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The Fleets

Alaska Steamship Company, Seattle, 1895-1971

Regular monthly boat service from U.S. ports to Alaska began in 1867 following the purchase of Alaska from Russia. Occupation troops were dispatched and cargo and mail soon followed. By 1875 several ship lines were making the voyage up the Panhandle in spite of often inhospitable waters and a treacherous coastline. The first tourists began booking passage as reports of unparalleled scenery were increasingly publicized.

On August 3, 1894, Charles Peabody, Capt. George Roberts, Capt. Melville Nichols, George Lent, Frank E. Burns and Walter Oakes formed the Alaska Steamship Company which would eventually enjoy a near monopoly of freight and passenger service to Alaska.. This group of six men began gathering $30,000 by selling 300 shares of stock, at $100 each. Charles Peabody was named president of the company.
On Jan. 21, 1895, the Alaska Steamship Company was finalized. The first vessel purchased was the 140-foot steamer WILLAPA.

Sustaining the company's growth was the completion of a railroad into the interior, encouraging mining activity for precious metals that brought both fortune-seekers and tourists. By 1905, activity shifted from the Juneau/Skagway area to Valdez/Cordova, then eventually to Nome, where Alaska Steamship was ready to capitalize on the bonanza by switching its ships accordingly. At the end of 1897, Charles Peabody reorganized the Alaska Steamship Co. and his fleet expanded rapidly as the Klondike gold stampede mounted. In 1898 the stockholders formed the Puget Sound Navigation Co. as an inland water subsidiary. That new company was registered in Nevada where corporate laws were more lenient. The Puget Sound routes were a natural place for the company to recycle some of its smaller original vessels as they became obsolete for the strenuous Alaska runs.

As the turn of the century was approaching, several events were causing tremendous increases in Southeast Alaskan marine travel: religious missions were being established, fish canneries were being built and gold had been discovered. The Inside Passage was a major route to overland staging areas for the gold fields.

In 1902, Peabody and his associates initiated through Puget Sound Navigation Co. a Port Townsend and Port Angeles to Victoria steamship route for both freight and passengers. Pacific Steamship Co. was caught napping as they had committed all their ships to the Klondike run, which was still running as the gold rush slowly subsided. The other possible competitor, Canadian Pacific Railway, initially declined to compete on the route, concentrating instead on their Empress ocean going sleek steamships that connected with their rail route across the Canadian Rockies and their Empress Hotels in Victoria and Vancouver. On May 2, 1903, the Alaska Steamship Co., purchased the controlling stock of La Conner Trading & Transportation Co. The new concern was initially named Inland Navigation Co. but as Puget Sound Navigation Co., the resulting company would become the biggest inland shipping company of Puget Sound. Charles Peabody controlled the majority of stock and he became president of the enlarged company. Soon afterwards, Peabody became chairman of the board.

In 1909, a group known as the Alaska Syndicate, with funds from J.P. Morgan and the Guggenheim Company, bought the Alaska Steamship Company so they could mine copper in the Wrangell Mountains. They merged the company with the Northwestern Steamship Co. Limited , keeping the Alaska Steamship Company name. The merger of the two companies just about gave them a monopoly in the Alaska shipping industry. They expanded the fleet into 18 ships and expanded service in Alaska from Ketchikan to Kotzebue. In 1912 Charles Peabody retired from Alaska Steamship Company and was replaced by S.W. Eccles of the Guggenheim Company.
In 1915, Kennecott Copper Company was formed and began acquiring stock from the Alaska Steamship Company.

