SS Oregon (1883)

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Guion Oregon.gif
Guion's Oregon of 1883
Career Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg
Name: SS Oregon
Operator: 1883-1884 - Guion Line, 1884-1886 - Cunard Line
Builder: John Elder & Company, in Govan, Scotland
Launched: June 23, 1883
Fate: 1886 - Sank 18 miles east of Long Island, New York after collision with schooner -
General characteristics
Class and type: Steam passenger ship
Tonnage: 7,375 gross register tons (GRT)
Length: 521 ft (159 m)
Beam: 54 ft (16 m)
Propulsion: Single screw - 18.5 knots

The Oregon was a record breaking British passenger liner that won the Blue Riband for the Guion Line as the fastest liner on the Atlantic in 1884. She was sold to the Cunard Line after a few voyages and continued to improve her passage times for her new owner. In 1885, Oregon was chartered to the Royal Navy as an auxiliary cruiser, and her success in this role resulted in the Admiralty subsidizing suitable ships for quick conversion in the event of a crisis. She returned to Cunard service in November 1885 and four months later collided with a schooner while approaching New York. All persons on board were rescued before Oregon sank. Her wreck, 18 miles east of Long Island, remains a popular diving site.[1]

Development and design

The Arizona and Alaska only allowed Guion to schedule fortnightly sailings with express liners in each direction. On alternate weeks, Guion's sailings used ships that were considerably slower. Guion needed two additional Atlantic greyhounds for a balanced weekly service.[2] When Cunard started to build a new fleet for its weekly Liverpool - New York express service, Guion Line ordered Oregon to retain the Atlantic records won by Alaska. As her predecessors, Oregon was built at the Fairfield Yard of John Elder & Company of Glasgow, Scotland, and cost $1,250,000.[3]

Oregon was 6.5% larger and 4 feet wider than Alaska, but the same length to reduce her ratio of length to beam and address the serious vibration problem experienced by Arizona and Alaska. Consideration was given to building Oregon of steel after the fisaco of the City of Rome, but the new metal was still expensive and hard to obtain. Oregon was the last iron record breaker. She had nine transverse watertight bulkheads, five iron decks, and a strong turtle-back deck forward and aft as a protection from the heavy seas.[3]

The triple expansion reciprocating steam engine built for Oregon had a 70 inch diameter high pressure cylinder flanked by two 104 inch diameter low pressure cylinders. The engine generating 12,500 indicated horsepower as compared to 8,300 for Alaska. Steam was generated from nine Fox patent double-ended boilers, each 16 3/4 feet long and 16 1/2 feet in diameter. Daily coal consumption was 300 tons, an increase of 50 tons compared to Alaska and 165 tons over Arizona. The screw propeller was twenty-four feet in diameter with a shaft that consisted of fifteen separate parts made of crucible steel.[3]

Oregon was fitted for 340 saloon, 92 second-class, and 1,000 steerage passengers. Passengers traveling saloon or cabin were equivalent to first class today. On Oregon, stearage had been upgraded to third class and given assigned berths in small rooms rather than dormatories.[3]

The main public room, the grand saloon was in the forepart of the ship and described at the time as "capable of dining the whole of the 340 cabin passengers." "The ceiling decorations were almost exclusively confined to white and gold. The panels were of polished satinwood, the pilasters of walnut, with gilt capitals. The saloon measured 65 by 54 feet, and was 9 feet in height in the lowest part. A central cupola of handsome design, 25 feet long and 15 feet wide, rose to a height of 20 feet, and gave abundant light and ventilation." "The staterooms are large and well lighted and ventilated. Every facility for comfort is provided in the cabin. The ladies' drawing room is furnished in a costly manner, and is on the promenade deck. The latter extends nearly the entire length of the vessel. The wood work of the ladies' drawing room, the Captain's cabin, and the principal entrance to the saloons came from the State of Oregon. On the upper deck near the entrance of the grand saloon is the smoking room, which is paneled in Spanish mahogany and has a mosaic floor. Incandescent electric lamps, supplied by the Edison Company, are used in lighting the vessel."[3]

