The first of the fourteen four-stackers ever built, Norddeutscher
Lloyd's Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was built by Vulkan of Stettin.
Launched in 1897, she made her maiden voyage on 19 September of that
year, from Bremerhaven to New York.
In November 1897, she set an eastbound crossing record from Sandy Hook
to the Needles and four months later she captured the westbound Blue
Riband. She held these records until Hapag's Deutschland took the
eastbound record in July 1900 and the westbound one in September 1903.
The ship narrowly escaped a massive fire at NDL's Hoboken, NJ, piers in
June 1900, which badly damaged her running mates, Main, Bremen and Saale
and killed 161 crewmen on those ships. Six years later, in November
1906, she was struck broadside while trying to cross in front of Royal
Mail's Orinoco; five passengers on Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse were killed
by the impact and a hole 70 feet (21m) wide by 26 feet (8m) high was
made in her hull. An Admiralty Court found the accident to be 100%
attributable to Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse.
In August 1914 the ship was taken over by the German Navy as an
auxiliary cruiser, assigned to commerce raiding off the Canary Islands.
After sparing two passenger ships since they were carrying women
passengers, she sank two freighters before she herself sank on 26 August
after being attacked by HMS Highflyer. (British sources insisted that
Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse sank because of the damage inflicted by
Highflyer. German authorities claimed she had been scuttled by her crew
to avoid capture when she exhausted her munitions.) Whatever the cause,
she earned the dubious distinction of being the first passenger ship
sunk during World War I.
Sources: Shaum and Flayhart's Majesty at Sea; Kludas' Great Passenger
Ships of the World; Williams' Wartime Disasters at Sea.