Shipwrecks: SS Columbia

Early promotional artwork of the SS Columbia under way – author unknown

A patch of dense fog proved deadly for the first ship to use Thomas Edison’s new incandescent light invention. The SS Columbia was also the first vessel to be equipped with an electrical generator called a dynamo that was used in place of oil lamps to power the new electric lights.

Built for the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company in 1880, the Columbia steamship ferried cargo and passengers between San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon for over 15 years. She even broke a speed record for the route on January 1898. By then, she was under the ownership of the Union Pacific Railroad who had taken over the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company.

But on the evening of July 20, 1907, as she made her way once again from San Francisco to Portland under Captain Peter A. Doran, she encountered heavy fog about 12 miles out. The lumber schooner San Pedro was in the vicinity of Columbia and made her location known by sounding her whistle, yet both ships maintained their speed which led to their ultimate collision. San Pedro suffered a damaged bow after plunging into Columbia‘s starboard side, leaving a gaping hole that quickly sank her.

Many of the passengers were in their cabins at the time due to seasickness which compromised their ability to abandon ship. In total 88 people lost their lives, including every child aboard. The Columbia survivors and the crew of the San Pedro helped with the rescue efforts which included two other steamers; the Roanoke and the George W. Elder.

Captain Doran did not survive although he, along with First Officer Hendricksen, who was in charge of the San Pedro at the time of the collision, were blamed for the incident. Hendricksen and his superior, Captain Magnus Hanson, had their licences revoked; Hendricksen for five years and Hanson for one.


Text source: Wikipedia under Creative Commons licence.
Photo credit: A Wikipedia public domain image, credited to New Westminster Public Library Belyk, Robert C. Great Shipwrecks of the Pacific Coast. New York: Wiley, 2001.

© Copyright Vince Capone 2013