SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, named after the first emperor of the new (post-1871) German Empire, Kaiser Wilhelm I, was a German ocean liner of the Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL) shipping line. She is notable for a number of things, including being the first German ship to win the Blue Riband and the first passenger ship (although acting as an armed merchant cruiser at the time) sunk in World War I.
She was built by Vulcan shipyards in Stettin and launched on 4 May 1897. She made her maiden voyage on 19 September of that year, from Bremerhaven to New York. In November 1897, she set an eastbound North Atlantic crossing record from Sandy Hook to the Needles, and four months later she captured the westbound Blue Riband, taking it from Cunard's Lucania. She held these records until the rival Hamburg-Amerika Line's Deutschland took the eastbound record in July 1900 and the westbound one in September 1903. The fact that German ships took over this famed prize eventually led the British to build their Mauretania and Lusitania duo.
The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse became the first liner to have a commercial wireless telegraphy system when the Marconi Company installed one in February 1900. Communications were demonstrated with systems installed at the Borkum Island lighthouse and Borkum Riff lightship 30 km northwest of the island, as well as with British stations. The ship was also the first liner to have four funnels, which would become a symbol of safety and prestige. Like many four-funneled liners, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse did not actually require that many. She had only two uptake shafts from the boiler rooms, which then each branched into two to connect to the four funnels- this design is the reason for the funnels being unequally spaced.
The ship escaped a massive fire at NDL's Hoboken, New Jersey, 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 the Royal Mail's Orinoco; five passengers on Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse were killed by the impact and a hole 21 meters (70 ft) wide by 8 meters (26 ft) high was ripped into her hull. An Admiralty Court found the accident to be entirely attributable to Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. On 5 January 1909. Orville Wright and his sister Katharine sailed from America on Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse bound for France, where Wilbur Wright was demonstrating an aircraft.
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