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Ship portrait from 1896 passenger list from S.S. Mobile (Kinghorn)

S.S. Mobile

Other names: USAT Sherman, Calawaii
Sisters: Manitoba, Massachusetts, Mohawk
Builder: Harland & Wolff, Belfast, yard number 253
Launched November 17, 1892; delivered July 27, 1893; scrapped in Japan, 1933
Hull: length 445' 6"; beam 50' 2"; 5,780 tons; 1 funnel; 4 masts
Power: single screw; triple expansion engines by builder, with cylinders of 22 ½", 36 ½", and 60" diameter, stroke 48"; 499 n.h.p.
Steam pressure 165 lbs.; fuel consumption 60 tons per day; 14 knots
Registered in London; official number 101966


The Mobile was one of four sisters built as freighter for the African Steamship Company (Elder Dempster & Company). She was first chartered by the Atlantic Transport Line and then purchased by it in October of 1896. A passenger list dating from July 1896 records that the commander of the Mobile was Sydney Layland, and an article in the New York Times notes that her consumption of coal was 60 tons per day. She is recorded in the Morton Allan Directory of European Passenger Steamship Arrivals making 44 voyages to New York for the Atlantic Transport Line between August 1892 and December 1897.

1898 Mobile and her sisters were among the six Atlantic Transport Line ships bought by the U. S. Government for service as transports during the Spanish-American War. This particular vessel was purchased on July 14 for $660,000, converted in New York, and given the number 1, "in accordance with the policy adopted of changing the names of foreign vessels to designated numbers after they come into the possession of the United States." She was not converted in time to serve during the war, but was retained afterwards for the new Army transport service, for which she was renamed Sherman.

The Sherman made an excellent transport because she could accommodate 80 officers, 1,000 men and 1,000 horses as well as a high volume of cargo including refrigerated meat. She was allocated to the Pacific fleet and served on its regular San Francisco to Manila service. When the Sherman returned to San Francisco from the Philippines with California's regiment of soldiers she was the cause of the first working wireless signals in America. The city had planned a big celebration for the soldiers upon their return. But nobody knew when the troopship would arrive. George Otis Mitchell, a physics teacher at Girl's High School, had experimented with wireless telegraphy and suggested that if a wireless transmitter were put onboard the lightship San Francisco (which Sherman would have to pass), a lookout could report the sighting to a receiver located in the city who would then pick up the message and relay it via telephone lines. The idea was taken up and it worked extremely well.

The Sherman took an active role in the Philippine Insurrection, the Boxer Rebellion, and World War One. She sailed on one voyage to Vladivistok and Trieste in December 1918 to collect Czech soldiers of war who had marched across Russia with the Red army in hot pursuit and in 1920 she carried American athletes from New York to compete in the Olympic Games in Antwerp.

In 1922 Sherman was bought by the Los Angeles Steamship Company for $60,000, and rebuilt as a cabin liner for their Los Angeles to Hawaii service by the Los Angeles Shipbuilding and Dry-dock Company at a cost of $300,000. The ship, renamed Calawaii, now had accommodation for 178 first class and 52 third class passengers, and evidently proved to be a popular liner. In 1932 she was laid up and the following year she towed the burned out City of Honolulu to Osaka, where both ships were scrapped in 1933.

Sources: The Atlantic Transport Line, 1881-1931; The Ships List; Passenger Ships of the World Past and Present, Eugene W. Smith, Massachusetts, 1977; Merchant Fleets in Profile 2; the Ships of the Cunard, American, Red Star, Inman, Leyland, Dominion, Atlantic Transport and White Star Lines, Duncan Haws, 1979; maritimematters.com; antiqueradio.com; The Transport Service, by Patrick McSherry; The New York Times, December 8, 1897; June 25, 1898; August 5, 1920

The passenger list issued by the London office for the voyage of the Mobile commencing July 24, 1896.
The passenger list issued by the London office for the voyage of the Mobile commencing July 24, 1896. The recipient
added comments about fellow passengers and identified the captain as "Papa." (Kinghorn)
Click for PDF file (4,693 KB)

photo postcard USAT Loganphoto of two crewmen on Sherman, 1906
A photo of USAT Sherman in dock, and a photograph of two members of the crew taken in 1906 (Martin Cox collection and eBay)

deck plans of the USAT Sherman
Deck plans of the Sherman (U.S. Army Transport Museum)

Sherman's arrival in San Francisco
Sherman's return to San Francisco in 1899 was heralded by wireless (Antique Radio Classified).

Photo postcard of Logan arriving San Franscisco
A photo postcard depicting the Sherman leaving Manila on one of her regular runs (Kinghorn)

A photo postcard depicting the Sherman tied up at the U.S. Army pier in Manila (Ian Newson)
A photo postcard depicting the Sherman tied up at the U.S. Army pier in Manila (Ian Newson)

The Sherman coaling at Nagasaki, from a Japanese tinted photo postcard (Kinghorn)
The Sherman coaling at Nagasaki, from a Japanese tinted photo postcard (Kinghorn)

photo postcard of the Calwaii
A tinted postcard of the Calawaii (Kinghorn)



For more information ...

Kinghorn "The Atlantic Transport Line 1881 - 1931" McFarland, 2011

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