1914: A Steamship Leaves San Francisco for a First-of-a-Kind Trek Through the Panama Canal

July 27, 1914

The steamship SS Pleiades, part of the fleet of the Luckenbach Steamship Company, left San Francisco for what ultimately proved to be a record-setting voyage to New York City. Pleaides, carrying 5,000 tons (4,535.9 metric tons) of cargo on board, became the first ship in regular commercial traffic to sail from the Pacific to Atlantic Oceans via the Panama Canal. This ship’s eight-hour trek through the canal took place on August 16, the day after that waterway was officially opened.  

The Virginia-based newspaper Times-Dispatch underscored the significance of Pleiades’ trip through the Panama Canal. This newspaper reported, “The opening of the canal to commerce means that the earning capacity of the Pleiades and vessels of her kind has been doubled.” Later on the same day that Pleiades made history by transiting the Panama Canal, her fellow steamship SS Pennsylvanian of the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company became the second ship in regular commercial traffic to travel from the Pacific to Atlantic Oceans via that waterway.  

SS Pleiades arrived at New York Harbor 10 days later. She was given a noisy welcome that included hundreds of whistles blown by others vessels in that harbor. N.W. Liberoth, captain of Pleaides, publicly discussed the steamship’s first-of-a-kind voyage upon its completion.

When doing so, Liberoth highlighted the time-saving benefits of traveling through the Panama Canal. Liberoth explained, “In the old days a freighter would take from sixty-five to seventy days steaming from San Francisco to New York by way of Cape Horn, and on such a long voyage a lot of time would be wasted in coaling.” Liberoth also noted, “We shall now be able to get back to San Francisco by the time we would have been arriving in New York on the trip around the Horn.”

Photo Credit: Shipscribe (https://shipscribe.com/usnaux/ww1/ships/pleiades.htm)

For more information on the pioneering trip of SS Pleiades through the Panama Canal, please check out Panama Canal record (govinfo.gov) and an article from the New York Lumber Trade Journal (1 September 1914) at content (192×166) (google.com)

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