Books by willis j. Abbot



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While in the shadow of the Institute's disfavor, Fulton fell in with the new minister to France, Robert R. Livingston, and the result of this acquaintance was that America gained primacy in steam navigation, and Napoleon lost the chance to get control of an invention which, by revolutionizing navigation, might have broken that British control of the sea, that in the end destroyed the Napoleonic empire. Livingston had long taken an intelligent interest in the possibilities of steam power, and had built and tested, on the Hudson, an experimental steamboat of his own. Perhaps it was this, as much as anything, which aroused the interest of Thomas Jefferson--to whom he owed his appointment as minister to France--for Jefferson was actively interested in every sort of mechanical device, and his mind was not so scientific as to be inhospitable to new, and even, revolutionary, ideas. But Livingston was not possessed by that idea which, in later years, politicians have desired us to believe especially Jeffersonian. He was no foe to monopoly. Indeed, before he had perfected his steamboat, he used his political influence to get from New York the concession of the exclusive right to navigate her lakes and rivers by steam. The grant was only to be effective if within one year he should produce a boat of twenty tons, moved by steam. But he failed, and in 1801 went to France, where he found Fulton. A partnership was formed, and it was largely through Livingston's money and influence that Fulton succeeded where others, earlier in the field than he, had failed. Yet even so, it was not all easy sailing for him. "When I was building my first steamboat," he said, "the project was viewed by the public either with indifference, or with contempt as a visionary scheme. My friends, indeed, were civil, but were shy. They listened with patience to my explanations, but with a settled cast of incredulity upon their countenances. I felt the full force of the lamentation of the poet--

Truths would you teach, or save a sinking land; All fear, none aid you, and few understand.

[Illustration: "THE LOUD LAUGH ROSE AT MY EXPENSE"]

"As I had occasion to pass daily to and from the building yard while my boat was in progress, I have often loitered unknown near the idle groups of strangers gathered in little circles and heard various inquiries as to the object of this new vehicle. The language was uniformly that of scorn, or sneer, or ridicule. The loud laugh often rose at my expense; the dry jest; the wise calculation of losses and expenditures; the dull, but endless repetition of 'the Fulton Folly.' Never did a single encouraging remark, a bright hope, or a warm wish cross my path."

The boat which Fulton was building while the wiseacres wagged their heads and prophesied disaster, was named "The Clermont." She was 130 feet long, 18 feet wide, half-decked, and provided with a mast and sail. In the undecked part were the boiler and engine, set in masonry. The wheels were fifteen feet in diameter, with buckets four feet wide, dipping two feet into the water.

It was 1806 when Fulton came home to begin her construction. Since his luckless experience with the French Institute he had tested a steamer on the Seine; failed to interest Napoleon; tried, without success, to get the British Government to adopt his torpedo; tried and failed again with the American Government at Washington. Fulton's thoughts seemed to have been riveted on his torpedo; but Livingston was confident of the future of the steamboat, and had had an engine built for it in England, which Fulton found lying on a wharf, freight unpaid, on his return from Europe. The State of New York had meantime granted the two another monopoly of steam navigation, and gave them until 1807 to prove their ability and right. The time, though brief, proved sufficient, and on the afternoon of August 7, 1807, the "Clermont" began her epoch-making voyage. The distance to Albany--150 miles--she traversed in thirty-two hours, and the end of the passenger sloop traffic on the Hudson was begun. Within a year steamboats were plying on the Raritan, the Delaware, and Lake Champlain, and the development and use of the new invention would have been more rapid than it was, save for the monopoly rights which had been granted to Livingston and Fulton. They had the sole right to navigate by steam, the waters of New York. Well and good. But suppose the stream navigated touched both New York and New Jersey. What then? Would it be seriously asserted that a steamer owned by New Jersey citizens could not land passengers at a New York port?

Fulton and Livingston strove to protect their monopoly, and the two States were brought to the brink of war. In the end the courts settled the difficulty by establishing the exclusive control of navigable waters by the Federal Government.