Service history

Oregon sailed on her maiden voyage in October 1883 and was gradually broken in before attempting Alaska's records. On April 5, 1884, she won the eastbound record with a New York - Queentown run of 7 days, 2 hours, 18 minutes (17.12 knots). On her return to New York, she also won the Blue Riband with a westbound voyage of 6 days, 10 hours, 10 minutes (18.56 knots).[1] However, the Guion Line was in financial difficulty because in January 1884, Stephen Guion's older brother, William resigned from the firm due to bad investments unrelated to the steamship line.[4] Unable to make payments to the shipbuilder, Stephen Guion returned Oregon to her builders. At that time, Elders was completing two liners for Cunard to beat Oregon, and Cunard took the opportunity to acquire Oregon herself. On June 7, 1884, Oregon sailed under the Cunard flag and in August, bettered her eastbound record.[1]

In March 1885, during the Russian war scare over Afghanistan, the British Navy chartered sixteen passenger liners for conversion to auxiliary cruisers. While thirteen were converted, only Oregon and the Union Line's Moor were actually commissioned. Oregon proved successful because of her speed, and the Navy started to pay annual subsidies to passenger lines to make suitable ships available on call. When war fears abated, Oregon was returned to Cunard and on November 14, 1885, she resumed commercial sailings.[5]

With the completion of Umbria and Etruria, Oregon was now redundant on the New York exprerss service, and Cunard announced that she was to be transferred to the Liverpool - Boston route.[2] On what was supposed to be one of her last runs to New York, Oregon sailed from Liverpool on March 6, 1886 with 186 saloon, 66 second class and 395 steerage passengers. At 4:30 AM, just 15 miles from New York, she collided with a schooner, most likely the Charles H. Morse, which disappeared in those waters about the same time. The schooner sank almost immediately with all hands.[6]

The hole in Oregon's side was described as big enough for a horse and carriage. An unsuccessful attempt was made to plug the hole with canvas. Two hours after the collision, the captain ordered Oregon to be abandoned, but the lifeboats and rafts only had room for half of the 852 people on board. Finally, at 8:30 AM, the schooner Fannie A. Gorham and the pilot boat Phantom responded to Oregon's emergency flares and boarded all passengers and crew. At 10:30 AM, Fulda of Norddeutscher Lloyd also arrived, and the passengers and crew were transferred again. Eight hours after the collision, Oregon sank bow first in 125 feet of water. Her mast tops remained above water for a several tides.[6]

Cunard sent divers to the wreck to determine if Oregon could be salvaged. However, the hull broke open when the ship hit the bottom. The loss amounted to $3,166,000 including $1.25 million for the ship, $700,000 for her cargo, $216,000 in passenger baggage, and $1 million for currency and other valuables carried in the mails. Oregon's purser managed to save a large shipment of diamonds in the ship's safe.[6]

Over the years, the ship's hull and iron decks have collapsed. However, the engine still stands 40 feet above the ocean floor near the ship's nine boilers.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Kludas, Arnold (1999). Record breakers of the North Atlantic, Blue Riband Liners 1838-1953. London: Chatham. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gibbs, Charles Robert Vernon (1957). Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean: A Record of Atlantic Steam and Motor Passenger Vessels from 1838 to the Present Day. John De Graff. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Gentile, Gary (1966). Shipwrecks of New York. 
  4. New York Times (January 21, 1884). William H. Guion, Ruined by loans to friends. 
  5. Williams, David (1989). Liners in Battledress. St. Catharines, Ontario: Vanwell. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Flayhart, William Henry (2003). Disasters at Sea. New York: W.W. Norton. 
Preceded by
Holder of the Blue Riband (Westbound)
1884 – 1885
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Atlantic Eastbound Record
1876 – 1879
Succeeded by

de:Oregon (1883) ja:オレゴン (客船・初代)