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The Fleets

Pacific Mail SS Co.

The Pacific Mail Steamship Company was founded in 1848 by William Aspinwall of the firm of Howland and Aspinwall to execute a contract to carry mail from the Isthmus of Panama to the newly-annexed territory of California. Fortuitously for Aspinwall and his fellow investors, Pacific Mail was ideally positioned to cash in on the Gold Rush of 1849. As a result of this and the high quality of its service, the company became both an important part of the history of the American West as well as one of the most profitable enterprises of its era, with an annual return on investment that ran as high as 30%. Within five years of its inception, the company was running 18 steamers and it peaked at 23 in 1869. In that year, however, the completion of the transcontinental railroad foretold the end of the high profits of the Panama-California route. PMSS also neglected to keep up to date technologically and began to suffer from competition from other companies, especially the Occidental and Oriental SS Company. For a time, the line survived on subsidized mail contracts to Australia and New Zealand, but when it lost those it was soon forced to accept a takeover by the Southern Pacific Railroad Company in 1893. In 1912, Congress banned ships owned by railroads from using the Panama Canal, so Southern Pacific sold PMSS to the Grace Line, which operated it as a subsidiary under its traditional house flag from 1916-25. It was then taken over by Robert Dollar & Co., which merged PMSS into its own operation, although it, too, continued to use the old name and flag on occasion. With the government bail-out of the Dollar Line in 1938, ownership passed to American President Lines, but by this time PMSS essentially existed only on paper. It was formally closed down in 1949 after just over a century of existence.

see also Panama fleet ships

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: Black

Fleet:

Vessel Built Years in Service Tons
Acapulco 1872 1916 sold to Western Fuel Co. and reduced to barge. 2,572
Admiral Dewey 1898 1913 purchased from American Mail SS Co., 1920 to Admiral Line, Tacoma, Wash., 1931 to Pacific Motorship Co., Seattle, 1935 scrapped. 2,104
Admiral Farragut 1898 1913 purchased from American Mail SS Co., 1920 to Admiral Line, Tacoma, Wash., 1933 to Pacific SS Lines, Seattle, 1935 scrapped. 2,134
Admiral Sampson 1898 1909 purchased from American Mail SS Co., 1920 sunk in collision with s/s Princess Victoria off Seattle. 2,104
Admiral Schley 1898 1913 purchased from American Mail SS Co., 1920 to Admiral Line, Tacoma, Wash., 1931 to Pacific Motorship Co, Seattle, 1935 scrapped. 2,134
Alaska 1868 1879 used as a hulk and store ship, 1885 ? 4,011
America 1868 1872 destroyed by fire in Yokohama Harbour; loss of 59 lives. 4,454
Asia 1883 ex- Doric, 1907 purchased from White Star Line renamed Asia, 1911 wrecked on Finger Rock, China Coast. 4,785
California 1848 1866 sold to California, Oregon & Mexico SS Co., 1872 repurchased by Pacific Mail SS Co., 1874 sold to Goodall, Nelson & Perkins, 1875 sold to N. Bichard, engines removed and rigged as barque, 1894 wrecked Peru. 1,058
China (1) 1867 1879 laid up, 1883 sold to Henry Villard and 1884 became receiving ship for smallpox patients, 1886 scrapped. 3,836
China (2) 1889 1915 sold to Atlantic Transport Co., and resold to China Mail Steamship Co., same name, 1923 laid up, 1925 scrapped. 5,060
City of Guatemala 1873 1874 wrecked Bahamas. 1,505
City of New York 1875 1893 wrecked on Point Bonita, San Francisco Bay. 3,019
City of Panama (1) 1873 1912 dismantled and later converted to five masted barquentine, 1919 renamed Crowley, T. Crowley, San Francisco, 1921 sold Brazil renamed Olga M. 1,490
City of Panama (2) 1924 1925 transferred to Panama Mail SS Co. (Grace & Co.),1931 renamed Santa Catalina, 1935 renamed Chimu, 1938 sold to United Baltic Corp, London renamed Baltavia. 2,461
City of Peking 1874 1910 scrapped. 5,080
City of Rio de Janeiro 1878 ex- City of Rio de Janeiro, 1881 purchased from United States & Brazil Mail SS Co. not renamed, 1901 wrecked in fog off Fort Point; loss of 131 lives. 3,548
City of San Francisco (1) 1875 1877 wrecked on uncharted rock off Mexican coast. 3,009
City of San Francisco (2) 1924 1925 transferred to Panama Mail SS Co. (Grace & Co.),1931 renamed Santa Monica, 1936 renamed Cumbal, 1938 sold to United Baltic Corp, London renamed Baltabor. 2,461
City of Sydney 1875 1915 sold and converted into a 6 masted barkentine, 1930 burned for metal. 3,016
City of Tokio 1874 1885 wrecked on Honshu, Japan. 5,079
Colima 1873 1895 foundered off Manzanillo, Mexico. 2,905
Colombia (1) 1850 1862 sold to Chinese owners. 777
Colombia (2) 1915 ex- Colombia built for Koninklijke West Indische Maildienst, 1915 purchased not renamed, 1925 to Panama Mail SS Co., 1931 stranded on Margarita Island, Baja California and lost. 5,644
Colon 1872 1904 wrecked at Acajutla. 2,686
Colorado 1865 1879 scrapped. 3,728
Corinto 1905 ex- Caldas, 1922 purchased from Caribbean SS Co., New York renamed Corinto, 1925 transferred to Panama Mail SS Co., 1935 renamed Mayan, 1939 sold Santo Domingo renamed San Rafael, 1942 torpedoed and sunk by U.125. 2,007
Costa Rica 1891 1917 sold to L. A. Pedersen, New York, 1923 sold to Northern Fisheries Inc., San Francisco, 1935 scrapped. 1,783
Cuba 1897 built as Coblenz for North German Lloyd, 1917 seized by USA renamed Sachem, 1920 purchased from US Shipping Board renamed Cuba, 1923 wrecked San Miguel Island, Santa Barbara Channel, Calif. 3,169
Dakota 1865 ex- Dakota, 1873 purchased from North American Steamship Co. not renamed, 1880 sold to Pacific Coast Steamship Co. same name, 1886 scrapped. 2,135
Dorothy Alexander 1906 ex- President, 1920 purchased from Pacific Coast Co., New York, 1923 renamed Dorothy Alexander, 1933 to Pacific SS Lines, Seattle, 1937 to Alaska SS Co., New York, 1938 renamed Columbia, 1946 sold to Empresa de Navegacao Mercante, Lisbon renamed Portugal, 1952 scrapped. 5,218
Ecuador 1915 ex- Ecuador built for Koninklijke West Indische Maildienst, 1915 purchased not renamed, 1931 transferred to Grace Line renamed Santa Olivia, 1936 sold to Libby, McNeill & Libby renamed David W. Branch, 1947 sold to Panama renamed Luxor, 1948 sold ti Israel renamed Negbah, 1956 scrapped. 5,544
Golden Age 1852 ex- Golden Age, 1854 purchased from New York & Australian Nav. Co. not renamed, 1875 sold to Japan renamed Hiroshima Maru.
2.181
Golden City 1863 1870 lost on coast of Lower California. 3,373
Golden Gate 1851 1862 burned at sea and beached near Manzanillo, Mexico; loss of 223 lives. 2,067
Granada 1873 1889 wrecked on Point Tejupan, Mexico. 2,572
Great Republic 1867 1878 sold to P.B. Cornwall not renamed, 1879 wrecked on Sand Island, Columbia River Bar. 3,881
Henry Chauncey 1865 1871 burnt at sea off North Carolina but rebuilt, 1877 scrapped. 2,656
Japan 1867 1874 burned at sea between Yokohama and Hong Kong and lost. 4,351
Korea 1902 1916 sold to Toyo Kisen Kaisha, Yokohama and renamed Korea Maru, 1930 laid up, 1934 scrapped. 11,276
Manchuria 1904 1929 renamed President Johnson for Dollar Line, 1938 transferred from Dollar Line to American President Line same name, 1947 sold to Tronsmar Navigation Co., Portugal renamed Santa Cruz, 1952 scrapped. 13,638
Mongolia 1904 1929 renamed President Fillmore for Dollar Line, 1938 transferred from Dollar Line to American President Line same name, 1940 sold to Wallem & Co., Panama renamed Panamanian, 1947 scrapped at Shanghai. 13,635
Montana 1865 1877 scrapped. 2,676
