S.S. GREAT NORTHERN – When the San Francisco to Portland steamship was faster than the train…



The Great Northern Pacific Steamship Company was formed by James Hill on September 30, 1914. The line was to compliment the passenger train service on the Astoria Line and compete with the Southern Pacific trains to San Francisco. The company operated two ships, the S.S. Great Northern and S.S. Northern Pacific. The ships proved faster than the SP’s express trains until bridges replaced much slower ferries. During the winter season of 1915-6, the ships also ran to Hawaii.


Eventually the service was not a success and the line was for sale when World War I intervened. The U.S. government commandeered the ships on September 17, 1917, ending the line. Both ships survived the war, but the Northern Pacific burned and sank on while being towed to be refit. The Great Northern returned to coastwise liner service for many years with the Pacific Steamship Co. as their H.F. Alexander. She was commandeered a second time for World War II, and saw duty as the General George S. Simmonds. This would be her last duty as a post-war surplus of ships left her obsolete and scrapped.


S.S. Great Northern



S.S. H. F. Alexander (former Great Northern)


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About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…