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SS George Washington - America’s Largest Passenger Liner (1921)

The George Washington, distinguished by war service and peace missions, now taken over by the U. S. Mail Steamship Company (United States Lines)

George Washington after Reconditioning

The Todd Shipyards Corporation has just reconditioned the George Washington at an expense of more than a million dollars

AN IMPORTANT EVENT in the annals of the American Merchant Marine was signalized on August 3 when the big ex-German steamer George Washington sailed from New York on her first voyage under the flag of the United States Mail Steamship Company for Plymouth, Cherbourg and Bremen.

Built in the yards of the Stettin Vulcan at Bredow, the George Washington is the largest passenger liner ever to fly the American flag in peacetime service. She has been completely refitted by the Todd Shipyards Corporation at a cost of more than $1,000,000, a great accomplishment in itself, not only because every piece of equipment used in the reconstruction is of American origin but also because it shows we are capable of doing this class of work as well as if not better than foreign shipyards and certainly in much quicker time.

More than a hundred thousand soldiers were transported by the George Washington during the war, while she was used by President Wilson and his suite for both voyages to the Peace Conference at Versailles, by the King and Queen of Belgium upon their visit to the United States and by many other notable travelers. In view of these facts it has become one of the most famous vessels afloat.

Safety has been given even greater consideration than luxuries in the equipment and outfit of the vessel. Every Invention for adding to this vital element has been studied and, where practical, installed on the vessel. Among these inventions the radio compass, which was developed during the war for detecting the direction of the origin of radio signals has been adopted in order that the bearing of such signals sent from shore stations may be definitely determined and the position of the vessel itself located.

The Latest Equipment

The George Washington is equipped with one of the latest type gyro compasses. This equipment comprises the master compass and three repeated compasses, one of which is located in each wing of the bridge and one at the wheel for steering. The repeaters on the bridge are mounted in pelorus stands and take the place of the old dummy pelorus.

The cards in these repeaters are kept adjusted from the master compass to the true north at all times, so that accurate and true bearings can be taken at any time regardless of the ship’s head. The vessel is also equipped with a recording compass, which makes a permanent record of all the movements of the ship's head and makes possible the checking up of any changes of course which is desirable to record.

The usual items of equipment, such as radio, watertight subdivision, boat equipment, etc., have been perfected in the highest degree and the radio plant, consisting of the most powerful are light installation afloat is able to communicate with either shore from any position in the Atlantic while its maximum range under favorable conditions is approximately 7,000 miles. Watertight doors throughout the vessel are operated by hydraulic distant control from the navigating bridge and may be instantaneously closed as a whole or individually, as may be necessary in cases of emergency.

Latest in Fire Alarm Systems

The George Washington is equipped with one of the most complete and modern fire alarm systems available today. Fine copper tubing on the ceilings of these rooms are the detecting elements of this system. Their operation is unique in that it is not necessary for the heat from a fire to reach a high temperature before operating the system.

All that is needed is that there be a sudden rise in temperature in the room and the air confined in this fine copper tubing will expand, actuating the diaphragms. This principle makes the system extremely sensitive and no fire, no matter how remote or small, can gain any headway without the alarm being sounded in the engine room and on the bridge. The system is absolutely automatic and ready for service at any hour of the day or night.
The holds of the vessel are equipped with the latest improved type of the Rich Smoke System. This device is an extension of the steam smothering system required by law, which consists of a series of pipes leading from the boilers to all enclosed compartments and holds of the ship. This fire detecting system, by means of a small exhauster, draws air samples continuously from every compartment and hold and thus conveys the first traces of smoke to a detecting cabinet in the wheelhouse.

The smoke is revealed in the flares of the detecting cabinet immediately and definitely locates the fire during its incipient stage. By operating the proper valve, steam, or carbon dioxide if desired, can be directed to the specific location of the fire and through the same piping. With the closing off of the steam valve the indicating line is again re-established and detection continues unharmed by the action of the previous fire.

Interior Workmanship

The general arrangement of the interior has been allowed to remain somewhat in accordance with the original layout designed by the Germans but the details of the decorative features throughout have been refined and modernized in conformity with the best American practice.

The quality of the work of the specially trained joiners, cabinet workers and decorators of the Todd Shipyards Corporation proves that it is not necessary for us to go abroad to secure the most elaborate cabinet and inlay work. The very choicest of woods have been obtained from all parts of the world and there is scarcely a material used in the decorative art, which does not in some place find its use in the scheme of the design. There are to be found the various classes of mahoganies, teak, satin wood, ebony, maple, walnut, etc., which are in their respective places set off by inlays of other woods and mother of pearl and metallic decorations enhancing the effect of the whole.

