Early Years as a Luxury Liner
The ship depicted in the Seal of the Institute is the City of New York, which was bult by the yards of J. & G. Thomson, Ltd., Glasgow, and launched in March, 1888. Owned by the Inman Line of Philadelphia, the vessel flew the British Red Ensign. She was of 525 feet, with a beam of 63.3 feet and gross tonnage of 10,803. She had a service speed of 20 knots and could carry 290 first-class, 250 second-class and 725 steerage-class passengers.
The City of New York and her sistership City of Paris, which was launched one year later, were the first deluxe passenger liners with twin screws. However, they were not the first vessels with that unique feature. Twenty years earlier, the French Line converted two of their side-wheelers.
An important feature of all luxury liners is speed, and in this respect the City of New York excelled. On August 21, 1892, she established a North Atlantic eastbound record, from New York to Queenstown, of 5 days, 19 hours and 57 minutes. (The last true holder of the Atlantic Blue Riband, the S/S United States, established the current record of 3 days, 10 hours and 40 minutes from New York to Bishop Rock on July 7, 1952.)
From the days of the Collins and other lines in the 1850's until 1893, the American flag had been flying on only a handful of transatlantic passenger steamships. In February of that year, under authority of a special Act of Congress, President Harrison hoisted Old Glory on the City of New York, which by then had been renamed New York.
New York was pressed into military service in the Spanish-American War and her name was changed to the USS Harvard. Her service as an auxiliary cruiser during the war was outstanding. Her speed made the ship a wonderful scout in the days when there was no wireless.
In the early 1900's, once again under the name of New York, she was refitted and given a covered promenade deck, new boilers and engines, and reappeared with two tall king-sized cigarette funnels instead of her original three. In fact, these modifications were probably encouraged because of improvements to her sistership, which was rebuilt after running ashore off Land's End. (Incidentally, the Paris, thereafter known as Philadelphia, was reported to be the first ship to be refloated by means of compressed air forcing the water out of a punctured compartment.
Even with her improvements, it was not long before the new deluxe British and German liners forced the 25-year-old New York to turn her first-class accommodations into cabin class and combine second-class with steerage.
In 1917, under the name USS Plattsburg, she found herself back in Naval service. During the first World War she struck a mine but managed to reach port safely and was repaired. After the War, the ship reverted to her old name and resumed merchant service as an immigrant carrier.
In 1922, when the immigrant quota system came into effect, and ships were required to carry no more than four passengers in a cabin, the 34-year-old veteran was sold to foreign owners for $125,000 and chartered out for a trip to Poland. After returning to New York, the New York was again chartered for a voyage to Italy. When next reported, she had been sold for a debt at Constantinople (now Istanbul) for $10,000. Eventually she was scrapped at Spezia.