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The Fleets

Dollar Steamship Company / Dollar Line

     Robert Dollar was born in 1844 in Falkirk, Scotland. He moved to Canada in 1857. It is also reported that by the time he was 11 he was a shore boy in a lumber camp where he endured many hardships. Perhaps this was back in Scotland.
     In 1893 Dollar purchased a sawmill on the Pacific coast of the United States, and his lumber business grew. He had a son, Stanley Dollar who left school at 13 and worked in his father's lumber office. In 1893 or 1895 he acquired his first vessel, a single steam schooner called Newsboy from the recently bankrupt Navarro Mill, to move his lumber from the Pacific northwest to markets down the coast and in the process they established the Dollar Steamship Company. The new company had a fleet of schooners, presumably moving lumber from the owners' interests to the markets. In 1902, Dollar Steamship Company moved into international shipping running a chartered voyage to Yokohama and the Philippines.
     In 1906-7 , Dollar purchased a property at San Rafael, California which he renamed Falkirk. He lived here for the rest of his life and today the house is the Falkirk Muesum. In 1916 he purchased 100 acres in Canada at Roche Point and built a timber mill as well as a town. The town still exists today, Dollarton. In 1923 he purchased seven ex World War 1 "502 President type" liners from the US Shipping Board. In March 1925 Dollar took over an additional eight "535 President type" liners from the Shipping Board but managed by Pacific Mail Steamship Company in Trans Pacific work. The cost was $5,625,000. Even though this bid was a million dollars lower than Pacific Mail's bid, it was 100% cash whereas the latter's was cash and stock. It was decided that the Pacific Mail bid did not meet the terms of the tender and thus, Dollar Steamship Company gained itself $30 million worth of ships and was now able to start a westbound around the world service. The ships continued to be used on the Trans Pacific service.
As would be expected, this hit the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. bad and in 1925 it was taken over by Dollar. In addition, the Admiral Oriental Line went bust and it was also now part of the Dollar Steamship Company.
     The Dollar Steamship Co. was now one of the most profitable shipping companies in the world but the approaching depression was to be affected. The name of the company changed in 1929 to Dollar Steamship Line Inc. Ltd.
     dollar lineIn 1929 two more ships were purchased as round the world liners and in a huge expansion, a decision was taken to build two identical passenger liners. They were not to be used to go around the world, but they were to be the Trans Pacific sector ships. The Dollar Line was loaned more than $5,000,000 by the US Government for this construction (the boats were to be used to carry mail and the US Government had a long history of subsidising ships that were used for this purpose). On 6 December 1930, the first of the two new ships, the SS President Hoover was launched by Mrs Herbert Hoover and on 21 February 1931 the SS President Coolidge was launched, christened by the late President Coolidge's wife, Mrs Grace Coolidge. On 1 October 1931 when the Coolidge was delivered to the Dollar Line, she was the largest passenger ship constructed in America (with her twin sister) at that time. Built by Newport News Shipbuilding Drydock Company in Newport News, the Coolidge was 654 feet 3 inches long (a waterline of 615 feet) and had a gross (displacement) of 21,936 tons.
     The President Hoover and President Coolidge were built as Trans Pacific ships and the Dollar Steamship Line now had the largest fleet of passenger and cargo liners operating under US flag. An increased mail subsidy meant that the line was still operating with a good profit even though the world was in a depression. There appears to have been show shady financial deals going on around this time as the line then went to the red although Stanley Dollar and his brother Harold Dollar made quite handsome incomes (in excess of $200,000 for Stanley Dollar one year) and the Robert Dollar Company (which was the managing agent) made a good profit.
     The new boats were made to serve between Asia and the West Coast of America. The Coolidge entered service on the San Francisco to Far East route on 6 November 1931. Despite being launched right as the Great Depression started, the Dollar Line somehow managed to survive the early 1930s. Mr E. Mowbray Tate in his book Transpacific Liners tells how in 1932 he went on the fourth voyage of the Coolidge under the command of Captain K.A. Ahlin and found the ship very comfortable indeed. He tells that it took five days for the San Francisco to Honolulu and a further nine days on to Yokohama.
     On 16 May 1932 at the age of 88, Robert Dollar died. Over 3,000 people attended his funeral as well as the Governor of California and the Mayor of San Francisco.
However, the end was near and despite the insurance money from the loss of the SS President Madison ($1m when she capsized at the Seattle wharf while being repaired), the Dollar Line got more and more into debt. In 1934 and 1936 there were maritime strikes. The 1936 strike affected Dollar badly when its ships were out of action for more than three months. I think this started in November 1936. The result of the strike was that it now cost more to operate the ships and Dollar was forced to pay other (mostly Japanese lines) to carry their passengers. On 18 November 1936, one of the Dollar companies filed for bankruptcy and in 1937 the Tacoma Oriental was sold up to meet debts.