The Jones Act, passed by Congress in 1920, helped the Alaska Steamship and the Pacific Steamship companies. The law prohibited shipping between any two United States ports in anything but American-built ships. Two Canadian shipping companies serving Southeast Alaska communities were forced out of the Alaska market. In the 1930s Alaska Steam purchased is long time rival, the Pacific Steamship Company. Responding to Alaskans complaints about irregular service and high rates, Congress passed the Intercoastal Shipping Act in 1933. It called for definite shipping schedules and approved, published cargo rates.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Alaska Steamship had a fleet of 16 vessels operating out of Seattle to Skagway, Seward and Nome. During World War II, the federal government took control of most U.S. registered ships for the war effort, including the ships of the Alaska Steamship Company and the company became an agent for the War Administration, was assigned its own ships and was given sixty others to manage.
It returned to peacetime operations under the ownership of Skinner and Eddy Corporation, Seattle, which purchased the Alaska Steamship in August 1944 for $4,290,000. During World War 2 five ships were lost.

After the war, the Alaska shipping industry changed. Only two major companies, Alaska Steamship Company and Northland Transportation Company served Alaska, both owned by the Skinner and Eddy Corporation in Washington. Before the war, 42 ships served Alaska; in 1948 only seven. The change was due to the end of federal subsidies, rising labour costs, and new competition from truckers and air carriers. The Alaska Steamship Company started to use tugs and barges and container ships. Tugs and barges could travel faster and operated with smaller crews 5 to 7 workers as compared to 30 to 40 on freighters. Containers could be trucked, lifted on and off, and trucked away, allowing faster loading.

The first passenger sailing out of Seattle was undertaken by ALASKA in January 1946. She was subsequently followed by the YUKON, ALEUTIAN, BARANOF and DENALI. Ports of call northbound were Ketchikan (two days), Juneau (three days) and Seward (five days), with occasional calls at Wrangell, Petersburg, Skagway, Sitka, Cordova, Valdez, Kodiak and Seldovia. Southbound, the steamers called at the same ports they stopped at heading north. All steamers had accommodation for over 200 passengers ranging from steerage to a deluxe cabin with private bath. It was during this period that the company decided to concentrate on tourism.

The Inside Passage to Alaska was a hazardous journey and Alaska Steamship was no stranger to its perils. On 4 February 1946 at 4 am during a blinding snowstorm and strong north easterly winds the YUKON ran aground near Cape Fairfield. Heavy seas prevented the launching of boats until daylight, by which time rescue vessels arrived to take off the frightened passengers and crew. Some years later another calamity was the collision of BARANOF with the Greek steamer Triton on 26 July 1952 near Nanaimo with the loss of two of the crew of the latter.

Many factors contributed to Alaska Steamship's eventual termination of passenger service. Firstly, there were continued labour problems caused by longshoremen, seamen and stewards. Secondly, the arrival of an air service (partly subsidized by the Government) to Alaska took away potential passengers and freight bookings and thirdly was the end of charter privileges and subsidy payments.
The Alaska Steamship Company was facing insurmountable financial difficulties that even a new fleet of steamers could not remedy. On 6 July 1954 therefore Mr. D.E. Skinner the president of Alaska Steamship Company announced that his firm was moving out of the passenger business. The BARANOF was immediately laid up, the ALASKA sailed until August, the DENALI made the company’s last passenger sailing in September 1954, The ships were then sold off.
The Alaska Steamship Company now concentrated on the carriage of cargo but declining revenues, rising operation costs forced the Company to shut down in January 1971.

see also The Black Ball Line and The Pacific Northwest (off-site)

Many thanks to Henk Jungerius and Ted Finch for their assistance in collecting this data. The following list was extracted from various sources. This is not an all inclusive list but should only be used as a guide. If you would like to know more about a vessel, visit the Ship Descriptions (onsite) or Immigrant Ship web site.

