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SS Arizona

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Title: SS Arizona  
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Subject: Oscar Wilde, Blue Riband, SS Britannic (1874), Guion Line
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SS Arizona

For the World War II US Navy battleship, see USS Arizona (BB-39).
Name: SS Arizona
Operator: Guion Line
Builder: John Elder & Company, in Govan, Scotland
Yard number: 222
Laid down: 1879
Launched: Monday, 10 March 1879
Fate: Broken up May 1926
Notes: Renamed Hancock in 1898
General characteristics
Class & type: Steam passenger ship
Tonnage: 5,147 gross register tons (GRT)
Length: 450 ft (140 m)
Beam: 45.4 ft (13.8 m)
Propulsion: Single screw - 15 knots
Triple expansion installed in 1898.

The Arizona was a record breaking British passenger liner that was the first of the Guion Line's Atlantic Greyhounds on the Liverpool-Queenstown-New York route.[1] One nautical historian called Arizona "a souped up transatlantic hot rod."[2] Entering service in 1879, she was the prototype for Atlantic express liners until the Inman Line introduced its twin screw City of New York in 1889. The Arizona type liner is generally considered as unsuccessful because too much was sacrificed for speed.[3] Laid up in 1894 when Guion stopped sailings, Arizona was sold four years later and briefly employed in the Pacific until she was acquired by the US Government for service in the Spanish American War. As the U.S. Navy's Hancock she continued trooping through W.W.I. and was finally scrapped in 1926.[3]

Development and design

Starting in 1866, the Guion Line was successful in the Liverpool-Queenstown-New York steerage trade. In 1875, Guion began commissioning express liners to compete for first class business, but its first two ships were total failures.[3] William Pearce, the controlling partner of the John Elder shipyard, was convinced that a crack steamer that carried only passengers and light freight could be profitable because she would attract more passengers and spend less time in port.[2] When Cunard rejected his proposal, Pearce offered his idea to the Guion line at a bargain price of £140,000 at a time when express liners typically cost £200,000.[2] He also agreed to share the initial costs. Stephen Guion, managing director of the line, personally owned the new vessel.[4]

As completed, Arizona appeared similar to White Star's Germanic, the current holder of the Blue Riband, but with greater power.[3] Her engines produced 6,400 indicated horsepower, 1,400 more than Germanic.[3] Arizona's seven double-ended boilers and 39 furnaces consumed 135 tons of coal per day, considerably more than her White Star rival. She also had less room for cargo and steerage passengers.[3]

Because of her high power, Arizona was an uncomfortable ship.[3] However, publicity at the time tried to hide this by describing the luxury of her interior. Her saloon "contained six long tables, with revolving chairs. A large dome-like aperture, with a skylight at the top, rose from the centre of the saloon, and was crossed by beams, supported by small pillars of polished wood, upon which were placed plants and flowers. The saloon extended the entire width of the vessel, and contained a fine piano at the forward end, and a library at the after end. The state-rooms were elegantly upholstered, and contained every facility for comfort. Pneumatic bells connected all the state-rooms with the steward's pantry, which was situated just aft the main saloon. A richly-furnished ladies' boudoir was on the promenade deck, just aft of the forward wheel-house."[5]

Service history

Shortly after her 1879 maiden voyage, Arizona won the eastbound record for a Sandy Hook-Queenstown run of seven days, eight hours, 11 minutes (15.96 knots).[6] However, despite her greater power and coal consumption, she failed to take the westbound "Blue Riband" record from Germanic.[6]

On 7 November 1879, Arizona suffered a collision with an iceberg en route to Liverpool.[7] Stephen Guion was on board with two of his nieces.[2] While the damage was severe, she remained afloat and was able to proceed to St. John's where she underwent temporary repairs before returning to Scotland.[1] Guion advertised this near disaster as proof of Arizona's strength.[3]

While uncomfortable, Alaska proved popular with American passengers because the Guion Line was majority owned by Americans.[7] Stephen Guion died in December 1885,[4] and the line was reorganized as a public stock corporation to settle the estate.[3] The company did not invest in new units and by 1894 when Guion stopped sailings, Arizona and her running mate, Alaska of 1881 were hopelessly outpaced by the latest twin-screw liners from Cunard, White Star and Inman.[6]

It was on the "Arizona" that Oscar Wilde first sailed to America in 1881. He boarded the ship at Liverpool on December 26th, 1881 as passenger no. 114. The ship arrived at New York on January 2nd, 1882, but passengers did not disembark until the following morning.

Arizona was laid up in Scotland until 1897 when she was sold to a British flagged San Francisco-China service. She was extensively rebuilt and her two funnels were replaced with one enormous funnel that dominated her profile. After a few Pacific voyages, Arizona was sold to the War Department and used as an Army transport. In 1902, she was acquired by the US Navy for use as a receiving ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and commissioned as Hancock. She served as a troopship in the First World War and continued in various duties until she was sold for scrapping in May 1926.[3]

See also


  • Ships Monthly (June 1985), Govan Shipyard, Ian Johnston
  • Shipping Times

External links

  • The Ships List
Preceded by
Atlantic Eastbound Record
Succeeded by
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