     The year 1937 proved to be the beginning of the end, with some very bad incidents affecting to company and only one or two items of good news.
     On 6 March 1937 while outbound from San Francisco, the Coolidge hit and sank the Frank H. Buck, an oil tanker, near the Golden Gate Bridge . The Coolidge's bow was severely damaged but it was soon repaired and put back into service. I was told that this voyage was the Coolidge's first trip after the strike mentioned in the paragraph above.
Later in 1937, the repaired vessel lowered the Trans Pacific record to 9 days, 9 hours 51 minutes on a trip from Yokohama to San Francisco. This good fortune for the Dollar Line was shortlived as on 11 December 1937, near Hoishoto Island off southern tip of Taiwan, the SS President Hoover ran aground. After many attempts to salvage the vessel, she was declared a total loss.
     Although the Dollar Line had lasted right through the Great Depression, the effect on it was there. On 3 June 1938 the SS President Coolidge was arrested in San Francisco for an unpaid debt of $35,000. A bond of $70,000 was put up so the ship could be released for its trip to Asia. After this date, the Dollar Steamship Line Inc. (as well as American Mail) were suspended from operation.
     Earlier, Joseph P. Kennedy, (father of President John F. Kennedy) was appointed as the first chairman of the new Federal Maritime Commission in 1937 during which he laid the groundwork for the US merchant marine (Kennedy did not stay as Chairman for long as he became the United State's Ambassador to Great Britain in 1938). One of the first acts of the commission was to investigate the Dollar line and associated companies. The troubles in China at this time (the Sino-Japanese war was on) had caused passenger numbers and cargo quantities to drop markedly. Accordingly, income had dropped and at the same time insurance costs had gone sky high.
     Eventually, the Dollar family passed ownership of the line to the Government in a swap for cancelling the debts of the line. On 15 August 1938, the commission took ownership of the Dollar line. As part of the deal, the name "Dollar" was not to be used and the jobs of all employees below the top level were kept.
     However, before this occurred, on 20 July 1938 the ownership of the SS President Coolidge was passed onto the United States Department of Commerce. There were immediate changes. The commission appointed William Gibbs McAdoo as Chairman of the board of the new entity and Joseph Sheehan, Executive Director of the commission, became President.
     On 1 November 1938, the new entity met for the first time. At that meeting, the name of the company was changed to American President Lines Ltd. Instead of the $ sign that had graced the funnels of the Dollar ships, the new symbol was a white eagle. The President Coolidge stayed in service on the Trans Pacific run. Before Dollar Lines, however, American President Lines traces its ancestry to the venerable Pacific Mail Steamship Company, which operated on the west coast of North America during the California Gold Rush and pioneered trans-Pacific service to the Orient.
     After World War Two started in Europe, the American President Lines ships became more involved in moving cargo and passnegers to and from Europe. This led to the company increasing profits. On 27 May 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed a state of national emergency and the defence forces started chartering the American President Lines ships. Soon the line had called a halt to its regular Trans Pacific routes and most of its ships were being used to move soldiers to expected theatres of war.
     The Coolidge was occasionally used by the War Department on a part-voyage basis. Her first voyage on a full-time basis for the army began at San Francisco on 15 July 1941 and took her to Honolulu and Manila. After returning in late August the ship again left San Francisco in early September for Honolulu and Manila. On 1 November 1941 the SS President Coolidge once more sailed from the Golden Gate for the same destinations, and was en route home, midway between Manila and Honolulu, when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occured. She reached San Francisco on Christmas Day 1941.
     On 7 December 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and as a consequence, the US declared war on Japan and Germany.
     Within a month of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the US's entry into the war, the Coolidge was converted to a troopship in January 1942 even though the War Shipping Administration was not proclaimed by President Roosevelt until 21 February 1942. This brought all US shipping under Government control.
     The American President Lines was owned by the US Government. The Dollar family attempted through legal means after the War to recover the company but was unsuccessful. A deal meant that the line was sold and the money split between the Dollar family and the US Government. The company was purchased by a group called APL Associates. The company lives on today and now is one of the biggest container shipping companies in the world.