Funnel & Flags:

Fleet:

Vessel Built Years in Service Tons
Alameda 1883 built by William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Co., Philadelphia | ex- Alameda, 1910 purchased from Oceanic Navigation Company (Matson) not renamed, 28 November 1931 burned at Seattle pier. 3,000
Alaska (1) 1889 built by John Roach & Son, Chester | ex- Kansas City built for Ocean Steamship Company of Savannah, 1909 sold to Portland & San Francisco Steamship Co. not renamed, 1915 sold to Union Iron Works, San Francisco, resold to Alaska Steamship Company renamed Alaska, 6 August 1921 stranded and sank at Bluntís Reef, California. 3,678
Alaska (2) 1923 built by Todd Drydock & Construction Co., Seattle | 1954 sold to Margo Pacific Lines renamed Mazatlan, 1955 scrapped. 4,515
Aleutian (1) 1898 built by William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Co., Philadelphia | ex- Havana built for New York & Cuba Mail Steamship Co., ex- Panama 1905, 1905 purchased from Panama Railroad Steamship Co. renamed Aleutian, 26 May 1929 sank off Kodiak Island. 5,708
Aleutian (2) 1906 built by William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Co., Philadelphia | ex- Mexico, 1929 purchased from Ward Line renamed Aleutian, 1955 sold to Caribbean Atlantic Lines as the tropical cruise liner renamed Tradewind, 1956 scrapped in Belgium. 6,361
Baranof 1919 built by New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden | ex- Santa Elisa, 1936 purchased from Grace Line renamed Baranof, 1955 scrapped. 4,990
Chena   see Chief Washakie.  
Chief Washakie 1942 built by Oregon Ship Building Corp., Portland, Oregon | ex- Chief Washakie Liberty ship type EC-S-C1, 1946 purchased from United States Maritime Commission by Northland Transportation Co., 1949 purchased by Alaska Steamship Co. not renamed, 1950 renamed Chena, 1953 modified to carry containers, 1971 scrapped at Kaohsiung. 7,216
Chippewa 1900 built by Craig SB Co., Toledo for Arnold Transit Co., Mackinaw, Mich. | 1907 purchased by Alaska SS Co., 1908 transferred to Puget Sound Nav. Co., 1951 sold to Washington Toll Bridge Authority, Seattle. 1968 converted to floating restaurant. 996
Columbia 1906 built by New York Shipbuilding Co., Camden, New York | ex- President built for Pacific Coast Steamship Company, 1916 purchased by Pacific Steamship Company (Admiral Line) renamed Dorothy Alexander, 1926 sold to R. Dollar & Co. not renamed, 1938 sold to Alaska Steamship Co. renamed Columbia, 1946 sold to Empresa de Navegacio Mercante SARL renamed Portugal, 1952 scrapped at La Spezia. 5,270
Cordova 1912 built by Harlan & Hollingsworth, Wilmington, Del. | 1947 sold to Lee Che Industrial Co., Shanghai renamed Lee Kung. 1949 sold to Wallem & Co., Panama reverted to Cordova.1951 scrapped at Hong Kong. 2,273
Curacao 1895 built by W. Cramp & Sons, Philadelphia for Atlantic & Caribbean SS Co., Wilmington, Del. | 1934 purchased from Admiral Line, Tacoma, 1940 sold to China Hellenic Lines, Piraeus renamed Hellenic Skipper. 10th Jul.1940 caught fire off Astoria, Wash, taken in tow but sank on 13th July. 1,503
Denali 1927 built by Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Newport News | ex- Caracas, 1938 purchased from Atlantic & Caribbean S.N. Co. (Red D Line) renamed Denali, 1954 sold to Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Co., Miami renamed Cuba, 1955 renamed Southern Cross, 1960 scrapped. 4,302
