SS Leviathan, originally built as the SS Vaterland, was an ocean liner which regularly sailed the North Atlantic briefly in 1914 and from 1917 to 1934. The second of a trio of transatlantic liners built by Germany's HAPAG Line for the transatlantic passenger service, she would sail as the Vaterland for less than a year before her early career was halted by the start of World War I. In 1917, she was seized by the U.S. government and renamed the Leviathan. She would become known by this name for the majority of her career, both as a troopship during World War I and later as the flagship of the United States Lines.
Vaterland had made only a few trips when, in late July 1914, she arrived at New York, NY just as World War I broke out. With a safe return to Germany rendered virtually impossible by British dominance of the seas, she was laid up at her Hoboken, NJ, terminal and remained immobile for nearly three years.
She was seized by the United States Shipping Board when the United States entered World War I, 6 April 1917; turned over to the custody of the U.S. Navy in June 1917; and commissioned July 1917 as the USS Vaterland , Captain J. W. Oman in command. Redesignated SP-1326 and renamed Leviathan by President Woodrow Wilson on 6 September 1917. The trial cruise to Cuba on 17 November 1917, prompted Captain Oman to order 241 Marines, onboard to relieve a detachment of Devil Dogs, to station themselves conspicuously about the upper decks giving the appearance from shore that the great ship was headed overseas to increase American Expeditionary Forces. Upon her return later that month, she reported for duty with the Cruiser and Transport Force. In December she took troops to Liverpool, England, but repairs delayed her return to the U.S. until mid-February 1918. A second trip to Liverpool in March was followed by more repairs. At that time she was repainted with the British-type "dazzle" camouflage scheme that she carried for the rest of the war. With the completion of that work, Leviathan began regular passages between the U.S. and Brest, France, delivering up to 14,000 persons on each trip, carrying over 119,000 fighting men, before the armistice 11 November 1918. After that date Leviathan, repainted grey overall by December 1918, reversed the flow of men as she transported the veterans back to the United States with nine westward crossings ending 8 September 1919. On 29 October 1919, USS Leviathan was decommissioned and turned over to the U.S. Shipping Board and again laid up at Hoboken until plans for her future employment could be determined.
These finally materialized and, in April 1922 the ship steamed to Newport News, Virginia, where she was completely renovated to suit American tastes and post-World War I standards. Her reconditioning completed in June 1923, the Board turned her over to the United States Lines to operate on their behalf as the U.S. Flag ocean liner Leviathan.
As SS Leviathan, she was the "queen" of the United States' merchant fleet, and operated in the trans-Atlantic trade into the early 1930s. Dubbed "Levi Nathan", the ship was reasonably popular, but because of her American registry she had to sail as a "dry ship" under Prohibition and many American travellers preferred European liners which were permitted to serve liquor once they were in international waters. Despite this handicap, the Leviathan in 1927 was the #1 ship on the Atlantic in terms of average passengers carried per crossing. The Great Depression hit passenger shipping hard and the Leviathan, like other big liners of the time, began to lose money. She was laid up in 1933 and, with the exception of several months of additional service in 1934, was inactive until 10 December 1937, when she was sold to a British firm and made her final Atlantic crossing to Rosyth, Scotland shortly thereafter, where she was broken up on over the next two years.