The Umbria and Etruria were the last Cunarders to be fitted with auxiliary sails and single screw propulsion, thus they marked the end of an era.
In 1884 they were record breakers and the largest liners then in service, and were designed so that they could be easily converted into armed merchant cruisers in times of war.
On 1st November Umbria set sail on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York, under the command of Captain Theodore Cook.
This voyage passed without event, but by New Year 1885 the crisis in Russia had come to a head and as a precaution the government requisitioned several vessels, including the Umbria, to serve as armed merchant cruisers. This duty engaged the ship for the next six months.
The Umbria returned to commercial service in September 1885, and around this time the passenger accommodation was restructured so that there was also room for 160 intermediate passengers. On 12th April 1890 the Umbria had left New York and had been traveling for five days when it encountered the Norwegian barque Magdalena. The ship was waterlogged and drifting helplessly after suffering a collision with an iceberg. The eight man crew and Captain Gunderson were rescued and taken back to Liverpool.
A sailing made by the Umbria, on 17th December 1892 highlighted a weakness which was to plague the vessel for the remainder of her career. Due to the propeller shaft becoming fractured in the Atlantic the ship did not reach New York until 31st December, after temporary repairs had been made. Repairs were then undertaken in New York and it was not until 4th February 1893 that the Umbria finally returned to Liverpool. It was 1st April before the ship returned to regular service.
Three years later, on 28th June 1896, the Umbria struck the wreck of the coal barge Andrew Jackson, two miles from Sandy Hook. After being pulled clear by tugs, and after the hull had been inspected by divers the ship finally left New York at 10.00pm, no serious damage having been caused. In January 1900 she was requisitioned as a Boer War transport and made two trips to South Africa. The Umbria then returned to her usual service for Cunard.
It was not until May 1903 that the ship was in the spotlight again. On 9th May a letter was received at police headquarters in New York, shortly before the Umbria was due to sail, stating that a bomb had been put on the steamship pier to be loaded on to the Umbria. After an extensive police search the bomb was located, and the 100lb of dynamite was defused by lowering it into the sea. The bomb was eventually traced to the Mafia Society in Chicago. The ship, however, only suffered a short delay.
By 1907 both the Umbria was well past her prime and technical progress had well and truly overtaken her. Later that year the Lusitania and Mauretania were due to enter service. The ship's final sailing left Liverpool on 12 February 1910. It returned to the Mersey on 4th March and was quickly sold to the Forth Ship breaking Company for £20,000 to be scrapped.