From the day the "Clermont" breasted the tide of the Hudson there was no check in the conquest of the waters by steam. Up the narrowest rivers, across the most tempestuous bays, along the placid waters of Long Island Sound, coasting along the front yard of the nation from Portland to Savannah the steamboats made their way, tying the young nation indissolubly together. Curiously enough it was Livingston's monopoly that gave the first impetus to the extension of steam navigation. A mechanic by the name of Robert L. Stevens, one of the first of a family distinguished in New York and New Jersey, built a steamboat on the Hudson. After one or two trips had proved its usefulness, the possessors of the monopoly became alarmed and began proceedings against the new rival. Driven from the waters about New York, Stevens took his boat around to Philadelphia. Thus not only did he open an entirely new field of river and inland water transportation, but the trip to Philadelphia demonstrated the entire practicability of steam for use in coastwise navigation. Thereafter the vessels multiplied rapidly on all American waters. Fulton himself set up a shipyard, in which he built steam ferries, river and coastwise steamboats. In 1809 he associated himself with Nicholas J. Roosevelt, to whom credit is due for the invention of the vertical paddle-wheel, in a partnership for the purpose of putting steamboats on the great rivers of the Mississippi Valley, and in 1811 the "New Orleans" was built and navigated by Roosevelt himself, from Pittsburg to the city at the mouth of the Mississippi. The voyage took fourteen days, and before undertaking it, he descended the two rivers in a flatboat, to familiarize himself with the channel. The biographer of Roosevelt prints an interesting letter from Fulton, in which he says, "I have no pretensions to be the inventor of the steamboat. Hundreds of others have tried it and failed." Four years after Roosevelt's voyage, the "Enterprise" made for the first time in history the voyage up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers from New Orleans to Louisville, and from that era the great rivers may be said to have been fairly opened to that commerce, which in time became the greatest agency in the building up of the nation. The Great Lakes were next to feel the quickening influence of the new motive power, but it was left for the Canadian, John Hamilton, of Queenston, to open this new field. The progress of steam navigation on both lakes and rivers will be more fully described in the chapters devoted to that topic.

So rapidly now did the use of the steamboat increase on Long Island Sound, on the rivers, and along the coast that the newspapers began to discuss gravely the question whether the supply of fuel would long hold out. The boats used wood exclusively--coal was then but little used--and despite the vast forests which covered the face of the land the price of wood in cities rose because of their demand. Mr. McMaster, the eminent historian, discovers that in 1825 thirteen steamers plying on the Hudson burned sixteen hundred cords of wood per week. Fourteen hundred cords more were used by New York ferry boats, and each trip of a Sound steamer consumed sixty cords. The American who traverses the placid waters of Long Island Sound to-day in one of the swift and splendid steamboats of the Fall River or other Sound lines, enjoys very different accommodations from those which in the second quarter of the last century were regarded as palatial. The luxury of that day was a simple sort at best. When competition became strong, the old Fulton company, then running boats to Albany, announced as a special attraction the "safety barge." This was a craft without either sails or steam, of about two hundred tons burden, and used exclusively for passengers. It boasted a spacious dining-room, ninety feet long, a deck cabin for ladies, a reading room, a promenade deck, shaded and provided with seats. One of the regular steamers of the line towed it to Albany, and its passengers were assured freedom from the noise and vibration of machinery, as well as safety from possible boiler explosions--the latter rather a common peril of steamboating in those days.

[Illustration: "THE DREADNAUGHT"--NEW YORK AND LIVERPOOL PACKET]

It was natural that the restless mind of the American, untrammeled by traditions and impatient of convention, should turn eagerly and early to the question of crossing the ocean by steam. When the rivers had been made busy highways for puffing steamboats; when the Great Lakes, as turbulent as the ocean, and as vast as the Mediterranean, were conquered by the new marine device; when steamships plied between New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Savannah, and Charleston, braving what is by far more perilous than mid-ocean, the danger of tempests on a lee shore, and the shifting sands of Hatteras, there seemed to the enterprising man no reason why the passage from New York to Liverpool might not be made by the same agency. The scientific authorities were all against it. Curiously enough, the weight of scientific authority is always against anything new. Marine architects and mathematicians proved to their own satisfaction at least that no vessel could carry enough coal to cross the Atlantic, that the coal bunkers would have to be bigger than the vessel itself, in order to hold a sufficient supply for the furnaces. It is a matter of history that an eminent British scientist was engaged in delivering a lecture on this very subject in Liverpool when the "Savannah," the first steamship to cross the ocean, steamed into the harbor. It is fair, however, to add that the "Savannah's" success did not wholly destroy the contention of the opponents of steam navigation, for she made much of the passage under sail, being fitted only with what we would call now "auxiliary steam power." This was in 1819, but so slow were the shipbuilders to progress beyond what had been done with the "Savannah," that in 1835 a highly respected British scientist said in tones of authority: "As to the project which was announced in the newspapers, of making the voyage from New York to Liverpool direct by steam, it was, he had no hesitation in saying, perfectly chimerical, and they might as well talk of making a voyage from New York or Liverpool to the moon." Nevertheless, in three years from that time transatlantic steam lines were in operation, and the doom of the grand old packets was sealed.

