In 1929 Dollar Line began construction of six new ships for its government mail contract. However, because of the Great Depression, only two vessels were built - the Presidents Hoover and Coolidge. The Presidents Hoover and Coolidge were placed into service in 1931. As a sign of the hard economic times, the two luxurious ocean liners carry less than half the number of passengers they could accommodate on their maiden voyages.
Captain Robert Dollar purchased his first ship, a 120-foot steam schooner called the Newsboy, to transport lumber from his mill to market in 1895. Of the many ships belonging to APL [American President Lines] 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.
President Hoover was quite an enervative vessel, with some very advanced features. Powered by two steam turbines connected to two electric motors made by Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, the Coolidge was capable of 20 knots with a range of 14,000 miles.
By the late 1930s World War II began to disrupt trade routes and Dollar Line's financial difficulties began to take a toll. There were delays and ships were laid up. On December 12, 1937, the President Hoover was enroute from Kobe to Manila. The Hoover runs aground off the coast of Taiwan. After many attempts to salvage the vessel, she was declared a total loss.
The U.S. Shipping Board was organized January 30, 1917, under the Shipping Act (39 Stat. 729), September 7, 1916. It was responsible for regulating maritime carriers and trade practices, developing naval auxiliary and merchant marine, and subsidizing ship construction. It was abolished, effective March 2, 1934, by EO 6166, June 10, 1933, and functions transferred to U.S. Shipping Board Bureau, Department of Commerce. The Bureau was superseded by independent U.S. Maritime Commission, pursuant to the Merchant Marine Act (49 Stat. 1985), June 29, 1936.
The U.S. Maritime Commission was responsible for promotion of the Victory Fleet shipbuilding program and the U.S. Merchant Marine officer training program during World War II. The Maritime Commission in 1937 embarked on a ten-year program to build 500 cargo ships. The cargo ships built between that time and March 1, 1945 include more than 2,500 Liberty ships, about 450 C-type cargo vessels, 550 oceangoing tankers, 175 Victory cargo ships and a variety of military, coastal, and smaller craft.
Joseph P. Kennedy was appointed as the first chairman of the new Federal Maritime Commission in 1937, and he laid the groundwork for the US merchant marine. One of the first acts of the commission was to investigate the Dollar line. The Sino-Japanese war had caused passenger numbers and cargo quantities to drop markedly. Income had dropped and insurance costs had gone sky high. Eventually, the Dollar family passed ownership of the line to the Government in a swap for cancelling the debts of the line. On 15 August 1938, the commission took ownership of the Dollar line.
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