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Description of the Steamship St. Louis, as she will appear when finished. (1896)

The SS St. Louis, which is the first of the two vessels being built for the American Line by The William Cramp & Sons' Ship and Engine Building Company, is the first large trans-Atlantic steamer that has been built in this country since the four American boats, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois, which were built in the early seventies, and which are now running in the American Line between Philadelphia and Liverpool.

The Amerrican Line Steamship SS St. Louis in New York Harbor

The Amerrican Line Steamship SS St. Louis in New York Harbor
Photo Courtesy of the National Archives

The first frames of the St. Louis were raised on the 27th day of July, 1893, taking fifteen months and sixteen days from the beginning of her construction to the time of her launch, during which time something over 6000 tons of steel has been worked into her hull, while the construction of her boilers and machinery has kept equal pace in the engineering department, and they are now ready to be erected on board.

It is worthy of note that these steamships are built of domestic material throughout. They are of American model and design, American material, and they are being built by American skill and muscle.

The principal dimensions and qualities are as follows :—

  • Length over all 554 feet
  • Length between perpendiculars 535 feet
  • Breadth, extreme   63 feet
  • Depth molded 42 feet
  • Number of decks 5
  • Number of Watertight compartments formed by transverse bulkheads and fiats 17
  • Distance of collision bulkhead abaft of stem 33 feet
  • Displacement at 26 feet draught will be nearly 16,000 tons

The St. Louis has two funnels, two masts and a straight stem, and the hull is carried out aft around the stern tubes forming webs, so to speak, on either side. The shell plating is lap-butted, and the rudder is of the single-plate type. The vessel is so divided by bulkheads that any two, and in some cases three, compartments may be filled with water at the same time without endangering the safe flotation of the ship.

The material used in the construction of this vessel is mild steel of the best quality, and the records of its inspection show an average considerably above Lloyd's standard.

Although the St. Louis is not yet in a sufficiently forward condition to enable one on board to get much of an idea of the internal arrangements, the plans are completed, and the comforts and conveniences provided for the passengers are known. Thus the quarters assigned to the different classes of ocean travelers are clearly defined.

The Accommodations on the St. Louis

The steamship has five decks. On the upper deck, or as the company calls it the saloon deck, is a deck-house extending fore and aft with a passageway 7 feet wide on each side of it between it and the rail on which the traffic of the ship is conducted. The passenger enters this deckhouse at several places, but the principal entrance is just forward the foremost funnel, where a spacious staircase arises to the promenade deck, which is on top of this main-deck house, and descends to the first cabin sleeping cabins on the two decks beneath.

In the hallway surrounding this staircase are the rooms of the purser and chief steward, easily accessible to passengers. The forward end of this hall opens into the library. This is probably the largest reading-room afloat; and is handsomely fitted up in oak, and furnished with bookcases, writing-tables, comfortable seats, and a plentiful supply of books selected from standard literature, for the use of passengers.

The crew quarters, steerage bar, hospitals, mess rooms, etc.  occupy the forward end of this deck, or forecastle. The after end of the hall opens direct into the grand dining-saloon, which is thus situated nearly amidships, between the funnels and on the upper deck of the ship, which is a deck higher than is the case in any large trans-Atlantic steamer, excepting the New York and Paris, and three of the other steamers of this company. This room is handsomely decorated, and finished in white mahogany, which gives it a very cheerful, bright appearance.

The Dining Saloon

The Dining Saloon is 110 feet long by 50 feet wide and will seat all the first-cabin passengers at one sitting. It is well lighted from the sides and above from a large dome, in one end of which is an organ, played from a keyboard placed in one end of the saloon. In addition to the saloon being situated amidships, where the motion of the vessel is least appreciable.  The tables are arranged in a fore and aft direction, which obviates the discomfort of side motions when the ship is rolling. There is also a companionway on the promenade deck into the lobby at the after end of the saloon, so that if a passenger desires, he can enter from this end.

