In September 1911, the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company placed an order with the Maryland Steel Company of Sparrows Point, Maryland, for four new cargo ships—Minnesotan, Dakotan, Pennsylvanian, and Montanan.[Note 1] The contract cost of the ships was set at the construction cost plus an 8% profit for Maryland Steel, but with a maximum cost of $640,000 per ship. The construction was financed by Maryland Steel with a credit plan that called for a 5% down payment in cash with nine monthly installments for the balance. The deal had provisions that allowed some of the nine installments to be converted into longer-term notes or mortgages. The final cost of Dakotan, including financing costs, was $66.00 per deadweight ton, which totaled just under $672,000.
Dakotan (Maryland Steel yard no. 125) was the second ship built under the original contract.[Note 2] She was launched on 10 August 1912, and delivered to American-Hawaiian in November. Dakotan was 6,537 gross register tons (GRT), and was 428 feet 9 inches (130.68 m) in length and 53 feet 6 inches (16.31 m) abeam. She had a deadweight tonnage of 10,175 DWT and a storage capacity of 492,519 cubic feet (13,946.6 m3). A single steam engine with oil-fired boilers driving a single screw propeller provided her power; her speed was 15 knots (28 km/h). The steamer had accommodations for 18 officers, 40 crewmen, and could carry up to 16 passengers.