Dirigo 1898 built by P. Mathews, Grays Harbor, Wash. for J. S. Kimball Co, San Francisco | 1900 purchased by Alaska SS Co. 16th Nov.1914 sank 100 miles west from Cape Fairweather on voyage Cordova, Alaska to Seattle. 843
Dolphin 1892 built by Ropner & Son, Stockton as AL. FOSTER for Al. Foster Steamboat Co., New York. | 1898 renamed THE FOSTER, 1899 renamed Dolphin by Liewer Steamboat Co, New York, 1901 purchased by Alaska SS Co., 1920 sold to Chile, 1923 to Mexican Navy, converted to gunboat renamed Plan de Guadelupe. 824
Dora 1880 built by M. Turner, San Francisco for Alaska Commercial Co., San Francisco | 1908 purchased from Northwestern SS Co., Seattle, 1913 reclassified to 320 tons, 1920 sold to Bering Sea Fisheries Co., Seattle. 1920 wrecked. 198
Edith 1882 built by J. L. Thompson & Sons, Sunderland | Built as Glenochil for Glenochil SS Co., Leith, 1901 purchased by A. H. Bull & Co., New York renamed Edith. 1906 North Western SS Co., Seattle. 1908 Alaska SS Co., Port Angeles, Wash. 30th Aug.1915 abandoned off Cape Hinchenbrook, Alaska. 2,424
Fortuna 1944 built by Permanente Metals Corporation (Shipbuilding Division), No.2 Yard, Richmond, California | ex- Samuel L. Cobb Liberty ship type EC-S-C1, 1946 purchased from United States Maritime Commission by States Marine Lines renamed Volunteer State, 1955 sold to Alaska SS Co., Seattle, renamed Fortuna, 1971 developed deck cracks in bad weather in Gulf of Alaska and returned to Seattle, 1971 scrapped in Taiwan. 7,216
Galena 1945 built by Walter Butler Shipbuilders, Duluth, Minnesota | ex- Lever's Bend, standard ship type C1-M-AV1 built for War Shipping Administration, 1946 transferred from Grace Line to United Fruit Company, 1955 purchased renamed Galena, 1967 to Marad, 1972 scrapped. 3,805
Iliamna 1944 built by New England Shipbuilding Corporation, East Yard, South Portland, Maine | ex- Edmond Mallett Liberty ship type EC-S-C1, 1951 purchased from United States Maritime Commission renamed Iliamna modified to carry containers, 1972 scrapped in Taiwan. 7,216
Indianapolis 1904 built by Craig SB Co., Toledo | 1906 purchased from Indiana Transportation Co., Chicago, 1908 transferred to Puget Sound Nav. Co., Seattle, 1938 scrapped at Seattle. 765
Jefferson 1904 built by E. W. Heath, Tacoma. | 1925 scrapped at Seattle. 1,615
Kenai 1904 built by Risdon Iron Works, San Francisco as the General Mifflin for U.S. Army | 1934 purchased by Alaska SS Co. renamed Kenai, 1942 sold to Foss Launch & Tug Co., Seattle, 1963 scrapped. 336
Kennecott 1921 built by Todd Drydock & Construction Co., Tacoma | 1923 wrecked.at Hunters Point, south of Frederick Island. 8,425
Latouche 1910 built by Moran Co., Seattle | Built for Alaska SS Co. 1940 sold to Madrigal & Co., Manila. 2nd Jan.1942 captured by Japanese renamed Azuchi Maru. 21st Oct.1944 sunk by U.S. air attack north of Cebu. 2,332
Mariposa 1883 built by William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Co., Philadelphia | ex- Mariposa, 1912 purchased from Oceanic Navigation Company (Matson) not renamed, 18 December 1917 sank after hitting Straits Island Reef, British Columbia. 3,000
Mount McKinley 1918 built by William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Co., Philadelphia | ex- Santa Luisa, ex- El Salvador 1928, ex- Santa Ana 1931, 1931 purchased from Grace Line renamed Mount McKinley, 1942 wrecked. 4,847
Nadina 1944 built by Southeastern Shipbuilding Corporation, Savannah, Georgia | ex- William G. Lee Liberty ship type EC-S-C1 United States Maritime Commission, 1949 sold to Dorian SS Co., Panama renamed Dorian Prince, 1949 purchased renamed Nadina later modified to carry containers, 1964 converted into a container ship, 1970 scrapped in Japan. 7,216
