Little Bits of History

SS Savannah

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 22, 2011

SS Savannah

May 22, 1819: The SS Savannah leaves port at Savannah, Georgia to sail to Liverpool, England. This was the first trip across the Atlantic Ocean using a steamship. The Savannah was not actually a steamship, but a hybrid sailing ship/sidewheel steamer. She arrived in England on June 20 but only moved a portion of the way under steam power. She was owned by Scarborough & Isaacs, built by Fickett & Crocker, and cost $50,000 or about $884,000 in today’s money.

The Savannah was originally built as a sailing packet in New York City. While still on the slipway, Captain Moses Rogers lined up her buyers and convinced them to convert the ship to the hybrid she became. The goal was to be the first American ship to cross the Atlantic using steam power. Moses Rogers supervised the steam conversion project and his brother-in-law oversaw the construction of the hull and rigging. Some say this negates the crossing ability to claim first crossing since the sails and rigging were available and were used. The ship was too small to carry much fuel and so the steam engine was to be used only in calm weather. If the sails were able to maintain a speed of four knots, then they were employed.

The ship had sixteen staterooms with two berths in each. There was a distinct difference between the men’s rooms and those to be used by women. There were three furnished salons richly decorated with imported carpets, curtains, and hangings along with mirrors used for decorative purposes. The rooms were said to resemble those on a luxury yacht and did not resemble the normal fare for a steam packet.

The theory for a steam driven ship was put forth in the early 1700s. Jonathan Hulls was given a patent in 1736 for a steam engine-powered boat. The improvement of steam engines by James Watt finally made the ships possible. The first steam ship recorded in the US was built in 1787 by John Fitch, but it was demonstrated with paddles in place. In 1793, Samuel Morey first demonstrated a paddle wheel boat in North America. Robert Fulton was the first to operate steamboats commercially and began doing so after a successful test run in 1803. The Savannah made it to England, but it was not commercially successful. It was converted back to a sailing packet. It would be nearly another 30 years before an American ship crossed the Atlantic using steam power.

“A sailing ship is no democracy; you don’t caucus a crew as to where you’ll go anymore than you inquire when they’d like to shorten sail.” – Sterling Hayden

“Design has taken the place of what sailing used to be.” – Dennis Conner

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

“It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.” – George William Curtis

Also on this day:
Now We Can Play Solitaire – In 1990 Windows 3.0 is released.
Howe’s That? – In 1842, Howe Caverns were discovered.

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