The American who will read history free from that national prejudice which is miscalled patriotism, can not fail to be impressed by the fact that, while as a nation we have led the world in the variety and audacity of our inventions, it is nearly always some other nation that most promptly and most thoroughly utilizes the genius of our inventors. Emphatically was this the case with the application of steam power to ocean steamships. Americans showed the way, but Englishmen set out upon it and were traveling it regularly before another American vessel followed in the wake of the "Savannah." In 1838 two English steamships crossed the Atlantic to New York, the "Sirius" and the "Great Western." That was the beginning of that great fleet of British steamers which now plies up and down the Seven Seas and finds its poet laureate in Mr. Kipling. A very small beginning it was, too. The "Sirius" was of 700 tons burden and 320 horse-power; the "Great Western" was 212 feet long, with a tonnage of 1340 and engines of 400 horse-power. The "Sirius" brought seven passengers to New York, at a time when the sailing clippers were carrying from eight hundred to a thousand immigrants, and from twenty to forty cabin passengers. To those who accompanied the ship on her maiden voyage it must have seemed to justify the doubts expressed by the mathematicians concerning the practicability of designing a steamship which could carry enough coal to drive the engines all the way across the Atlantic, for the luckless "Sirius" exhausted her four hundred and fifty tons of coal before reaching Sandy Hook, and could not have made the historic passage up New York Bay under steam, except for the liberal use of spars and barrels of resin which she had in cargo. Her voyage from Cork had occupied eighteen and a half days. The "Great Western," which arrived at the same time, made the run from Queenstown in fifteen days. That two steamships should lie at anchor in New York Bay at the same time, was enough to stir the wonder and awaken the enthusiasm of the provincial New Yorkers of that day. The newspapers published editorials on the marvel, and the editor of The Courier and Enquirer, the chief maritime authority of the time, hazarded a prophecy in this cautious fashion:

"What may be the ultimate fate of this excitement--whether or not the expenses of equipment and fuel will admit of the employment of these vessels in the ordinary packet service--we cannot pretend to form an opinion; but of the entire feasibility of the passage of the Atlantic by steam, as far as regards safety, comfort, and dispatch, even in the roughest and most boisterous weather, the most skeptical must now cease to doubt."

Unfortunately for our national pride, the story of the development of the ocean steamship industry from this small beginning to its present prodigious proportions, is one in which we of the United States fill but a little space. We have, it is true, furnished the rich cargoes of grain, of cotton, and of cattle, that have made the ocean passage in one direction profitable for shipowners. We found homes for the millions of immigrants who crowded the "'tween decks" of steamers of every flag and impelled the companies to build bigger and bigger craft to carry the ever increasing throngs. And in these later days of luxury and wealth unparalleled, we have supplied the millionaires, whose demands for quarters afloat as gorgeous as a Fifth Avenue club have resulted in the building of floating palaces. America has supported the transatlantic lines, but almost every civilized people with a seacoast has outdone us in building the ships. For a time, indeed, it seemed that we should speedily overcome the lead that England immediately took in building steamships. Her entrance upon this industry was, as we have seen, in 1838. The United States took it up about ten years later. In 1847 the Ocean Steam Navigation Company was organized in this country and secured from the Government a contract to carry the mails between New York and Bremen. Two ships were built and regular trips made for a year or more; but when the Government contract expired and was not renewed, the venture was abandoned. About the same time the owners of one of the most famous packet lines, the Black Ball, tried the experiment of supplementing their sailing service with a steamship, but it proved unprofitable. Shortly after the New York and Havre Steamship Company, with two vessels and a postal subsidy of $150,000, entered the field and continued operations with only moderate success until 1868.

The only really notable effort of Americans in the early days of steam navigation to get their share of transatlantic trade--indeed, I might almost say the most determined effort until the present time--was that made by the projectors of the Collins line, and it ended in disaster, in heavy financial loss, and in bitter sorrow.



