President Hayes was laid down as MC hull 55 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. 26 December 1939; launched 4 Oetober 1940, sponsored by Mrs. Cordell Hull, turned over to the American President Lines 20 February 1941, acquired by the Navy 7 July 1941, designated AP-39, and commissioned 15 December 1941, Comdr. F. W. Benson in command.
On 6 January 1942 President Hayes sailed for San Diego via the Panama Canal. During February and March she evacuated civilians and service dependents from Pearl Harbor then conducted amphibious assault exercises off San Diego. On 1 July, with Marines embarked, she sailed for the Tonga Islands to stage for the assault on Guadalcanal.
On the evening of 7 August, while under air attack, President Hayes landed units of the 2nd Marine Regiment on the northeastern side of Guadalcanal. For the next two months she brought supplies and reinforcements from Tonga, Noumea, and New Zealand. Then, during December, she moved cargo forward from Australia and New Zealand to New Caledonia. In January 1943 she resumed reinforcement runs to Guadalcanal and, as APA-20 (effective 1 February 1943), continued that duty until June.
On 30 June she participated in the Rendova landings, shooting down 7 enemy planes. In July, President Hayes completed another troop lift to Guadalcanal, then carried cargo between Guadalcanal, Noumea, Efate and Espiritu Santo. On 30 October she embarked units of the 3rd Marine Division at Guadalcanal for the invasion of Bougainville, 1 November, then brought in reinforcements and replacements during the rest of that month, December, and early January 1944.
On 20 March units of the 4th Marine Regiment, transported by President Hayes, peacefully occupied Emirau Island. In April and May she transported Army replacements for the Marines on New Britain. On 4 June she sailed, with units of the 3rd Marine Division embarked, for the Marshalls to stage for the assault on Guam. Enemy resistance during the Saipan operation delayed sailing, but on 21 July she landed her troops and supplies east of Apra Harbor.
After resupply runs to various bases, President Hayes was off Leyte 21 October. Retiring to Manus 29 October after Unloading her troops, she witnessed the explosion of ammunition ship Mount Hood 10 November. The President Hayes was not hit and dispatched fire and rescue parties to the stricken ships.
Steaming for San Francisco and overhaul the following day, she returned to the Pacific and made runs between Espirito Santo, Guadalcanal, and Noumea. During the invasion of Okinawa, President Hayes, with other units of Transport Division 32, had Ready Reserve troops embarked, and after the beachhead had been secured landed her troops and embarked the 81st Army Infantry Division to standby as a floating reserve. She then steamed to the Philippines, and from May to July moved more troops up from the southwest Pacific to the Philippines. While she was at San Pedro, Calif., loading more troops for deployment to the Pacific Theater, the Japanese surrendered.
President Hayes arrived at Manila 14 September, then, with troops of the 25th Infantry Division aboard, continued on to Wakayama, Japan, arriving 7 October. On 29 October the troops were debarked at Nagoya, and the next day President Hayes departed for duty with the "Magic Carpet," returning 1400 dischargees from the Marianas to Los Angeles on each of two round trips. On 1 January 1946 she reported to the Naval Transportation Service to deliver dependents of service personnel to Honolulu. President Hayes continued to operate with the Pacific Fleet until decommissioned 30 June 1949 at Mare Island. She was assigned to the Stockton Group, Pacific Reserve Fleet, 28 November 1950. Her name was struck from the Navy List and she was transferred to the Maritime Commission 1 October 1958
President Hayes earned 7 battle stars for World War II service.