Maritime Topics on Stamps

The 'Four Stackers',

Fast Steamers with Four Funnels,

Part 1 with German ships.

A total of 14 passenger ships were built with four funnels from 1897 to 1922. These ships were called "four funnel liners" or "four stackers". There was only one ship having even five funnels, the "Great Eastern" which was already put to service in 1858. When the ship was converted into a cable layer one funnel was removed.
Why have so many funnels? In general the function of a chimney is to create a negative pressure, which pulls in fresh air to boil water. The steam hits the pistons, which in turn drive the propellers.
Exhaust steam, smoke from the coal ovens, heat from the engines and excess steam from the boilers inside the ship, all these gases are pulled out by the partial vacuum created at the chimneys upper rim. They leave the ship at her highest point and do not hassle the people on deck.

As ships became bigger and faster, they required more power. To create more power, more and bigger engines were installed. Bigger engines in turn required more propellers, boilers and chimneys. From the outside, you cannot see the propellers, nor the steam boilers, nor the engines inside the hull. But you do see the chimneys. Thus the number and size of the chimneys was intuitively taken as to indicate the power and safety of a ship.
And indeed, with some of the ships with four funnels, one of them was a dummy. If you looked inside, there was nothing but a simple ladder in it, which could be used as an extra emergency exit for people working under deck.
This was true for the Olympic class of White Star Lines, which had a fourth, empty chimney, to impress potential customers.
So many "4-stackers" were at their heart only 3-stackers equipped with a fake empty 4th chimney. It simply was a matter of prestige among the big north atlantic shipping lines.

On part of the German lines, the most popular 4-stackers were the "Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse", "Kronprinz Wilhelm", "Kaiser Wilhelm II" und die "Kronprinzessin Cecilie".
Together the four of them were called "The Emperor's Class" of the North German Lloyd, also referred to as the "Four Flyers".
On this page the five German "four stackers" are presented. For the nine British and one French four stackers refer to part 2.

Fast steamer
"Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse"
  • Built in 1897 Vulcan Shipyard, Stettin
  • Length 197.70 m,
  • Width 20.13 m
  • 14,349 GRT, 6,400 tdw
  • Speed max. 22.45 kn
  • 2 steam engines, 2 propellers
  • Power 27,000 PSi
  • Passengers:
    1. Class 206,
    2. Class 226,
    3. Class 1.074
  • Crew 488
  • Shipping Company: Norddeutscher Lloyd
The "Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse" was put to service between Bremen / Bremerhaven and New York City. In 1898 she won the Blue Ribbon of the North Atlantic.
In June 1900 she escaped from a big fire in Hoboken, which severely damaged three other German passenger ships, the "Main", the "Bremen" and the "Saale".
In 1906, she got rammed amidships by the RMS "Orinoco", as she was crossing the navigable water in front of her. She was hit and a huge leak of 21×8 meters in size opened up. Five of her passengers were killed. A later sea court found the "Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse" guilty.
In 1914, the ship was rebuilt to transport only 3rd and 4th class passengers, to take advantage of the growing numbers of emigrants to North America.
At the beginning of World War I, the "Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse" was converted into a cruiser-raider. She received four 10.5 cm guns and was sent to the coast of West Africa to intercept British freighters.
She sank two ships, but then in August 1914 the British cruiser HMS "Highflyer" confronted her in the mouth of the Spanish river Rio de Oro and shelled the German boat. When the Germans ran out of ammunition, they drove their ship aground and blew her up with their last explosives.
The wreck remained there on the beach until 1952, when it finally was scrapped.
On the left you see a flag cancellation and on the right a guide print from aboard the express liner.

