Ordered in response to the Inman Line's City of Rome which was being promoted by her owners - erroneously, in fact - as the new record-breaker on the North Atlantic ferry, Servia was laid down in the autumn of 1880 and launched from J. & G. Thomson's Glasgow yard on 1st March 1881. Designed with four decks and built of Siemen's mild steel, she was not only Cunard's first vessel to be constructed with a cellular double bottom but she was also the world's first ocean liner to be lit throughout by electricity. Registered at 7,391 tons gross (3,971 net) and measuring 515 feet in length with a 52 foot beam, her powerful Thomson's 3-cylinder compound engine gave her a cruising speed of 16 knots which she could push to 17 knots when required. With accommodation for 480 First Class and 500 Steerage passengers, she entered service as the largest ship afloat - excepting Brunel's obsolete leviathan, the Great Eastern - and immediately proved both popular and reliable.
The decision to build her of mild steel was expensive but soon vindicated by the saving in weight which allowed for more cargo than competitors' ships of similar size. Likewise, her electric lighting proved a great attraction and she was never short of passengers despite minor collisions with American sailing vessels in 1892 and again the following year. During her winter refit of 1893-94, her accommodation was completely remodelled to include a further 200 Second Class berths and she continued to enjoy a successful career until November 1899 when she was chartered as a government troopship to convey soldiers to South Africa for the Boer War. After just over six months as H.M. Troopship No. 31, she was released to resume commercial sailings to New York in June 1900 but was withdrawn in September 1901. Laid up until January 1902 when she was sold for scrapping, she was broken up at Preston later the same year.