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.
Image above from the David Levine Collection.

Abbreviation: APL = American President Line

Funnel:
1893-192? Black with white dollar sign.
192?-1938 Black with broad red band containing white dollar sign.

Fleet:

1893-192? 192?-1938
Vessel Built Years in Service Tons
Agnes Dollar   see Grace Dollar.  
Alice Dollar 1921 1925 sold to John Swire & Co. ( China Nav. Co.) renamed Wantung, 1930 transferred to Taikoo Chinese Nav. Co., Shanghai, 1941 captured by Japanese renamed Heizan Maru, 1943 bombed and sunk by American aircraft. 1,061
Bessie Dollar 1905 1923 sold to Yabuki Gomei Kaisya, Japan renamed Kinryo Maru, 1944 torpedoed and sunk by American submarine Haddo. 4,390
Diana Dollar 1921 ex- Cathay, 1922 purchased renamed Diana Dollar, 1936 sold to American Hawaiian Steamship Co. renamed Alabaman. 7,034
Esther Dollar 1899 ex- Bethania, built for Hamburg America Line, ex- Parisian 1914, 1918 purchased from Leyland Line renamed Esther Dollar, 1930 sold to Canadian American Line renamed Chief Skidegate, 1934 sold to Japan renamed Taihoku Maru, 1944 sunk bu US submarine. 7,548
Grace Dollar 1918 ex- War Melody, 1919 purchased from Ministry of War Transport renamed Grace Dollar, 1924 sold to Tatsuuma Kisen KK, Dairen renamed Hakutatsu Maru, 1937 sold to Ryuun Kisen KK, Dairen renamed Ryuun Maru, 1942 sold to Nissan Kisen KK, Tokyo renamed Nikkyu Maru, 1943 torpedoed and sunk by American submarine Jack. 6,498
Grace Dollar 1913 engines aft, owned by Grace Dollar SS Co. (Robert Dollar Co.), Portland, Maine, 1918 renamed Admiral Wainwright, same owner, 1919 owned by Pacific SS Co., Portland, Maine, 1921 owned by Dollar SS Co., San Francisco renamed Agnes Dollar, 1923 sold to Moore Mill & Lumber Co., Marshfield, Ore., renamed Mary E. Moore, 23rd Feb.1927 sank off Coquille River after losing propeller and tail shaft on voyage S.F. to Bandon, Ore. 1,927
Harold Dollar 1904 wooden hull. engines aft, 1911 sold to Graywood SS Co. (Geo. S. Beadle), San Francisco renamed Graywood. 2nd Oct.1915 sank off entrance to Puget Sound on voyage SF to Tacoma. 915
Hazel Dollar 1905 1918 re-registered in Vancouver BC renamed Melville Dollar, 1922 sold to Japan renamed Shinkai Maru, 1927 Atsuta Maru, 1931 Kaku Maru, 1933 scrapped. 4,304
M.S. Dollar 1917 ex- War King, 1919 purchased from Ministry of War Transport renamed M.S. Dollar, 1928 sold to Canadian American Nav.Co Ltd, Hong Kong renamed Chief Maquilla, 1928 foundered off Aleutian Islands. 5,249
Margaret Dollar 1921 ex- Celestial, 1922 purchased renamed Margaret Dollar, 1936 sold to American Hawaiian Steamship Co. renamed Arkansan. 6,997
Melville Dollar (1)   see Hazel Dollar.  
Melville Dollar (2) 1921 ex- Oriental, 1922 purchased renamed Melville Dollar, 1936 sold to American Hawaiian Steamship Co. renamed Carolinian. 6,997
President Adams 1921 ex- Centennial State, 502 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Adams, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL, 1940 renamed President Grant (2), 1944 wrecked New Guinea. 10,496
President Buchanan   see President Monroe.  
President Cleveland 1921 ex- Golden State, 535 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Cleveland, 1925 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL, 1941 sold to US Navy renamed USS Tasker H. Bliss, 1942 sunk during invasion of North Africa. 14,124
President Coolidge 1931 1938 transferred APL not renamed, 1942 mined and sunk off Espiritu Santo. 21,936
President Fillmore (1) 1900 ex- Hamburg, laid down as Bavaria built for Hamburg America Line, ex- Red Cross 1914, ex- Powhattan 1917, ex- New Rochelle, ex- Hudson 1920, 1922 purchased from United States Line renamed President Fillmore, 1928 scrapped. 10,532
President Fillmore (2) 1904 Laid down as Minnelora for Atlantic Transport Line, ex- Mongolia, 1929 purchased from Pacific Mail Steamship Co., renamed President Fillmore, 1938 transferred to APL not renamed, 1940 sold to Wallem & Co., Panama renamed Panamanian, 1947 scrapped at Shanghai. 15,455
President Fillmore (3)   see President van Buren.  
President Garfield 1921 ex- Blue Hen State, 502 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Garfield, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL not renamed, 1940 renamed President Madison, 1942 to US Navy renamed USS Kenmore, then USS Refuge in 1944, 1948 scrapped. 10,496
President Grant 1921 ex- Pine Tree State, 535 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Grant, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL, 1940 to US Navy renamed USS Harris, 1946 reverted to President Grant and laid up, 1948 scrapped. 14,124
President Harrison 1921 ex- Wolverine Stat,e 502 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Harrison, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL, 1941 captured by Japanese off Yangtze River renamed Kakko Maru, then Kachidoki Maru, 1944 torpedoed and sunk by USS Pampanito. 10,496
