The Franconia and its sister-ship the Laconia were built to replace the Ivernia and Saxonia on the Liverpool to Boston service and to cover for the Lusitania and Mauretania if these were being refitted. They were also intended to undertake winter cruises in the Mediterranean.
The Franconia was launched by Lady Forwood, wife of a Cunard director, on 23 July 1910 and sailed on her maiden voyage between Liverpool, Queenstown and New York on 25 February 1911. She next (10 March - 9 April 1911) went on her first Mediterranean cruise, calling at Gibraltar, Algiers, Naples Alexandria and Liverpool. This continued to be her routine until 1915, the only notable event in this period being her rescue of survivors of the burning of the Leyland Line vessel, Colombian, on 3 May 1914.
In February 1915 the Franconia was requisitioned to act as a troopship and was sent to the Mediterranean to assist the Dardanelles campaign, carrying wounded troops from Gallipoli to Alexandria.
On 4 October 1916 she was torpedoed by the UB47 195 miles East by South of Malta, on route for Salonika, under the command of Capt DS Miller. She was not carrying troops at the time (her normal capacity being 2,700), but lost 12 members of the crew. The survivors (302) were picked up by the hospital ship Dover Castle.