CENTENNIAL OF THE FIRST STEAMSHIP TO CROSS THE ATLANTIC





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One hundred years ago this week there was launched at New York the ship

Savannah, which may be called the father of the scores of steamers that

are now carrying our soldiers and supplies from the New World to the Old

World.



The Savannah was the first ship equipped with steam power to cross the

Atlantic ocean. It made the trip in 25 days, using both sails and

engine, and the arrival of the strange craft at Liverpool was the cause

of unusual stir among our English cousins. Like every step from the

beaten path the idea of steam travel between the New World and the Old

World was looked upon with much scepticism and it was not until about 20

years later that regular, or nearly regular, steamer service was

established.



The launching of the Savannah took place on Aug. 22, 1818. It was not

accompanied by the ceremony that is accorded many of the boats upon

similar occasions to-day. As a matter of fact, it is probable that only

a few persons knew that the craft was intended for a transatlantic trip.

The keel of the boat was laid with the idea of building a sailing ship,

and the craft was practically completed before Capt. Moses Rogers, the

originator of the venture, induced Scarborough & Isaacs, ship merchants

of Savannah, to buy her and fit her with a steam engine for service

between Savannah and Liverpool.



The ship, which was built by Francis Fickett, was 100 feet long, 28 feet

broad and 14 feet deep. It had three masts which, of course, were of far

greater importance in making progress toward its destination than was

the steam engine.



Capt. Rogers had gained a reputation for great courage and skill in

sailing. He had already had the honor of navigating the sea with a

steamer, taking the New Jersey from New York to the Chesapeake in 1816,

a voyage which was then thought to be one of great danger for such a

vessel.



It was natural, then, that he was especially ambitious to go down in

history as the first master of a steam ship to cross the ocean. As soon

as the vessel had been purchased by the Savannah ship merchants, the

work of installing the engine was begun. This was built by Stephen Vail

of Speedwell, N.J., and the boiler by David Dod of Elizabeth, N. J.



The paddle-wheels were made of iron and were "detachable," so that the

sections could be removed and laid on the deck. This was done when it

was desired to proceed under canvas exclusively and was also a

precaution in rough weather.



In short, the Savannah was an auxiliary steamer, a combination of steam

and sail that later became well known in shipping. This is much like the

early development of the gasoline marine engine, which was an auxiliary

to the sail, a combination that is still used.



Capt. Rogers took the boat from New York to Savannah in eight days and

15 hours, using steam on this trip for 41½ hours. On May 26, 1819,

under Capt. Rogers, the Savannah set sail from her home port for

Liverpool and made the trip in 25 days.



As long as the trip took, the voyage was considerably shorter than the

average for the sailing ship in 1819, and this reduction in time was

accomplished in spite of the fact that the Savannah ran into much

unfavorable weather. Capt. Rogers used steam on 18 of the 25 days and

doubtless would have resorted to engine power more of the time except

for the fact that at one stage of the voyage the fuel was exhausted.



It was natural that the arrival of the steamer in English waters should

not have been looked upon with any great favor by the Englishmen. In

addition to the jeers of the sceptical, the presence of vessels was

accompanied by suspicion on the part of the naval authorities, and the

merchants were not favorably impressed.



When the Savannah approached the English coast with her single stack

giving forth volumes of dense black smoke, it was thought by those on

shore that she was a ship on fire, and British men-of-war and revenue

cutters set out to aid her. When the truth was known, consternation

reigned among the English officers. They were astonished at the way the

craft steamed away from them after they had rushed to assist what they

thought was a ship in distress.



The reception of the Savannah at Liverpool was not particularly cordial.

Some of the newspapers even suggested that "this steam operation may, in

some manner, be connected with the ambitious views of the United

States."



A close watch was kept on the boat while she lay in British waters, and

her departure was welcome. In the second volume of "Memoranda of a

Residence at the Court of St. James," Richard Rush, then American

Minister in London, includes a complete log of the Savannah. Dispatch

No. 76 from Minister Rush reports the arrival of the ship and the

comment that was caused by its presence as follows:



London, July 3,1819.



Sir--On the 20th of last month arrived at Liverpool from the United

States the steamship Savannah, Capt. Rogers, being the first vessel

of that description that ever crossed the sea, and having excited

equal admiration and astonishment as she entered port under the

power of her steam.



She is a fine ship of 320 tons burden and exhibits in her

construction, no less than she has done in her navigation across the

Atlantic, a signal trophy of American enterprise and skill upon the

ocean.



I learn from Capt. Rogers, who has come to London and been with me,

that she worked with great ease and safety on the voyage, and used

her steam full 18 days.



Her engine acts horizontally and is equal to a 72 horsepower. Her

wheels, which are of iron, are on the sides, and removable at

pleasure. The fuel laid in was 1500 bushels of coal, which got

exhausted on her entrance into the Irish Channel.



The captain assures me that the weather in general was extremely

unfavorable, or he would have made a much shorter passage; besides

that, he was five days delayed in the channel for want of coal. I

have the honor to be, etc., RICHARD RUSH.



To have made the first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean under steam was

a great accomplishment and brought no little credit to Capt. Rogers and

the United States. Pioneers in many ventures, the American people had

added another honor to their record. And this was even more of a credit

because in those early days skilled workmen were comparatively few on

these shores and the machine shops had not reached a stage of efficiency

that came a short time later.



There were, of course, in 1819 men who had developed into mechanics and

there were shops of some account, as the steamboat for short trips had

been in existence for some years. But the whole enterprise of planning a

steam voyage in which the boat should be headed due east was

characteristic of the boldness and bravery of the Americans.



The Savannah did not return to the States directly from England. It

steamed from Liverpool to St. Petersburg and brought forth further

comment from the Old World. She proved that the marine steam engine and

side-wheels were practicable for deep-sea navigation. The idea of

transatlantic travel under steam had been born and it was only necessary

to develop the idea to "shorten the distance" between the two

continents.



This pioneer voyage, however, was then looked upon more as a novelty

than as the inception of a new method of long-distance travel. The trip

had failed to demonstrate that steam was an entirely adequate substitute

for the mast and sail in regular service.



Since the Savannah was primarily a sailing vessel, the loss of steam

power by the crippling of the engine would not be serious, as she could

continue on her way with paddle-wheels removed and under full sail.



It was 19 years later that the idea of employing vessels propelled by

steam in trade between the United States and England came under the

serious consideration of merchants and ship builders. In the interval

the marine boiler and the engines had been improved until they had

passed the stage of experiment, and coasting voyages had become common

on both sides of the Atlantic.



The beginning of real transatlantic steam voyages was made by the Sirius

and the Great Western. The latter boat had been built especially for

trips across the ocean and the former was taken from the Cork and London

line. The Sirius started from Liverpool on April 4, 1838, and the Great

Western four days later. They arrived in New York within 24 hours of

each other, the Sirius at 10 p.m. on April 22 and the Great Western at 3

o'clock the following afternoon. Neither of the vessels carried much

sail.



These boats gave more or less irregular service until withdrawn because

of their failure to pay expenses. In 1839 the Cunard Company was formed

and the paddle steamers Britannia, Arcadia, Columbia, and Caledonia were

put into service.



From that time on the steamer developed with great rapidity, the value

of which was never more demonstrated than at the present time. It will

always be remembered, however, that this Capt. Rogers with his crude

little Savannah was the man whose bold enterprise gave birth to the idea

of transatlantic travel under steam.



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(A syndicate Sunday magazine section of the _Harrisburg Patriot_)





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