Moses Taylor 1857 Built for United States Mail SS Co., 1860 purchased by Cornelius Vanderbilt, 1864 transferred to Central American Transit Co, then North American SS Co., 1871 sold to William H. Webb, 1873 purchased by Pacific Mail SS Co., 1875 converted to store ship. 1,354
Nebraska 1865 Built for Central American Transit Co., 1867 sold to North American SS Co., 1875 purchased by Pacific Mail SS Co., 1876 sold to Goodall, Nelson & Perkins, 1878 scrapped. 2,145
Nevada 1867 ex- Paou Shan, 1866 renamed Nevada , 1873 purchased from United States, New Zealand & Australia Mail Steamship Co. not renamed, 1875 sold to Mitsubishi Mail Steamship Co., Japan renamed Seikyo Maru. 2,143
New York 1864 1865 purchased from Cornelius Vanderbilt, 1875 sold to Mitsubishi SS Co. renamed Tokio Maru. 2,217
Newport 1880 ex- Newport, 18? Purchased from Ward Line (New York & Cuba Mail Steamship Co.) not renamed, 1932 scrapped. 2,735
Newport 1880 1924 sold to Chas. L. Dimon, New York, 1930 scrapped. 2,735
Nile 1893 1911 purchased from Royal Mail Line not renamed, 1915 [1919?] sold to China Mail SS Co. same name, 1922 laid up, 1925 scrapped. 5,888
Oregon 1848 1861 sold to Holladay & Flint, 1869 engines removed and rigged as barque, 1880 sunk in collision with barque Germania in Straits of Juan de Fuca. 1,099
Panama 1848 1861 sold to Holladay & Flint, 1868 presented to Mexican Government renamed Juarez. 1,087
Persia 1881 ex- Coptic, 1906 purchased from Shaw, Savill & Albion renamed Persia, 1915 sold to Toyo Kisen Kaisha, Yokohama and renamed Persia Maru, 1926 scrapped. 4,356
Peru 1892 1919 sold to France renamed Lux. 3,528
President   see Dorothy Alexander.  
Relief 1851 ex- Osaka Maru, 1872 purchased from Japan renamed Relief, 1874 wrecked Nagasaki. 546
Rose City 1890 ex- Lawton, 1907 purchased from U.S. Navy renamed Rose City, 1909 sold to San Francisco & Portland SS Co., 1924 sold to McCormick Lumber Co., S.F, 1930 converted to barge. 3,497
San Blas 1882 1901 wrecked near Libertad. 2,075
San Juan 1882 1925 sold to J. K. Nelson, San Francisco,1929 sunk in collision with s/s S. C. T. Dodd. 2,076
Siberia 1902 1916 sold to Toyo Kisen Kaisha, Yokohama and renamed Siberia Maru, 1930 laid up, 1934 scrapped. 11,785
Solana 1921 1925 sold to Associated Oil Co., San Francisco, 1951 sold to Chandris, Piraeus renamed Mari Chandris, 1959 scrapped. 6,703
Sonora 1853 1868 scrapped. 1,616
St. Louis 1854 1854 chartered to New York & Havre Steam Nav. Co. for six round voyages. 1855 sold to the United States Mail SS Co. 1860 returned to Pacific Mail SS Co., 1865 rebuilt to 1,771 tons. Scrapped in 1878. 1,621
Starbuck 1881 ex- Oliveto, 1886 purchased renamed Starbuck, 1898 wrecked off coast Nicaragua. 2,157
Uncle Sam 1852 ex- Uncle Sam built for E. Mills, 1860 purchased from Atlantic and Pacific Steamship Company not renamed, 1866 sold to James S. Hermann & Co., Panama not renamed, 1876 lost. 1,433
Venezuela 1915 ex- Venezuela, 1915 purchased from Koninklijke West Indische Maildienst not renamed, 1931 transferred to Grace Line renamed Santa Isabel, 1939 scrapped. 5,641
    Managed Ships  
Vessel Built Years in Service Tons
Buckeye State 1921 1921-1925, built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Taft, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred from Dollar Line, 1941 became US Army Transport Willard A. Holbrook, 1957 scrapped. 14,123
Empire State 1921 1921-1925, built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Wilson, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred from Dollar Line, 1940 sold to Ybarra y Cia, Spain renamed Maria Pipa, later renamed Cabo de Hornos, 1959 scrapped. 15,127
Golden State 1921 1921-1925, 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. 14,123
Hoosier State 1922 1922-1925, built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Lincoln, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred from Dollar SS Co., 1940 sold to Ybarra y Cia, Spain renamed Maria del Carmen, later Cabo de Buena Esperanza, 1958 scrapped. 14,187
Silver State 1921 1921-1923, built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Jackson, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line not renamed, 1938 transferred to American President Line, 1940 became USS Zeilin for US Navy, 1946 reverted to President Jackson, 1948 scrapped. 14,123
Wenatchee 1921 1921- 1923, built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Jefferson, 1923 purchased by American Oriental Line, 1938 transferred to American President Line, 1941 to US Navy renamed USS Henry T. Allen, 1946 reverted to President Jefferson, 1948 scrapped. 14,127
Wolverine State 1921 1921-1923, built for US Shipping Board, 1922 renamed President Harrison, 1923 purchased by Dollar Line, 1938 transferred from Dollar Line, 1941 captured by Japanese off Yangtze River renamed Kakko Maru, then Kachidoki Maru, 1944 torpedoed and sunk by USS Pampanito. 10,533
    Chartered Ships  
Vessel Built Years in Service Tons
Colusa 1913 chartered from Grace Line, 1914 renamed Santa Cecelia, 1931 sold to Greece renamed Nideros, 1933 Sold to Norway renamed Lyngenfjord, 1938 wrecked. 5,873
Santa Cruz 1913 1917-1920 chartered from Grace Line, 1930 sold to A.H. Bull Steamship Co. Inc renamed Barbara, 1942 torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-126. 4,826
Vancouver 1873 1875 chartered from Macondray & Co., 1876 reverted to owners, 1878 sold to Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. renamed Tamar 1898 scrapped. 2,923
Vasco de Gama 1873 1875 chartered from Macondray & Co., 1876 reverted to owners, 1878 sold to Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. renamed Trent, 1897 scrapped. 2,912

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