E.K. Collins was a New York shipping merchant, the organizer and manager of one of the most famous of the old lines of sailing packets between that port and Liverpool--the Dramatic line, so called from the fact that its ships were named after popular actors of the day. Recognizing the fact that the sailing ship was fighting a losing fight against the new style of vessels, Mr. Collins interested a number of New York merchants in a distinctly American line of transatlantic ships. It was no easy task. Capital was not over plenty in the American city which now boasts itself the financial center of the world, while the opportunities for its investment in enterprises longer proved and less hazardous than steamships were numerous. But a Government mail subsidy of $858,000 annually promised a sound financial basis, and made the task of capitalization possible. It seems not unlikely that the vicissitudes of the line were largely the result of this subsidy, for one of its conditions was extremely onerous: namely, that the vessels making twenty-six voyages annually between New York and Liverpool, should always make the passage in better time than the British Cunard line, which was then in its eighth year. However, the Collins line met the exaction bravely. Four vessels were built, the "Atlantic," "Pacific," "Arctic," and "Baltic," and the time of the fleet for the westward passage averaged eleven days, ten hours and twenty-one minutes, while the British ships averaged twelve days, nineteen hours and twenty-six minutes--a very substantial triumph for American naval architecture. The Collins liners, furthermore, were models of comfort and even of luxury for the times. They averaged a cost of $700,000 apiece, a good share of which went toward enhancing the comfort of passengers. To our English cousins these ships were at first as much of a curiosity as our vestibuled trains were a few years since. When the "Atlantic" first reached Liverpool in 1849, the townspeople by the thousand came down to the dock to examine a ship with a barber shop, fitted with the curious American barber chairs enabling the customer to recline while being shaved. The provision of a special deck-house for smokers, was another innovation, while the saloon, sixty-seven by twenty feet, the dining saloon sixty by twenty, the rich fittings of rosewood and satinwood, marble-topped tables, expensive upholstery, and stained-glass windows, decorated with patriotic designs, were for a long time the subject of admiring comment in the English press. Old voyagers who crossed in the halcyon days of the Collins line and are still taking the "Atlantic ferry," agree in saying that the increase in actual comfort is not so great as might reasonably be expected. Much of the increased expenditures of the companies has gone into more gorgeous decoration, vastly more of course into pushing for greater speed; but even in the early days there was a lavish table, and before the days of the steamships the packets offered such private accommodations in the of roomy staterooms as can be excelled only by the "cabins de luxe" of the modern liner. Aside from the question of speed, however, it is probable that the two inventions which have added most to the passengers' comfort are the electric light and artificial refrigeration.

The Collins line charged from thirty to forty dollar a ton for freight, a charge which all the modern improvements and the increase in the size of vessels, has not materially lessened. In six years, however, the corporation was practically bankrupt. The high speed required by the Government more than offset the generous subsidy, and misfortune seemed to pursue the ships. The "Arctic" came into collision with a French steamer in 1854, and went down with two hundred and twenty-two of the two hundred and sixty-eight people on board. The "Pacific" left Liverpool June 23, 1856, and was never more heard of. Shortly thereafter the subsidy was withdrawn, and the famous line went slowly down to oblivion.



It was during the best days of the Collins line that it seemed that the United States might overtake Great Britain in the race for supremacy on the ocean. In 1851 the total British steam shipping engaged in foreign trade was 65,921 tons. The United States only began building steamships in 1848, yet by 1851 its ocean-going steamships aggregated 62,390 tons. For four years our growth continued so that in 1855 we had 115,000 tons engaged in foreign trade. Then began the retrograde movement, until in 1860--before the time of the Confederate cruisers--there were; according to an official report to the National Board of Trade, "no ocean mail steamers away from our own coasts, anywhere on the globe, under the American flag, except, perhaps, on the route between New York and Havre, where two steamships may then have been in commission, which, however, were soon afterward withdrawn. The two or three steamship companies which had been in existence in New York had either failed or abandoned the business; and the entire mail, passenger, and freight traffic between Great Britain and the United States, so far as this was carried on by steam, was controlled then (as it mainly is now) by British companies." And from this condition of decadence the merchant marine of the United States is just beginning to manifest signs of recovery.

