- Cableship Dellwood photograph collection
- May 10-28, 1924 (inclusive)19241924
- 16 black and white photographs (1 folder) ; 6 x 9 inches
- Collection Number
- Photographs of the Cableship Dellwood engaged in cable repair and cable laying activities during one of its early cable laying runs
University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections
University of Washington Libraries
- Access Restrictions
The entire collection can be viewed on the Libraries' Digital Collections website. Permission of curator required to view original photographs. Contact University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.
Historical BackgroundReturn to Top
Congress established the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS) in May 1900, as a branch of the United States Army Signal Corps. The system became operational in June of 1903. WAMCATS was headquartered in Seattle and charged with linking Army garrisons scattered across the Alaska territory. In order to maintain communications with the north, the Army Quartermaster Corps commissioned several army transport vessels into service as deep-sea cable-laying ships. One of the first of these cableships, the Burnside , laid 291 nautical miles (nm) of submarine cable between Sitka, Alaska, and Juneau, Alaska, and 640 nm of cable between Sitka, Alaska, and Valdez, Alaska, in 1903. In 1904, the Burnside laid 1070 nm of cable between Sitka, Alaska, and Seattle to supplement an earlier cable laid in 1900.
The Burnside , a prize of the Spanish-American War, had the capacity to store only 300 nautical miles of cable in her tanks. Thus, in 1923, a larger steamship, the Dellwood , was converted at the Todd shipyard in Seattle into a cableship for the Army. Originally built as a transport at Oakland, California, in 1920, the ship was fitted with cable machinery from the Johnson & Phillips company in London, giving it three times the capacity of the Burnside . In January 1924, United States cableship (USAT) Dellwood , weighing 3,923 tons, measuring 320.7 feet in length with a 46 foot beam and 24.5 foot draft, and powered by an 1,800 horsepower triple-expansion engine, sailed from the Puget Sound bound for England. There, the Dellwood loaded 1,000 miles of cable which would be used for a new communications cable stretching from Seattle to Seward, Alaska. In that same year, the Dellwood completed laying 1894 nm of cable linking Seattle to Ketchikan, Alaska to Seward, Alaska.
In addition to her greater capacity, the Dellwood was considered a “high-grade laboratory.” Sonar was being developed during this period and the Dellwood was the first cableship to be equipped with a sonic depth sounder which allowed the crew to determine oceanic depths while running at full speed rather than having to drop a lead line. With this new technology, the Dellwood was able to avoid underwater mountains and chasms, thus greatly reducing the mileage of cable required to connect two points. Later, the ship was equipped with a newer depth sounder, the “Fathometer,” a novel device which displayed depth on a clock-like dial while the ship ran at full speed.
Besides duties installing and maintaining Alaskan cables, the Dellwood also laid cable in the Philippines. Around 1930, the ship left Seattle and traveled, via the Panama Canal, to England to take on cable sufficient for installation in the Philippines which was then under United States adminstration. On the way, the Dellwood made stops in Algiers, the Suez Canal, India, Singapore, and finally Manila. Having completed the Philippine cable, the Dellwood sailed home to Seattle, thus circumnavigating the world.
By 1930, WAMCATS was handling commercial traffic in addition to government communications. When the main Alaska cable broke in May of 1930, the Dellwood was dispatched to repair it. However, radio transmitters had begun replacing cables and land lines. As a result, the Dellwood was sold in 1932 to P. E. Harris & Co. of Seattle, a salmon packing firm, for $20,000. She was refurbished, at a cost of $100,000, at the Todd Dry Docks and put into service in the Alaska cannery trade under the command of Captain Andrew J. Borkland. In 1934, the ship was sold to the Alaska Steamship Company.
For the remainder of the 1930s, the Signal Corps did not own any cableships and the submarine cable portion of the WAMCATS (renamed the Alaska Communications System in May 1936) slowly deteriorated. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Corps repurchased the Dellwood and fitted her out for cable repair work, dispatching her in May 1943 to lay cable between Spruce Island and Miller Point. Unfortunately, the Dellwood struck a pinnacle rock near Alexai Point while laying cable between Dutch Harbor and outlying Aleutian stations on July 19, 1943. She sank, without loss of life, in Massacre Bay, Attu Island, Alaska.
Content DescriptionReturn to Top
Photographs of the United States cableship Dellwood engaged in cable repair and cable laying activities during one of its early cable laying runs from its home port in Seattle, Washington to Trocadero Bay, Alaska in May 1924. Many of the seamen depicted working on the ship are Filipino-American.
Use of the CollectionReturn to Top
Restrictions might exist on reproduction, quotation, or publication. Contact the repository for details.
Administrative InformationReturn to Top
Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top
Names and SubjectsReturn to Top
- Subject Terms :
- Cable ships--Photographs
- Docks--Alaska--Trocadero Bay--Photographs
- Docks--Washington (State)--Seattle--Photographs
- Filipino American sailors--Photographs
- Harbors--Alaska--Trocadero Bay--Photographs
- Harbors--Washington (State)--Seattle--Photographs
- Corporate Names :
- Dellwood (Ship)
- United States. Army. Signal Corps
- Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System
- Geographical Names :
- Trocadero Bay (Alaska)--Photograph
Names and SubjectsReturn to Top
- Subject Terms :
- Visual Materials Collections (University of Washington)