||The first class lounge on
the President Hoover, 1932.
Click on image for larger version.
Of the many ships belonging to APL and its
forebears - from graceful 19th-century steamers
to ultramodern containerships - perhaps the
most memorable are the art deco masterpieces operated by Dollar
Line in the 1930s and the sleek luxury liners launched by
APL after World War II.
With a history of traveling extensively on
his own ships on business, it's no wonder that Robert
Dollar commissioned the construction of two of the largest
ocean liners ever built in the United States. They were the
Presidents Hoover and Coolidge. Old Captain Dollar was
awestruck when he boarded the former on August 6, 1931. Of
the Hoover he wrote, "The ship is a wonder."
Indeed, the ships were stunning. Each
carried 988 passengers and a crew of 324. The plush accommodations
and art deco furnishings rivaled the best hotels of the era.
And each also boasted outdoor pools, gymnasiums, and phones
in every room. The luxury and elegance of these two ships
were in stark contrast to the hard times of the Great Depression,
which lasted until World War II.
||The Presidents Cleveland and Wilson.
After World War II, a new generation of Americans
was eager to travel in style. In 1947, APL launched the Presidents
Cleveland and Wilson, continuing in a tradition
begun when the Pacific Mail Steamship Company started carrying
passengers in 1867. Designed to carry 550 passengers and a
crew of 352, the ships were advertised as "your American
"Air-conditioned throughout, with swimming
pools for every Class, smart shops, theaters, cafe-grill and
many other innovations," the vessels set the standard
for seagoing travel. And they took passengers to remarkably
unspoiled ports like Alexandria, Colombo, Antigua, Suva, and
Penang. Not surprisingly, demand was so high that tourist-class
cabins were soon converted in order to accommodate more first-class
|Click on image for larger version.
For those who couldn't afford $2,470
for a 100-day, round-the-world voyage, there was the long-running
television hit "The Gale Storm Show." The first
of the "Love Boat" genre, the show featured Gale
Storm as the social director aboard the SS Ocean Queen
from 1956 to 1960. The fictitious ship was, in fact, the President
Unfortunately, APL's passenger traffic
declined sharply after the U.S. recession of 1958. Plans to
build new passenger ships were abandoned because the industry
was losing ground to intercontinental jet travel. In 1973,
the last voyage of the President Wilson marked the
end of APL's luxury liner service.
|Celebrated American author
A Slow Boat To...
For celebrated American author Alex Haley,
APL ships offered solace and an environment very conducive
to writing. Haley, like many of the passengers who sailed
on APL vessels from 1973 to 1987, welcomed the chance to escape
from a busy life. In contrast to the Cleveland and
Wilson, APL's cargo vessels provided passage
to only 12 stalwart individuals.
According to a crew member from this era,
"ships weren't as connected to the rest of the
world as they are today. No one used fax machines the way
they do now, and many of the passengers who sailed on these
ships enjoyed being beyond the reach of their day-to-day lives
||The President Adams, built in 1968.
Because of this, Haley and his assistant
traveled often on APL ships. Described as a night owl, the
author was very much at home on freighters because he had
sailed on Coast Guard vessels for many years before turning
his attention to writing. Even years after the success of
his best-known work, Roots, Haley continued to seek
the solitude afforded by life at sea.
Although APL no longer offers passenger service,
the company's rich history of luxuriously slow voyages
gives us pause. It gives us the opportunity to wonder how
it must have been to see the world from a deckchair on a steamer,
book in hand, pleasantly out of reach.