The Fulton was launched 6 June 1914 by New London Ship and Engine Co., Groton, Connecticut. The ship was sponsored by Mrs. A. T. Sutcliffe, great granddaughter of Robert Fulton, for whom the ship is named. The Fulton was commissioned 7 December 1914, Lieutenant J. D. Wilson in command.
During her first 6 months of service, Fulton tended submarines at Norfolk, Charleston, New York, and Newport, then after overhaul, arrived at New London 2 November 1915, where in 1918 she was the base ship for the newly formed Submarine School. Through 1922, this was to be her principal base for operations with submarines along the east coast and in the Caribbean from Cape Cod to Cuba. She took part in maneuvers and war games, served as station ship at New London, and in the summer of 1922 was flagship of Commander, Atlantic Submarine Flotillas. Reassigned as tender for the Submarine Base at Coco Solo, Canal Zone, Fulton arrived there 4 April 1923, and during the following year joined in exercises on both sides of the Panama Canal Zone as well as making a survey of Almirante Bay, Panama. She returned to Philadelphia 14 July 1925, and there was decommissioned and placed in reserve 5 October 1925.
Fulton was recommissioned 2 September 1930 for duty as a surveying ship in the Canal Zone, reclassified PG-49 on 29 September. On 3 March 1931 she returned to Balboa. Aside from a voyage north for overhaul in the winter of 1931-32, she conducted surveys in the Canal Zone area until arriving at San Diego 13 August 1932 to prepare for duty in the Asiatic Fleet. Her assigned station was Hong Kong, where she arrived 3 November. With infrequent voyages to Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines, Fulton patrolled the south China coast from Hong Kong to Canton, until 14 March 1934. On that day, fire broke out amidships when exhaust lines from two cylinders of a diesel engine carried away and ignited oil on the engine. The crew assembled on the bow and stern, and were taken off by and SS Tsinan, three of the men having minor injuries. HMS Whitshed stood by the burning ship until a salvage party got the fire under sufficient control to allow her to be taken in tow for Junk Bay. On 24 March, an American tug came to tow Fulton into Hong Kong, where she received emergency repairs to allow her to be towed to Cavite. There she was decommissioned 12 May 1934.