Originally laid down as the Ville de New York but renamed whilst still on the stocks, the first Normandie to serve in the French Line (Compagnie Générale Transatlantique or C.G.T.) was built by Vickers' Shipbuilding at Barrow-in-Furness. Launched on 28th October 1882, she was the last major vessel of the company's fleet to be built outside France and cost her owners six million francs. Designed by Monsieur Audenet, her four decks had accommodation for 175 First, 68 Second and 866 Third class passengers, and she was powered by one of her builder's own 7,200ihp. engines driving a single screw at a cruising speed of 15¾ knots. This matched the speed of her closest rivals on the North Atlantic run although she consistently did even better after achieving a formidable 17 knots on her trials in February 1883. After a highly successful maiden voyage to New York with 1,066 passengers in May 1883, she was laid up for lengthy repairs following a serious collision at Le Havre that October and was unable to return to service until March 1884. In 1886 she was renamed La Normandie after a protracted though somewhat absurd campaign by the French Academy to persuade C.G.T. to prefix all their vessels named for countries or provinces with the definite article "La", and thus she remained for the rest of her career.
Somewhat accident prone, she was again damaged in January 1892 when, whilst leaving Le Havre, she rammed and sank the tug Abeille 9 drowning nine men, whilst a coal bunker explosion and consequent fire made her miss a further voyage in 1895. During the winter of 1893-94, she was fitted with new triple expansion engines which required taller funnels and, at the same time, also lost two of her four original masts. Re-entering service in April 1894, she completed several passages from St. Nazaire to Vera Cruz prior to returning to the company's principal New York route that summer. Beginning to show her age by the turn of the twentieth century, she was transferred onto the secondary St. Nazaire - Vera Cruz run in 1901 and in 1908 was further relegated to the St. Nazaire - Colon (Panama) service. After her final sailing in September 1911, she was laid up pending sale and scrapped at Bo'ness, Scotland, in 1912.
Le Havre was France's principal emigrant port during the second half of the nineteenth century in the same way that Liverpool served the mainland of Great Britain; by comparison with the United Kingdom, Germany, Eastern Europe and Russia however, total French emigrant traffic was significantly smaller and the C.G.T. relied far more on its 1st and 2nd class passenger trade coupled with government mail subsidies to maintain company profits.