William P. Frye (1901)

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William P. Frye (1901)
Ship - William P. Frye - builders, Arthur Sewall and Co - Picture taken 1901-1915.tif
William P. Frye
 United States
Name: William P. Frye
Namesake: US politician William P. Frye
Builder: Arthur Sewall & Co
Launched: 1901
Fate: Scuttled by Imperial German raider SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich January 28, 1915
General characteristics
Tonnage: 3,374 grt[1]
Length: 332 feet (101 m)[2]
  • Passengers and crew
  • Captain H. H. Kiehne

William P. Frye was a four-masted steel barque named after a US Republican politician of the same name, from the state of Maine. Built by Arthur Sewall & Co of Bath, Maine [3] she was sunk by the Imperial German Navy raider SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich in 1915. She was the first U.S. vessel sunk during World War I.[4]


The ship sailed from Seattle, Washington, on November 4, 1914, with a cargo of 189,950 US bushels (1,768,300 US gal) of wheat, bound for Queenstown, Falmouth, or Plymouth in the United Kingdom.[1][5] In 1915 the UK was at war with Imperial Germany; the United States was not yet involved in the war and was officially neutral. Off the coast of Brazil, William P. Frye encountered the Imperial German Navy raider SMS Prinz Eitel Friedrich on January 27, 1915.[4] The Germans stopped and boarded the ship. While William P. Frye was U.S.-owned, and thus a neutral ship, her cargo was deemed a legitimate target because the Germans believed it was bound for Britain’s armed forces. The captain of Prinz Eitel Friedrich, Max Thierichens, ordered that William P. Frye's cargo of wheat be thrown overboard. When his orders were not followed fast enough, he took the ship's crew and passengers prisoner and scuttled her January 28, 1915.[5] William P. Frye was the first American vessel sunk during World War I.[4]


The crew and passengers of William P. Frye, including some women and children, were part of some 350 people taken prisoner from eleven different ships Prinz Eitel Friedrich had searched and destroyed. All 350 were released on March 10, 1915, when the German raider docked in the American port of Newport News, Virginia due to engine trouble.[6] An outraged American government forced the Germans to apologize for the sinking.[4] The owners of the ship, Arthur Sewall & Co., wanted damages for the sinking of the ship and presented a claim for $228,059.54 ($5,516,900 in 2018).[1]

Claim Cost in 1915[1] Cost in 2018
Value of the ship $150,000 $3,628,600
Value of freight $39,759.54 [A 1] $961,800
Travel expenses of Captain Kiehne and Arthur Sewall & Co $500 $12,100
Personal effects of Captain H. H. Kiehne $300 $7,300
Damages due to loss of use of the ship $37,500 $907,200
Total $228,059.54 $5,516,900

See also


  1. ^ "Actual freight as per freight list, 5034 1000/2240 tons at 32-6-£8180-19-6 at $4.86"




  • Bisher, Jamie (2016). The Intelligence War in Latin America, 1914–1922. McFarland. ISBN 9781476620268. - Total pages: 448
  • Bruzelius, Lars (March 2, 1997). "William P. Frye". bruzelius.info. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
  • Burlin, Paul T. (2008). Imperial Maine and Hawai'i: Interpretative Essays in the History of Nineteenth Century American Expansion. Lexington Books. ISBN 9780739127186. - Total pages: 297
  • Department of State (June 1915). "Case of the William P. Frye". The American Journal of International Law. 9 (3): 180–193. ISSN 0002-9300. JSTOR 2212245.
  • History.com (2017). "Germans sink American merchant ship". History.com. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  • Skinner, Inc. (2017). "Diorama of the Ship WILLIAM P. FRYE". Skinner, Inc. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
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