President Hayes 1920 ex- Creole State, 502 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Hayes, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL, 1940 renamed President Tyler, 1941 to US Army renamed Howard McCurdy, 1946 to US Maritime Administration reverted to President Hayes and laid up, 1957 scrapped. 10,533
President Hoover 1930 1937 wrecked off Formosa. 21,936
President Jackson 1921 ex- Silver State 535 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Jackson, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL, 1940 became USS Zeilin for US Navy, 1946 reverted to President Jackson, 1948 scrapped. 14,124
President Johnson 1904 Laid down as Minnekahda for Atlantic Transport Line, ex- Manchuria completed for Pacific Mail Steamship Co., 1928 purchased from Panama Pacific Line renamed President Johnson, 1938 transferred to APL, 1940 sold to Panama renamed Tagus, 1947 sold to Tronsmar Navigation Co., Portugal renamed Santa Cruz, 1952 scrapped. 15,445
President Lincoln 1921 ex- Hoosier State, 535 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Lincoln, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL., 1940 sold to Ybarra y Cia, Spain renamed Maria del Carmen, later Cabo de Buena Esperanza, 1958 scrapped. 14,124
President Madison 1921 ex- Bay State, 535 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Madison, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL 1939 sold to Philippines renamed President Quezon, 1940 lost after grounding. 14,124
President Monroe 1920 ex- Panhandle State, 502 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Monroe, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL, 1940 renamed President Buchanan, 1944 converted to hospital ship renamed Emily H. M. Weder, 1946 became US Army Transport President Buchanan, 1947 laid up, 1957 scrapped. 10,533
President Pierce 1921 ex- Hawkeye Stat,e 535 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Pierce, 1925 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL, 1941 became US Army Transport Hugh L. Scott, 1942 torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-130 off North Africa. 14,124
President Polk 1921 ex- Granite State, 502 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Polk, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL, 1940 renamed President Taylor, 1942 grounded on Canton Island and subsequently destroyed by Japanese aircraft. 10,496
President Taft 1921 ex- Buckeye State, 535 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Taft, 1925 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL, 1941 became US Army Transport Willard A. Holbrook, 1957 scrapped. 14,124
President Taylor   see President Polk.  
President Tyler   see President Hayes.  
President van Buren 1920 ex- Old North State, 502 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President van Buren, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL, 1940 renamed President Fillmore, 1944 converted to Hospital Ship renamed Marigold, 1946 reverted to President Fillmore, 1948 scrapped. 10,533
President Wilson 1921 ex- Empire State, 535 ft class built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Wilson, 1925 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred to APL, 1940 sold to Ybarra y Cia, Spain renamed Maria Pipa, later renamed Cabo de Hornos, 1959 scrapped. 14,124
Robert Dollar (1) 1911 1912 sold to Japan renamed Unkai Maru, 1914 sold Navigazione Generale Italiana renamed Stromboli, 1917 torpedoed and sunk by German submarine UB-49 in Gulf of Lyons. 5,779
Robert Dollar (2) 1919 ex- Kurland, 1919 allocated incomplete to USA, purchased renamed Robert Dollar, 1931 sold to Canadian American Nav.Co Ltd, Hong Kong renamed Chief Capilano, 1937 sold to Madrigal & Co., Philippines renamed Don Jose, 1942 seized by Japan renamed Dosai Maru, 1945 sunk by US submarine. 10,893
Ruth Alexander 1913 ex- Sierra Cordoba, built for Norddeutscher Lloyd, ex- Callao 1917, 1922 purchased from US Government renamed Ruth Alexander, 1938 transferred to President Terminal Steamship Co. (a subsidiary of APL) not renamed, 1941 bombed and sunk by Japanese aircraft. 8,226
Stanley Dollar 1908 engines aft, 1919 sold to Alaska SS Co., Seattle renamed Skagway, 1924 sold to W. M. Mitchell, Seattle, 1924 sold to Skagway SS Co. (G. H. Walker), Los Angeles, 16th Dec.1929 beached on fire near Cape Flattery on voyage San Francisco - Tacoma, total loss. 1,838
Stanley Dollar 1914 ex- Erny, built for Unione Austriaca, ex- Warszawa 1919, 1923 purchased from Polish American Nav. Corp. renamed Stanley Dollar, 1936 sold to Madrigal & Co., Philippines renamed Susana, 1942 torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-221. 5,929
Stuart Dollar 1921 ex- Mandarin, 1922 purchased renamed Stuart Dollar, 1936 sold to American Hawaiian Steamship Co., renamed Floridian. 6,999
Virginia Dollar 1902 ex- Wayfarer, 1923 purchased from Thos. & Jas Harrison renamed Virginia Dollar, 1926 sold to Italy renamed Angiolina R, 1928 sold renamed Susa, 1932 scrapped. 9,599

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