When steam had fairly established its place as the most effective power for ocean voyages of every duration, and through every zone and clime, improvements in the methods of harnessing it, and in the form and material of the ships that it was to drive, followed fast upon each other. As in the case of the invention of the steamboat, the public has commonly lightly awarded the credit for each invention to some belated experimenter who, walking more firmly along a road which an earlier pioneer had broken, attained the goal that his predecessor had sought in vain. So we find credit given almost universally to John Ericsson, the Swedish-born American, for the invention of the screw-propeller. But as early as 1770 it was suggested by John Watt, and Stevens, the American inventor, actually gave a practical demonstration of its efficiency in 1804. Ericsson perfected it in 1836, and soon thereafter the British began building steamships with screws instead of paddle-wheels. For some reason, however, not easy now to conjecture, shipbuilders clung to the paddle-wheels for vessels making the transatlantic voyage, long after they were discarded on the shorter runs along the coasts of the British isles. It so happened, too, that the first vessel to use the screw in transatlantic voyages, was also first iron ship built. She was the "Great Britain," a ship of 3,000 tons, built for the Great Western Company at Bristol, England, and intended to eclipse any ship afloat. Her hull was well on the way to completion when her designer chanced to see the "Archimedes," the first screw steamer built, and straightway changed his plans to admit the use of the new method of propulsion So from 1842 may be dated the use of both screw propellers and iron ships. We must pass hastily over the other inventions, rapidly following each other, and all designed to make ocean travel more swift, more safe, and more comfortable, and to increase the profit of the shipowner. The compound engine, which has been so developed that in place of Fulton's seven miles an hour, our ocean steamships are driven now at a speed sometimes closely approaching twenty-five miles an hour, seems already destined to give way to the turbine form of engine which, applied thus far to torpedo-boats only, has made a record of forty-four miles an hour. Iron, which stood for a revolution in 1842, has itself given way to steel. And a new force, subtile, swift, and powerful, has found endless application in the body of the great ships, so that from stem to stern-post they are a network of electric wires, bearing messages, controlling the independent engines that swing the rudder, closing water-tight compartments at the first hint of danger, and making the darkest places of the great hulls as light as day at the throwing of a switch. During the period of this wonderful advance in marine architecture ship-building in the United States languished to the point of extinction. Yachts for millionaires who could afford to pay heavily for the pleasure of flying the Stars and Stripes, ships of 2500 to 4000 tons for the coasting trade, in which no foreign-built vessel was permitted to compete, and men-of-war--very few of them before 1890--kept a few shipyards from complete obliteration. But as an industry, ship-building, which once ranked at the head of American manufactures, had sunk to a point of insignificance.

The present moment (1902) seems to show the American shipping interest in the full tide of successful re√ęstablishment. In Congress and in boards of trade men are arguing for and against subsidies, for and against the policy of permitting Americans to buy ships of foreign builders if they will, and fly the American flag above them. But while these things remain subjects of discussion natural causes are taking Americans again to sea. Some buy great British ships, own and manage them, even although the laws of the United States compel the flying of a foreign flag. For example, the Atlantic Transport line is owned wholly by citizens of the United States, although at the present moment all its ships fly the British flag. Two new ships are, however, being completed for this line in American shipyards, the "Minnetonka" and "Minnewaska," of 13,401 tons each. This line, started by Americans in 1887, was the first to use the so-called bilge keels, or parallel keels along each side of the hull to prevent rolling. It now has a fleet of twenty-three vessels, with a total tonnage of about 90,000, and does a heavy passenger business despite the fact that its ships were primarily designed to carry cattle. Quite as striking an illustration of the fact that capital is international, and will be invested in ships or other enterprises which promise profit quite heedless of sentimental considerations of flags, was afforded by the purchase in 1901 of the Leyland line of British steamships by an American. Immediately following this came the consolidation of ownership, or merger, of the principal British-American lines, in one great corporation, a majority of the stock of which is held by Americans. Despite their ownership on this side of the water, these ships will still fly the British flag, and a part of the contract of merger is that a British shipyard shall for ten years build all new vessels needed by the consolidated lines this situation will persist. This suggests that the actual participation of Americans in the ocean-carrying trade of the world is not to be estimated by the frequency or infrequency with which the Stars and Stripes are to be met on the ocean. It furthermore gives some indication of the rapidity with which the American flag would reappear if the law to register only ships built in American yards were repealed.

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