Commissioned in November 1882 as a steamer at Wilmington, Delaware, Albatross was reputedly the first research U.S. Navy vessel built for marine research. She was assigned to the United States Fish Commission. Initially serving on the East Coast, she relocated to the Pacific and worked with her dredging equipment, investigating fish species, the Gulf Stream, and hydrographic surveys. Albatross operated from the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. during her service on the East Coast.
During the Spanish American War, the steamer was turned over for conversion to an auxiliary cruiser but did not see any action due to the end of the conflict in August 1898. Returned to the Fish Commission, Albatross departed for the Far East, where she operated for the next few years until research took her to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest then back to the California coast. In April 1906, a violent earthquake shook San Francisco, California, and she was one of the ships assisting in relief efforts. Remaining on the West Coast, she continued her research duties. In 1913, she had a major refit and departed for more surveys along in the Pacific Northwest.
Despite not being in active status during United States' entry into World War I, Albatross was relocated to the Atlantic to protect tankers in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean. While there, she assisted in the search for USS Cyclops when she was lost at sea in March 1918. Turned over to the Bureau of Fisheries in June 1919, she resumed her scientific work on the East Coast. Decommissioned in October 1921, she was sold in June 1924 as a training ship for students. On a training mission to Europe four years later, she met with a series of financial disasters and was to be auctioned off. No notice of public auction has been found, and her exact fate remains unknown.
Image: NH 91740: U.S. Fish Commission Steamer Albatross, circa 1890s. Flagship of the Fisheries Navy and discoverer of new fishing grounds.