The pantries on this ship are not easy for a passenger to find, as he does not have to pass and repass them in going to and from his meals, as is often the case. This will be a great comfort to passengers who are inclined to be seasick. In fact, they are situated immediately abaft the saloon, so that the passengers can be promptly and efficiently served.

Engineers' Mess-room and First Cabin Pantry

Abaft the pantries, and between the engine-room skylights, is situated the engineers' mess-room, and abaft this again, but in communication with the first-cabin pantry is the second-cabin pantry which is at the forward end of the second cabin dining-saloon. This room is very large and well lighted.

Second Cabin Dining Saloon

It will accommodate about 200 passengers. The tables are arranged in a fore and aft direction; and chairs instead of the usual settees are provided. Abaft this is situated the doctor's office and dispensary, where it will be accessible to all passengers.

In the after end of the ship is situated crew quarters, steerage, lavatories, hospitals, etc., etc.

The Mail Room

In a house by itself, a very modern feature of the ship, is situated the mail sorting-room and mail clerks' rooms. It is well known that this ship is under contract with the Government to carry the trans-Atlantic United States mail, and everything is most conveniently arranged for this purpose.

The mailroom is situated in the after hold, and is reached by a special hatch for this use only. The mail sorting-room is fitted up as is usually the case in post offices on land and the mail will be sorted there while in transit.

Promenade and Shelter Decks

Returning to the main companionway, you ascend to the deck above, or promenade deck, which is continuous from one end of the ship to the other, and on this unbroken stretch of deck, passengers can walk, sheltered almost the whole length from the sun and rain by an awning deck, carried out to the sides of the ship. It is on this deck that passengers spend most of their time during the day.

Six Suites

In the forward end of the house on this deck, immediately forward the grand staircase are six suites of rooms, comprising bed-room, bath-room and sitting-room, furnished in the very best manner possible. They are all reached from the inside of the house, so that it will not be necessary for a passenger to go outside to reach the saloon, or other rooms on this deck.

Drawing Room

Directly abaft the main companionway, and opening into it, is the drawing room, fitted in white and gold, and furnished most luxuriously with comfort able lounges, seats, a piano, and a keyboard by which the organ in the dome can be played.

Additional Suites on Promenade Deck

Abaft the drawing room on the promenade deck, are situated groups of suites of rooms, containing bath, etc., and deck cabins, all accessible from the inside of the house from either forward or aft. Baths are also provided on the promenade deck convenient to all the deck cabins.

Abaft of this group of rooms, and forward of the engine-room skylights, is a spacious companionway leading down to the after end of the saloon and the sleeping-decks, which can be used if desired instead of the main companionway forward.

Between the engine casings is situated the deck pantry, from which passengers on this deck can be promptly and well served on deck, if they are not feeling well enough to go to the regular meals in the main dining-saloon. This pantry is in direct communication, by a lift, with the main pantry on the deck below, and with the kitchen on the deck below the pantry.

Lavatories and Water Closets

Next to this is the barber's shop, which is of course perfectly appointed. Ample lavatories and water closets for the accommodation of the passengers on this deck take up the rest of the space between the engine casings. These, as well as all other lavatories and water closets throughout the ship, are fitted up with the most modern sanitary appliances, of the most approved plan.

Smoking Room

Abaft this, at the after end of the first-cabin promenade, is situated the first cabin smoking-room in a separate house. It is a very large and well-ventilated room, fitted up in mahogany. The seats and tables are arranged in a very convenient manner to meet the requirements of a smoking-room. The seating capacity of the room is nearly 1oo. Attached to the smoking-room is a bar, so that passengers can be quickly and efficiently served.

Second Cabin Ladies' Room and Companionway

Abaft the smoking-room is situated the second-cabin ladies' room and the second-cabin companionway; and abaft this again in a house by itself is situated a large and well-appointed second-cabin smoking-room.

