two days. On the 29th, she got underway for Key West, Florida, stopping there overnight on 3 and 4 July before continuing on to Charleston. Yale returned to Santiago on 11 July and remained in Cuban waters until the 17th. On July 22, Yale left Cuba as the command ship on the Puerto Rico expedition under General Miles. After participating in the invasion of Puerto Rico at Guánica, Puerto Rico, she set a course for New York on 26 July. She spent most of the first two weeks of August in New York and returned to Cuba on the 15th. Remaining only briefly, she embarked troops for the return voyage to New York. Yale arrived back in New York on 23 August and remained there until decommissioned on 2 September 1898.[2] Though returned to her owners after decommissioning, Yale was not struck from the Navy List until 3 July 1899. She returned to merchant service—first under the name SS City of Paris.


Rescued officers (left) and seamen of Vindobala aboard Paris
SS Philadelphia

Paris returned to commercial service and in December 1898 rescued 22 of 23 seaman aboard the British Vindobala before the tanker sank during a bad winter storm. While westbound on 2 May 1899, Paris ran aground in the fog on the Manacles off of the coast of Cornwall. She ran aground mere metres from another steamer, SS Mohegan, which had sunk 9 months earlier with a loss of 106 of 197 onboard. In fact, she almost collided with the sunken Mohegan. At first, she appeared to be a total loss and was not refloated for two months. After she was pulled from the rocks, the badly damaged ship was rebuilt at Belfast, Ireland, receiving new engines and having her triple smokestacks replaced by a pair of taller ones. Renamed Philadelphia, she finally resumed North Atlantic passenger service in August 1901.[2]

Early in 1902 Guglielmo Marconi, while aboard the Philadelphia off New York sent and received radio signals over a distance of 1,800 miles.

In 1913, Philadelphia was downgraded to a second and third class only liner. At the beginning of the first world war, the American Line reverted to Liverpool for their UK terminal. As a neutral flagged liner, Philadelphia was very profitable until the United States entered World War I.

World War I[edit]

In 1918 she was recommissioned as USS Harrisburg (ID # 1663) in late May, as a troop transport under the command of Commander Wallace Bertholf. For the remainder of the conflict she continued to take troops to Europe, making four voyages to England and France before the November 1918 Armistice brought an end to the fighting. She then reversed the flow, making six more trips to transport servicemen home from the former war zone. USS Harrisburg was decommissioned in September 1919.

Post-war service and fate[edit]

Returned to her owners in September 1919 and again named Philadelphia, she resumed sailings on the New York–Southampton route for nine months until the American Line suspended that service. In 1922 the ship was purchased by new owners, who planned to use her in the Mediterranean.

In August 1922, the crew of Philadelphia mutinied. The ship was in arrears from repairs received in the Bay of Naples and Italian customs officials refused her permission to depart. Contemporaneous news outlets described the crew as Bolsheviks and members of the IWW. True or not, they ransacked and burned the ship, and she was beached on 26 August 1922,[4] leading the Italian authorities to arrest them.[5][6][7] Philadelphia was scrapped in 1923.[8][9][5][3]


  1. ^ a b c Kludas, Arnold (1999). Record breakers of the North Atlantic, Blue Riband Liners 1838–1953. London: Chatham.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Flayhart, William Henry (2000). The American Line. New York: Norton.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Gibbs, Charles Robert Vernon (1957). Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean: A Record of Atlantic Steam and Motor Passenger Vessels from 1838 to the Present Day. John De Graff. pp. 122–124.
  4. ^ "Casualty reports". The Times. No. 43121. London. 28 August 1922. col D-E, p. 17.
  5. ^ a b "Crew of Philadelphia Tell of Mutiny in Naples Harbor" (PDF). The Evening Telegram. 7 September 1922. pp. 1, 4.
  6. ^ "Naples Mutiny". The Advocate (Tasmania). 25 August 1922. p. 1.
  7. ^ "Booze, Brawls and Blaze on Terror Voyage". New-York Tribune. 8 September 1922. p. 6.
  8. ^ Urrutia, John (2012). No Monkey Business in This House!. iUniverse. p. 95. ISBN 9781475932287.
  9. ^ Villard, Harold G., ed. (2 September 1922). "Sidelights". The Nautical Gazette. 103 (10): 302.


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Holder of the Blue Riband (Westbound record)
Succeeded by
Blue Riband (Eastbound record)
Succeeded by
Preceded by Blue Riband (Westbound record)
Succeeded by