Fast steamer "Deutschland"
  • built 1900 Vulcan Shipyard, Stettin
  • Length 208.50 m,
  • Width 20.50 m
  • 16,502 GRT, 6,908 tdw
  • Speed max. 22.5 kn
  • 2 steam engines, 2 propellers
  • Power 34,000 PSi
  • Passengers:
    1. class 429,
    2. class 226,
    3. class 284
  • Crew 557
  • Shipping company: Hamburg-Amerika Linie
In July 1900 on her maiden voyage from Eddystone to Sandy Hook, the "Deutschland" captured the famous Blue Ribbon. Her average speed was 22.42 knots. In total the "Deutschland" won the Blue Ribbon four times, the last time with a speed average of 23.15 knots.
However, technical problems showed up. At high speeds, the machinery began vibrating. On 22 April 1902, the "Deutschland" got into heavy weather on her way back from New York City to Hamburg. Her rudder and her stern broke off. The ship was able to go to Hamburg on her own. The repair was carried out at Blohm & Voss.
Due to the high coal consumption, the "Deutschland" was taken out of service in October 1910 and rebuilt. The engines were throttled (kn 17.5). The interior was changed into a luxury cruise ship. On 23rd September 1911 she set sail again, beaming in a new white hull paint. She now was named "Victoria Louise". She was the largest cruise ship of the world.

At the onset of World War I she too was changed into an auxiliary cruiser-raider, but was never used. At the end of the war, she was in such a poor condition, that the victor powers did not confiscate her as reparation payment.
So she became the only remaining large steamer flying the German flag.
A last overhaul followed in 1921, in which two of the four funnels were removed and the ship was renamed "Hansa" and used from October 1921 to 1925.
Then the Vulcan shipyard scrapped her in Hamburg.

This is a cancellation of the German-American Sea Post, carrying an identification letter "e" cut on 22. 9. 1900 aboard the express liner "Deutschland". It was used from 04/07/1900 until 10/01/1910 on this ship.

Fast steamer "Kronprinz Wilhelm"
  • built 1901 Vulcan Shipyard, Stettin
  • Length 202.17 m,
  • Width 20.20 m
  • 14,908 GRT, 6,900 tdw
  • Speed max. 23.53 kn
  • 2 steam engines, 2 propellers
  • Power 33,000 PSi
  • Passengers:
    1. Class 301,
    2. Class 300,
    3. Class 717
  • Crew 528
  • Shipping company: Norddeutscher Lloyd
The "Kronprinz Wilhelm" was a scaled-up and improved "Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse". The latest technical developments with respect to speed and luxury were applied. Her engines were tuned to deliver 6,000 hp more power.
From 1901 to 1914, the ship was put on regular service from Bremerhaven via Southampton and Cherbourg to New York.
1902 the "Kronprinz Wilhelm" won the Blue Ribbon averaging a speed of 23.09 knots. In October 1902 the "Kronprinz Wilhelm" collided with the British Steamer "Robert Ingham," in a dense fog bank in the British Channel. The English ship sank within four minutes, two people were killed. The Sea Court found no fault with the captains of both ships.
At the outbreak of World War I the "Kronprinz Wilhelm" met with the cruiser "Karlsruhe" on high seas. She was armed to become an auxiliary cruiser. But in April 1915, the ship entered the American harbour Newport News. The crew was interned, and their ship "mothballed" in Philadelphia.
In 1917, when the United States entered the war, they confiscated the ship, renamed her into "USS Von Steuben" and used her as a troop transporter. Among other adventurers of the Americans on the German ships collided with the USS "Agamemnon" (former "Kaiser Wilhelm II") and fought off a German submarine, the U-151.
After the war she was put back to merchant service, of course not before renaming her again, to "Baron von Steuben". The year 1921 saw another rename, now back to "Von Steuben". In 1924 the ship was finally scrapped.

On the left we see a flag cancellation of the "Kronprinz Wilhelm", which was in use in the year 1914 only. On the right is a Sea Post imprint reading Bremen-New York "VIII" of 10/16/1901, which was issued by the Sea Post Office of the "Kronprinz Wilhelm".