Carpets and rugs of domestic manufacture and oriental weaves have been brought together from the choicest markets of the country in order to complete the floor coverings in all public spaces and private rooms. The decks and all passageways and public spaces have been covered with composition tilings of the highest quality.

Promenade Deck on the George Washington

The long and wide promenade deck on the George Washington makes a delightful stroll possible on the sea

The general scheme of decoration varies with different sections of the vessel, but in general may be designated as that of a Continental character with variations and adaptations of the Colonial and Georgian periods which are drawn together to form a harmonious whole. Many of the paintings on the vessel are of American Colonial historical interest and represent scenes connected with the early days of our Republic, such as the Centennial Hall in Philadelphia, the home of Washington at Mount Vernon, various scenes of the National Capital and views of early New York and Boston.

Bronze and marble figures and busts adorn various niches throughout and include the men and women of Colonial fame, such as Washington, Martha Washington, Franklin and others.

Public Rooms

The lobbies about the passenger elevators leading to the grand social hall are tastefully finished in rectangular panels outlined with delicately tinted moldings and appropriately decorated. The elevator enclosures consist of hand-wrought iron screens and the floors of the lobby within the limits of the vestibules are well tiled and laid with heavy rugs.

Telephone System

Cabin staterooms and suites are interconnected by a telephone system of the most modern approved American design and practice and the passenger may communicate throughout with the various officers, stewards, etc., without leaving his own room. The wireless telephone has also been installed and it is possible to stand upon the vessel and communicate by word of mouth with other similarly equipped vessels or shore stations at a distance of approximately 500 miles.

The installation is fitted with amplifiers in order that speeches, music or other sounds may be received at their origin in a lecture hall or theatre and heard by all gathered in a dining room or other public space on the vessel.

Other Public Rooms

Aft on the boat deck are the enclosed veranda-cafe, the first class upper smoking room, the radiotelephone and telegraph office, the photographic dark room, newspaper office and similar spaces of general public interest.

The dining room of the Presidential suite

The dining room of the Presidential suite has been used not only by former President Wilson, but by King Albert of Belgium and other notable travelers.

The upper promenade or A deck is glass enclosed throughout and assures open spaces for exercise and recreation independently of weather conditions. An unusually spacious and beautifully decorated reading and writing room is situated on the A deck well forward, and offers an unobstructed view abead and to port and starboard. In addition to its permanent loan collection of the finest literature, it contains a magazine and book store and the offices of the public stenographer.

The reading and writing room is finished In natural satin-wood, inlaid with ebony and mother of pearl, developed along the lines of the Continental style. The cabinetwork about the room consists of writing desks, bookcases, cabinets, settees, etc., executed with extreme skill and certain doors are decorated with elaborate hand-wrought wood and metal grilles and screens to harmonize with the whole. The portable furniture and tables are constructed and upholstered to correspond.

The grand social hall, which is the largest individual public room on the vessel, is located on the A deck right aft of the reading room and consists of a main central hall and four ante-rooms or bays. The center of the floor is a large hardwood dancing area which, when not being used, is covered by heavy rugs. This room is finished in shades of felted French gray and decorated with a series of paintings of Colonial American interest including a well-known portrait of George Washington which is mounted over a Colonial fireplace of exceptionally artistic design.

The skylight, which covers the entire central area of the room, is of heavy leaded glass in simple and appropriate artistic design illuminated by numerous electric lights providing for an indirect system of illumination. The fireplace and mantel at the head of the room are exceptionally complete and correct examples of the Georgian period. A grand piano, settees, party and individual tables, social and winged aim chairs upholstered in tapestry and brocades are placed about the room and form a convenient and attractive setting.

Each of the four ante-rooms, which are separated from the main area of the hall by panel work and heavy brocade hangings, is developed in an individual style in natural mahogany, walnut, etc., and the walls finished with silk panels matching the natural woodwork. Suitable tables, settees and chairs are furnished and the spaces form charming nooks for card parties, luncheon or tea service as may be desired.

At the aft end of the grand social hall is a monumental stairway which is finished in felted grays to match the colors of the room and which leads directly to the foyers of the deluxe suites on the deck below. It is ornamented in a simple style of panel work and mirrors and a clock on the electric time system of the vessel.

The lower smoking room which terminates the first class passenger accommodations on A deck is furnished in natural walnut inlayed with ebony. The walls of this room are decorated in embossed, hand-worked leather of rich brown tones and panes of plate glass mirror enclosed in metal frames surmount a marble mantel above an electric fireplace at the after end of the room.

Heavily upholstered, fixed settees and arm chairs finished in blue leather, together with individual and party tables are placed about the room for the comfort and convenience of its occupants. A counter for the sale of cigars, cigarettes, etc. is located at the forward starboard corner of the room.

