Monday, November 26, 2007

The two great German Ocean liner companies that worked out of the Hoboken, New Jersey piers...A few mementos of their time there

When you sailed out of Hoboken on one of the ocean greyhounds of either the Hamburg-American line or the North German Lloyd company you would get a book that explained the ships, the companies, the rules of seaboard travel, a little saber rattling against other companies, and some good old fashioned press puffery. The red book is from around 1907, while the blue book is from around 1899. In fact it was the height of success for these companies.
For before WWI these companies had some of the fastest ocean liners on earth. The German vessels were among the few to carry more lifeboats than the American or British ships. Also they were well known for their expert service.
Enrico Caruso, the famous operatic tenor usually took German vessels to Europe. The great composer Victor Herbert did as well.
They were very fashionable. Even when the British Lusitania came out in 1907, she did not take away a great deal of the loyal following the German vessels had.

Also in Hoboken which was like walking into Germany at times at the turn of the century. The crews of these ships always had loyal friends who enjoyed their company and language. So these were always mementos cherished from a voyage.

Here you will see the inside of the Red book from the Hamburg American Line. It shows its mighty vessel of the time, the Deutschland of 1900. Which was a 4 funneled vessel that held the blue ribbon for a while.

Here you see the inside of the blue book from the North German Lloyd Company and its flagship for the time, which was the Kaiser Willhelm Der Grosse of 1897.

Here is an excellent way to show the size of these vessels. Here you see the Kaiser Willhelm Der Grosse compared to other structures on earth. Showing how long she was by standing her on end. One thing you will notice is the 4 funnels that the German vessels had. They were in pairs, two and two. This style started with this vessel. She was the first of the famous 4 stackers. The style would be copied by all the major shipping companies like Hamburg American, Cunard, and lastly White Star.

On June 30, 1900 there was a massive blaze at the Hoboken piers. In fact it not only destroyed the piers but there is a tragic part to this story that would affect ocean liners from then on. One of the 3 vessels burned that day was a ship called the Saale. On the other vessels the crews were able to escape. However, on the Saale the crew was trapped below while the top of the vessel was engulfed in flames. The flames were slowly working their way down into the vessel. There was no point of escape for the crew, as the portholes were too small to let a man through. So the area all around the piers was stricken by the howls and screams of the the burning men. It was horrid scene. The burning of that ship in 1900, and the needless loss of those crewmen led to the changing of all ships from that point, and the changing of those in service already. That every vessel that carries passengers and crew must have portholes large enough to allow a man to crawl through.
This very large (3 feet wide) original framed advertising photo was made in late 1913 by the Hamburg-American Line. It was their newest super ship called Imperator. It was larger by far than what was then the largest ships in the world, the Olympic and the now sunk Titanic. It was a massive vessel with an ugly creature on its bow to extend it's length. A wave did the world an honor and broke the ugly thing from the bow. She made her maiden voyage in 1913 and within a trip or two it was found that she was terribly top heavy. There was a massive amount of cement poured into the keel and the 3 massive funnels were shortened 15 feet.By late 1913 she looked like this picture you see here. This is a most unusal photograph of the vessel. With in months she would be interned and never sail again as a German vessel. She would in time become the Cunard Berengaria. So this view of her is most rare indeed.

By 1905 new steel piers were constructed on the Hoboken waterfront. Some of them are still partially there.

Now we can see in this large advertising portrait what they wanted the Imperator to look like. Several things in this painting show themselves. 1.The nasty looking monster on the bow is there. 2. There are more lifeboats than Carter's had liver pills, as the Titanic had just sunk and all the lifeboats were painted a darker color, so you could see them. 3. Not easy to see but there were search lights on the front of the vessel to spot icebergs. Which in light of the Titanic disaster, which when this was painted had been only months ago was a very important feature. 4. 3 massive funnels, not four like before, they were setting a new trend and they knew it. 5. Sheer size, nothing like this had ever existed before. These where the first of the massive super liners. While Cunard's Lusitania class and White Star's Olympic class were large, they were not of this league. The 3 Imperator class vessels of Hamburg-American were of a class all to themselves. I will admit they were not as pretty as the British vessels, but they were truly super liners of a new and frighteningly massive scale.

This is a photo of one of the German vessels in the pier. The Hoboken piers were very busy with shipping and ocean travel from the 1880's till 1914. When WWI started in Europe, although neutral the United States impounded most of the German fleet in Hoboken. It was like a holiday in Hoboken in those innocent days of 1914 and 1915. The bands from the vessels would give concerts. The Captains would find themselves guests at all the major dinner parties. The war was not seen or felt in the United States.
But by 1915 with the sinking of the Lusitania and a lot of really good propaganda by the British, the Germans were demonized. They were not worse than the British. Just like them in many ways. Their leaders were related by blood. But by 1916 the crews were confined to their ships and some were returned to Germany. Many saw the writing on the wall. They knew the United States was going to come to the side of England. So many of the crews began to destroy the inner workings of many of their vessels. Making sure they would not work. War brings out mush of the worst of us.

When the United States entered the war in 1917, it had a harbor of unusable ships. There was several months involved in getting the vessels operational. Soon Hoboken became a spot where many soldiers left to go to battle on vessels that knew the port well, but were flying another flag and bringing soldiers to fight the people who had built the very vessels themselves.