Fast steamer
"Kaiser Wilhelm II"
  • built 1902 Vulcan Shipyard, Stettin
  • Length 215.34 m,
  • Width 22.05 m
  • 19,341 GRT, 8,700 tdw
  • Speed max. 23.58 kn
  • 4 steam engines, 2 propellers
  • Power 38,000 PSi
  • Passengers:
    1. Class 468,
    2. Class 268,
    3. Class 799
  • Crew 650
  • Shipping company: Norddeutscher Lloyd
A technical feature were the four quadruple expansion steam engines, which had two motors on a propeller shaft. The ship too was servicing the transatlantic service line between Germany and New York.
1904 the "Kaiser Wilhelm II", set another record, running at a speed of 23.58 knots in west-east direction. The Blue Ribbon however, is recognizing only travel in east-west direction against the Gulf Stream and the prevailing westerly winds.
In June 1914, the British freighter "Incemore" rammed the "Kaiser Wilhelm II", off the coast of Southampton in heavy fog. The "Kaiser Wilhelm II" had to return to Southampton with a strong list. She was repaired at Harland & Wolff.
When WW I broke out, the ship was in New York. The crew was detained and put on the ship. 1917 the Americans entered the war, confiscated the ship and used her as a troop transporter, of course not before renaming her into "USS Agamemnon" .

The "IV" in the stamp is the "Kaiser Wilhelm II".

On 9th November 1917, she had a collision with the former German ship USS "Von Steuben", which had been the ex "Kronprinz Wilhelm", (see above).
However, troop transports were successfully continued until August 1919. After the war the soldiers were brought back to the U.S.. The ship was launched again, and, of course, renamed again into "Monticello".
Moored side by side, the ex "Kaiser Wilhelm II" and her sister ship, the former "Kronprinzessin Cecilie" (now "Mount Vernon") rusted away in their berth in Baltimore, Chesapeake Bay. Finally, in 1940, both vessels were scrapped.

Fast steamer
"Kronprinzessin Cecilie"
  • built 1906/07 Vulcan Shipyard, Stettin
  • Length 208.89 m,
  • width 22.00 m
  • 19,503 GRT, 8,300 tdw
  • Speed max. 23.6 kn
  • 4 steam engines, 2 propellers
  • Power 46,000 PS
  • Passengers:
    1. Class 617,
    2. Class 326,
    3. Class 798
  • Crew 602-686
  • Shipping Company: Norddeutscher Lloyd
All the ships of the "Kaiser" class were absolutely top of the line in their class, as for size, elegance, speed and technical excellence.
The "Kronprinzessin Cecilie" featured the largest reciprocating steam engine plant, ever installed into a ship and operated in a ship. Inside her the four quadruple expansion engines generated 46,000 hp.
From 1907 until the outbreak of World War I the ship was in service between Germany and the U.S. As far as winning the prestige Blue Ribbon, the "Kronprinzessin Cecilie" came too late. The English with their "Lusitania" employed a new technology, with higher efficiency. High pressure steam hits turbines, which in turn drive the propeller shafts. The turbines put them into a new class of higher speeds.
When the war broke out in 1914 it caught the "Kronprinzessin Cecilie" by surprise on high seas. On board were 1216 passengers as well as gold bars and coins worth 15 million U.S. dollars.
The captain brought the ship into a small Port of the State of Maine because the British were only controlling the major U.S. ports. All passengers were disembarked. Then the German captain moved the ship to Boston, with all the gold bars still on board, escorted by an U.S. destroyer.
Years later he was accused of non-compliance with the rules of gold transport, and dismissed.
1917 with the United States entering the war the ship was confiscated.
The Germans had demolished the machinery such that it was not repairable in the US. A complete new machine was installed, the ship was renamed USS "Mount Vernon" and used for troop transports.
In 1918 the ship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-82. Through a huge hole water poured into the ship. But the adjacent bulkheads did not break and kept the big vessel afloat. With 15 degree list and a low 6 knots speed the vessel was able to make it to the French harbour Brest on her own.
When the war ended, the ship was laid up. Together with the former "Kaiser Wilhelm II" the "Mont Vernon" ex "Kronprinzessin Cecilie" surged and rusted until 1939 in the Chesapeake Bay.
In 1940 the ship was scrapped.

End part 1

Collection Friedrich Steinmeyer, Chief working group Schiffspost.
Steinmeyer, Evers, Deutsche See- und Schiffspost 1886 - 1945, Hauschild Verlag
Wikipedia Internet Encyclopaedia
Arnold Kludas, das Blaue Band des Nordatlantiks, Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft


© Bjoern Moritz, all rights reserved.

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