Social Hall on the George Washington

A social hall replete with facilities for the entertainment of passengers graces the George Washington.

The B deck is given over chiefly to first class accommodations consisting of rooms with individual baths and deluxe suites. There are four deluxe suites of particular elaborateness, President, Mrs. Wilson occupied two and the King, and Queen occupied one of Belgium during their respective voyages upon this vessel.

These suites are located on B deck at the foot of the monumental stairway from the grand social hall and each consists of a living room, dining room, bed room and bath. These suites are marked with silver plates giving the names of their former distinguished tenants with brief reference to their voyages and will be a natural center of attraction to all travelers on board the vessel. The suite on the port side, used by President Wilson and the King and Queen of Belgium when on the vessel, is constructed in veneers of mahogany and rosewood, inlaid with satin and other lighter woods and decorated with panels of raised plastic. Mahogany and rosewood have been used freely in the furniture and every effort has been made to hold the room intact, as used by the President, for its deep historical interest.

A replica of the desk upon which the President prepared his first drafts of the Peace Treaty stands in the Presidential suite in the exact position occupied by the original, which has been presented to the President by the Directors of the Company. The beds, dressing table, toilet receptacles, portable furniture, etc., are in woods matching with the panel work of the room and exhibit some of the finest cabinet making that can be produced in the United States.

The foyers and open spaces of the B deck are decorated in a Continental style.

The interior of the rooms and suites forward of the main monumental stairway are finished in the choicest of hardwoods with the most elaborate and painstaking cabinet inlay work that can be obtained. The curtains, upholstery, hangings, etc., are of corresponding style and finish and the portable furniture in the rooms designed and manufactured for their specific locations. Bath and toilet rooms are fitted with the most modern, complete plumbing, and finished generally in enamel tile. The decks of each of the suites and rooms on B deck are heavily carpeted and laid with oriental rugs of the choicest weaves.

There are also upon B deck the electric baths with their adjacent massage rooms, showers and dressing rooms for the use of the passengers. At the after-end of the first class quarters on this deck is also found the gymnasium, which is properly and simply furnished in maple and equipped with the usual athletic apparatus, ladies’ and gentlemen’s dressing rooms and bathrooms.

The bedrooms and sitting rooms on the lower decks are constructed generally in a manner equal to that on the upper decks but with a less elaborate scheme of decoration and finish. The general character of these rooms throughout the vessel, however, is one of quality and refinement, wherein workmanship and materials have been used with utmost discrimination to produce appropriate results.

The main dining saloon, with a seating capacity of approximately 350, is located in the center of the vessel upon the lower first class passenger deck or D deck. The saloon is exceptionally commodious and is surmounted by a center dome reaching to the second deck above. The room is designed and constructed In the Colonial and Georgian style and finished in cool shades of French gray.

The decorations of the dome consist of Doric and Ionian columns with a well-designed wrought iron rail on the level of the upper deck which presents a most satisfying appearance of grace and lightness. Buffets and service tables are situated at convenient points and large mirrors fitted in the fore and after wall panels add to the spaciousness of the entire room.

The upholstery and hangings of the room are in old rose and all sidelights are fitted with inner sashes and draped with silk curtains in corresponding shades. The choicest of linen, silver, china and glass have been obtained and when the room Is set an appearance of charm and refinement results which satisfies the most fastidious of tastes.

Children's Playroom

The children's dining and playroom, which is adjacent to the main dining room has been laid out as one of the most delightful spaces on board the vessel. It is finished in French gray and old rose upholstery and decorated with gaily colored prints of suitable character to appeal to this highly prized group of passengers.

Second Class Accommodations

There are accommodations for 442 second class passengers in spacious state rooms with dining rooms, smoking rooms, sitting and writing rooms, etc., in a proportionate degree of elaborateness and with ample deck space for promenade and games. The arrangement of these spaces is such that there can be no feeling of discrimination upon the part of the passengers traveling in these quarters.

Foyers and public rooms of the second class accommodations have also been carefully and appropriately worked out by the decorating architect and while In more simple lines and details than the first class still exhibit the workmanship of a true artist and fully satisfy the most exacting.

Third Class Accommodations

Third class passengers to the number of 1,485 are accommodated in rooms containing two, four and six berths or in open compartments as the individual traveler may select. As in the case of the other classes, these accommodations are made up in part of dining rooms, smoking rooms, writing rooms, etc., so that travelers in this class, while having less space and comparatively limited luxuries, may find perfect comfort and cleanliness with unlimited light, air, heat and all the necessities of ocean travel.

Source: Shipping Magazine: Marine Transportation, Construction, Equipment and Supplies, Volume 14, No. 3, August 10, 1921, P. 18-21

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