Nenana 1944 built by J. A. Jones Construction Company, Brunswick, Georgia | ex- Felix Riesenberg, Liberty ship type EC-S-C1, built for United States Maritime Commission, 1951 sold to Pacific Waterways Corp. (Palmer Shipping.Corp., NY) renamed Transatlantic, 1959 purchased renamed Nenana modified to carry containers, 1970 laid up, 1972 scrapped in Taiwan. 7,216
Northwestern 1890 built by John Roach & Son, Chester | ex- Orizaba built for New York & Cuba Mail Steamship Co., 1906 purchased by Northwest (Northern) Steamship Co. renamed Northwestern, 1909 Northwest (Northern) Steamship Co. merged with Alaska Steamship Co., 1940 to US Government, 1942 bombed at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians while serving as an accommodations ship. 3,497
Oduna 1945 built by New England Shipbuilding Corporation, East Yard, South Portland, Maine | ex- Francia A. Retka, Liberty ship type EC-S-C1, built for United States Maritime Commission, 1951 sold to Tramp Cargo Carriers, NY renamed Liberty Bell, 1956 to Polarus SS Co., NY renamed I.R. Lashins, 1957 to Southport SS Corp., NY renamed Southport, 1964 purchased renamed Oduna and modified to carry containers, 26 November 1965 aground at Cape Pankor, Unimak Island, Alaska and total loss. 7,216
Ohio 1873 built by William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Co., Philadelphia | ex- Ohio, 1898 purchased from American Line not renamed, 1909 wrecked on the coast of British Columbia. 3,488
Olympia 1887 built by Barclay, Curle & Co., Glasgow | Laid down as Doune Castle but completed as Dunbar Castle for Castle Mail Packet (later Union Castle Line), 1895 sold to Fairfield Ship Building and Engineering Co. in part payment for the Tantallon Castle, renamed Olympia and resold to R. Barnwell of London, 1897 sold to the Scottish American Steam Ship Co., Glasgow (Sir W. G. Pearce manager) and later by W. M. Rhodes for use in the USA as the Northern Pacific Steamship Line, 1898 when war with Spain was declared, sold to the North America Mail Steam Ship Co. of Tacoma for operation of the Tacoma (terminal of the Northern Pacific railway Co.) - Victoria - Yokohama - Hong Kong - in parallel with the Canadian Pacific service out of Vancouver, 1903 owned by the North Western Steam Ship Co. of Seattle ( J. Rosine manager), 1904 purchased yards removed and three lifeboats installed on each side, 10 December 1910, wrecked on the coast of Alaska. 2,682
Pennsylvania 1873 built by William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Co., Philadelphia | ex- Pennsylvania, 1898 purchased from American Line not renamed, 1910 sold to Pacific Mail SS Co. not renamed, 1918 destroyed by fire. 3,104
Redondo 1902 built by Craig SB Co., Toledo for Swayne & Hoyt, San Francisco | 1915 purchased from Inter-Ocean Transportation Co., St. Paul, Minn. 1920 reclassified to 1,130 tons. 1935 converted to barge, 1948 sunk at Richmond, Cal. 679
Rosalie 1893 built by Chas. G. White, Alameda, Calif. for James J. Ebert, Seattle | 1899 purchased from Northwestern SS Co., Seattle, 1902 transferred to Puget Sound Nav. Co., 1918 burnt in Seattle Harbor. 319
Santa Ana 1900 built by H. R. Reed & Sons, Coos Bay, Oregon for A. W. Beadle & Co., San Francisco | 1908 purchased by Alaska SS Co. from Northwestern SS Co., Seattle.1923 sold to Wallace Langley, Seattle, 1934 deleted from registers. 1,250
