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Famous Ships That Did Not Sink: The 'SS Kronprinz Wilhelm'

April 16, 2012 at 11:33 AM | by | ()

As you already know, this last weekend marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Though yes, the sinking is a huge part of history, it's also not indicative of how ship travel actually was in the early 20th century. Not every ship sank. This week, we'll show you some notable ships that managed to stay afloat and still make their mark in history.

Today's ship that didn't sink: Kronprinz Wilhelm of Norddeutscher Lloyd line.

Look, if you were building an ocean liner in the early 1900s, you had a lot of competition. To stand out, ships aimed to take home titles and prizes, like "longest ship" or "fastest transatlantic crossing." The latter was the real gem, and the prize for being the speediest ship between the UK and US was called the Blue Riband. It's what the Titanic was aiming to claim when it kept its boilers running high and sailing fast through an ice field. Whoops.

Alas, the Kronprinz Wilhelm and her 660' length first set sail in 1901 and took the Blue Riband in 1902 (the Titanic didn't sail and sink until 1912) with a crossing time of 5.5 days. Not too shabby, considering today's cruise ships still schedule a transatlantic "cruise" for a straight week.

She was a classy thing; even John Jacob Astor sailed on her years before he died on the Titanic. The Kronprinz Wilhelm had some fancy accoutrements for her time, like a Marconi telegraph, central heat and electricity. Her First Class passengers could number over 360; she prided herself on offering luxury, but of course there were still Second and Third classes with almost 1,500 more travelers.

The Kronprinz Wilhelm only delighted paying passengers for a little less than 15 years. The outbreak of World War I forced her to become an auxiliary cruiser for the German navy, a fact which would eventually be her downfall. No, she wasn't sunk by a torpedo; remember, we're talking about ships that didn't sink.

During the war, the Kronprinz sank many ships and seized many others, mostly off the coast of Argentina and Brazil. She parked for a while in Portsmouth but was in the wrong place at the wrong time when the United States joined World War I by declaring war on Germany. Whoops—the US seized the Kronprinz Wilhelm, renamed her the Von Steuben and put her back to work, this time as a troopship transporting US soldiers between America and Brest, France.

So, what eventually happened? Well, as the Von Steuben she had a U-Boat run-in or two, though she kept her hull above the waves. Eventually she was scrapped in Boston, sometime after 1923.

[Scanned images from a 1907 Norddeutscher Lloyd pamphlet: Jaunted]

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