Little Bits of History

Location, Location, Location

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 5, 2014
Early paddle steamer

Early paddle steamer

June 5, 1817: The PS Frontenac is launched. The paddle steamer was built in Ernesttown, Ontario by American contractors for Kingston businessmen in 1816. The cost for building the ship was £15,000 or £958,300.00 today which is about $1.6 million. She entered service on this day making regular runs between Kingston, York (Toronto, today) and Niagara-on-the-Lake. They made runs for eight years with only rarely returning a profit. The provincial population was simply too small to support the use of the ship. She was sold for £1550 to John Hamilton in 1824 and he tried for two years to make a profitable business in shipping, but also failed. Frontenac was sold for scrap at Niagara in 1827 but burned to waterline before she could actually be turned into scrap. The career of the first paddle steamer on the Great Lakes was ignominiously ended by arson.

In seafaring history, paddle wheelers followed the development of poles, oars, and sails. When first designed, they were powered by either animals or humans. With the invention of the steam engine, a new way to power the wheel was possible. There are two types of paddle steamers. The stern-wheeler has the paddlewheel at the back of the ship while the side-wheeler, as the name indicates, has the wheel on the side. Both types are used on rivers but the side wheelers are both wider, with wheels on each side of the ship, and more maneuverable since each wheel can be rotated independently.

The first reference we have to a paddlewheel comes from the Roman engineer Vitruvius who lived from 80-70 BC to some time after 15 BC. He used the wheels as an odometer. The first time a paddlewheel was discussed as a means of propulsion comes from an unnamed Roman author writing in the 4th-5th century AD. The first time it was discussed as a propulsion system for a boat was by Italian Guido da Vigevana (1280-1349) whose boat was powered by manually turned compound cranks. Patrick Miller of Dalswinton invented a paddlewheel ship powered by men working a capstan driving bilateral paddles in 1787 on the Firth of Forth in Scotland. The very first paddle steamer was built in France by Marquis Claude de Jouffroy in 1774. Robert Fulton’s Clermont was the first successful steam paddle boat in the US, in service beginning in 1807.

Today, paddle steamers work as cruise boats on lakes and rivers in the US and Canada. Some are also in use in the United Kingdom and mainland Europe. The PS Washington Irving was the largest passenger-carrying riverboat ever built. It carried 6,000 passengers and was built in 1912. It worked the Hudson River from 1913 until accidentally sunk in 1926. One of the last steamers built in the US was the William M. Black, built in 1934. The Belle of Louisville is the oldest operating Mississippi River-style steamboat and still in use was put into service in 1914.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast. – Leonardo da Vinci

A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. – Grace Hopper

If my ship sails from sight, it doesn’t mean my journey ends, it simply means the river bends. – Enoch Powell

Also on this day: Simon Legree is Exposed – In 1851 Uncle Tom’s Cabin began to see print.
World War II – In 1941, Chongqing was bombed killing thousands.
Bobby – In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was shot.
Hound Dog – In 1956, Elvis performed on The Milton Berle Show.

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