Seward 1907 built by Todd Drydock & Construction Co., Seattle | Built for North Western Steamship Co., 1909 Northwest Steamship Co. merged with to Alaska SS Co., 1916 sold to W. C. Proctor, Cincinatti. 7th Apr.1917 captured and sunk by U.52 off Port Vendres. 3,390
Skagway 1908 built by The Moran Co, Seattle | ex- Stanley Dollar, 1919 purchased from Dollar Steamship Line renamed Skagway, 1924 sold to W. M. Mitchell, Seattle, 1924 sold to Skagway SS Co. (G. H. Walker), Los Angeles, 16 December 1929 beached on fire near Cape Flattery on voyage San Francisco - Tacoma, total loss. 1,838
Talkeetna 1944 built by Permanente Metals Corporation (Shipbuilding Division), No.2 Yard, Richmond, California | ex- William Allen White, Liberty ship type EC-S-C1, built for United States Maritime Commission, 1951 sold to Tak Shipping.Corp. (Palmer Shipping.Corp., NY) renamed Transpacific, 1959 purchased renamed Talkeetna modified to carry containers, 1967 sold to Amicus Carriers, NY renamed Amicus, 1968 scrapped in Taiwan. 7,216
Tonsina 1944 built by Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyards Inc., Baltimore, Maryland | ex- Chung Tung (launched as William Hodson) Liberty ship type EC-S-C1, built for United States Maritime Commission, 1947 renamed Arthur P. Fairfield, 1948 renamed Admiral Arthur P. Fairfield, 1951 sold to Pacific Cargo Carriers Corp (Orion Shipping & Trading Co., NY) renamed Sea Coronet, 1954 purchased renamed Tonsina modified to carry containers, 1964 converted into a container ship, 1970 scrapped in Japan. 7,216
Victoria 1870 built by John Elder & Co., Dumbarton | ex- Parthia built for Cunard Line, 1884 sold to John Elder (shipbuilders) in part exchange for new ship, 1887 chartered to Canadian Pacific, 1891 sold to Northern Pacific Steamship Co. renamed Victoria, 1898 sold to North American SS Co., 1904 sold to North Western Steamship Co., 1909 North Western Steamship Co. merged with to Alaska SS Co.,1952 laid up, 1954 sold to Straits Towing & Salvage Co. in use as a barge, 1956 renamed Straits Maru and scrapped. 3,167
Whatcom 1901 built by E. W. Heathe, Everett, Wash as MAJESTIC for Thompson Steamboat Co., Seattle | 1904 purchased by Alaska SS Co. renamed Whatcom, 1905 transferred to Puget Sound Nav. Co., 1922 renamed City of Bremerton, 1938 scrapped at Seattle. 657
Willapa 1882 built by Frank Whelan, Astoria, Ore. | Built as the tug General Miles for Ilwaco S.N. Co, Ilwaco, Wash. 1891 rebuilt as passenger ship for Portland & Coast SS Co., Portland, renamed Willapa. 1895 purchased by Alaska SS Co., Seattle. 19th Mar.1897 stranded near Bella Bella, BC, refloated and sold to Canadian Pacific Nav. Co., Victoria, BC. 1903 sold to Bellingham Bay Transportation Co., Port Townsend, Wash renamed Bellingham. 1917 rebuilt to a lighter and had various owners until deliberately burned at Seattle on 13th Aug.1950. 333
Yucatan 1890 built by Delaware River SB Co., Chester, Pa. for J. E. Ward & Co., New York | 1908 purchased from Northwestern SS Co., Seattle, 1911 sold to North Pacific SS Co., San Francisco, 1914 repurchased by Alaska SS Co., 1915 resold to North Pacific SS Co., 1917 sold to Japan renamed Shinkai Maru. 1929 scrapped. 3,497
Yukon 1899 built by William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Co., Philadelphia | ex- Colon, ex- Mexico 1905, 1923 purchased from Panama Railroad Co. renamed Yukon, 4 February 1946 ran aground in Johnstone Bay. 5,747

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