Arrangement of other Staterooms

Returning to the saloon-deck and from there descending through the main companionway to the next deck below, one comes to the upper deck, or the first sleeping deck occupied entirely by passengers. The first-cabin rooms are situated amidships; the second-cabin rooms immediately abaft the machinery space. The steerage is forward and aft of these; and the crew quarters forward and aft of the steerages.

The next deck, or main deck, is devoted to the same purpose, and divided up in the same way. The staterooms on these decks will be found to be larger than usual, and very well lighted and ventilated. They are fitted up in the most convenient manner; and the beds will be found unequalled for comfort, and are all six feet six inches long. There are an unusual large number of baths and water closets for the accommodation of the passengers on these decks.

The second-cabin staterooms are lighted and ventilated similarly to the first-cabin rooms, and all berths and fittings are essentially first class. Special care has been taken to make the second cabin in all respects desirable. The St. Louis has accommodations for 320 first-class passengers, 200 second-class, and about 800 steerage.

Steerage Accommodations

The steerages are without doubt unexcelled on the Atlantic. They are lighted and heated by the same process as is used for the first- and second cabin compartments. The berths are metallic with spring bottoms; and nearly all the steerages are fitted up in rooms. Tables and seats are provided in each compartment; and the pantries being on the steerage deck, ensures promptness in serving the food. The steerage lavatories and water closets are of the most approved design.

Sanitation and Hospital

Special care has been exercised throughout the ship to have the sanitary and drainage systems the most complete, and on the latest principles in every respect.

The hospitals are well placed at both ends of the ship, isolated from all passenger compartments, and fitted up in the most approved manner.

Heating and Ventilation

 Particular attention has been paid to the very important question of ventilation and heating of this ship, and it is believed that the system adopted, which extends to every compartment in the ship, is the most perfect in existence.

The air is exhausted from every room and compartment by aid of fans situated in several places on the ship, and fresh air drawn from the outside of the ship will be forced through every compartment, and in cold weather this air will be heated. By this means, the entire air in the ship can be changed every ten minutes, and each passenger can control the temperature of his room.

Lighting the Ship

The ship will be lighted throughout with electricity, over 1200 lights being used for the purpose. Four dynamos capable of supplying nearly 3000 lights of 16-candle power each supply them with electricity. Electric call bells are also fitted in all rooms.

The stores are carried in a compartment entirely set aside for the purpose, and a refrigerating plant of large capacity enables perishable stores to be carried at a low temperature.

Making the Ship Safe

It is well known that the principal source of danger to ships in the event of a collision is that, as usually divided, they may be struck at the fastening edge of a bulkhead, and the two compartments adjacent to the bulkhead may be thus at the same time completely flooded.

Many ships have been divided by bulkheads in such a way that if one compartment were flooded, the ship would be perfectly seaworthy; but in the case of an accident where the ship was struck on the bulkhead and the two compartments adjacent flooded, she would inevitably sink. In the case of these new American line ships, and their sisters the New York and Paris, however, the subdivision is such that the ship would remain perfectly seaworthy with any two, and in some cases three, compartments flooded.

This unbroken subdivision of the ships has an incidental advantage in making them fireproof, as the spread of the fire is confined to one compartment. Notwithstanding that these ships are practically unsinkable, they are provided with complete boat accommodations for every soul on board, there being 14 life boats, 14 Chambers' collapsible life boats, 1 cutter, 1 gig, and 4 metal life boats, all secured to and operated from the shade deck.

The means of rapidly lowering every boat has also received special attention. In these ways as well as in many others has the safety, which should always be the first consideration in a passenger ship, been provided for.

To guard against such a breakdown of machinery as would disable these steamers, they are fitted with two sets of engines, each set driving a separate screw. The engines are in two separate water-tight compartments; and the boilers are in separate compartments, completely cut off from each other, so that the vessels might in collision be struck on any bulkhead, and could have a breakdown of their machinery, such as may occur to any ordinary ship, and still be quite navigable, and thoroughly safe and seaworthy.

While, therefore, the vessels are well provided against the effects of collision, they are also very much better able to avoid collision by having two sets of machinery, one of which could be readily reversed while the other was going ahead, thus turning the vessel in her own length.

Other Uses for the Vessel

The law, under which these steamers are built, stipulates, among other things, that they may be taken and used by the United States as transports or cruisers, and that they shall be of sufficient strength and stability to carry and sustain the working and operation of at least four six-inch rifled cannon.

The specifications of the Secretary of the Navy to enable these ships to accomplish this latter condition have been more than fulfilled in their constructions. When it is considered that their boilers and engines can be protected by coal or other suitable material, that they are fitted with twin-screw engines, and have a rudder area by which their maneuvering power will be very great, and in view of their high speed, they will become, if needed, most effective naval cruisers, and in this connection their very great coal endurance should not be forgotten.

They can carry coal enough, cargo being excluded, to cross the Atlantic and return at their highest speed; and at the ordinary cruiser's speed of 10 to 12 knots, they can steam for 66 days without replenishing their coal a distance of 19,000 knots.

Speed, Comfort and Safety

These are the most striking features in these vessels, but they have necessitated and have been accompanied by many other smaller novelties, which will add to the safety, comfort, and convenience of the passengers, and to the general fulfilment of the purpose of such a vessel.

The motive power to propel these new vessels consists, as has already been intimated, of pairs of quadruple expansion vertical six-cylinder engines on four cranks, driving twin screws, with working pressure of 200 lbs. of steam, supplied by six double-ended and four single-ended boilers, and calculated to develop about 18,000 to 20,000 collective I.H.P.

The management will offer no prediction as to actual performance; but it is well known that the contract between the United States Post Office Department and the International Navigation Company requires that the ships shall be capable of a sea-speed of not less than 20 knots an hour, in ordinary weather.

Besides the main propelling machinery, there are 49 auxiliary engines in each ship. Some of these are of course employed in connection with the main engines, for such purposes as pumping water or air, or- for driving blowers for forced draught, or for steering the vessel, or for handling the anchors, etc. Twelve engines are used for lighting and ventilating the ship, independent of the propelling machinery.

The steering apparatus is of the screw-gear type, with Williamson's steam and hand-steering engine.

The anchors are of the Hall and Trotman patterns.

A New York newspaper boasted that the Paris would deliver the United States mails in London “four or five hours sooner than any other steamship afloat." This she has failed to do, the Majestic having delivered her mails, via Queenstown, as early, and occasionally a little earlier, than the Paris, leaving New York at the same hour. It did not need a New York editor to point out the advantages of Southampton. It has been used by British mail packets for over fifty years, but the lack of freight has compelled many of them to go to London, and it can never successfully compete with Liverpool for steerage passengers.

Steel for shipbuilding is now produced in the United States at a very low price, almost as low as in England, and the prospect is that American shipbuilders will soon become severe competitors with the English, Scotch, and Irish builders, as they once were with wooden clipper sailing ships.

The company, however, has recently built two very large screw steamships on the Clyde, exclusively for freight and steerage passengers, between Liverpool and Philadelphia. They are named the Kensington, 8669 tons gross, and Southwark, 8607 tons gross, and are said to be capable of carrying 7000 tons of cargo, 300 second, and 1200 third-class passengers each, and to run the distance in about eight days.

Such boats are now built to consume a very small quantity of coal, and at unprecedented low prices. The New York has recently made a very fast passage from Southampton to Sandy Hook in 6 days 7 hours and 14 minutes (3047 knots), an average of 20.15 knots, and beating all records.

Leitch, Mirehouse, Brooks, Kennedy, Watkins, and Land were, or are, the best known of the Inman captains.

Fry, Henry, “Chapter VIII: The Inman Line,” in The History of North Atlantic Steam Navigation with Some Account of Early Ships and Ship Owners, London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, Ltd. (1896): P. 131-136.

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