Ocean Steamships - 1882 - Crossing the Atlantic in the Late 1800's

by S. G. W. Benjamin


S. G. W. Benjamin (1836-1914) In the latter 1800's the name of S. G. W. Benjamin was one of the most familiar in America's periodical Literature -- familiar before he went to Persia as a Minister and after his return. He was an author, artist, and diplomat. He was the first United States Minister to Persia, receiving his appointment in 1883, and he drew up the code used in diplomatic procedure between the two countries.

This article on early ocean steamships - their development, travel, and accommodations provides excellent insight into the pre-twentieth-century ships that brought many immigrants from Europe to North American ports.


The article is divided into five parts of roughly equal lengths.


Part 1 (Evolution of Ocean Steamships)

The employment of steam as motive power is by no means a modern idea. The possibilities of steam were known to the ancients; its applications were described by Hero, 13o B. C. Roger Bacon, in the fourteenth century, made some experiments, and Blasco de Garay constructed a rude steam-boat at Barcelona in 1543. Later, Papin built a steam-boat in Germany, which was of sufficient importance to arouse the superstitious dread or conservative opposition of the bargemen, who destroyed it.


Part 2 (Screw Propeller and Compound Engine)

The possible value of the screw-propeller first began to be perceived and popularized by employing it as an auxiliary to sailing ships. In 1845 it was intended to establish an American line of auxiliary packet ships, but after the building of the Massachusetts the project was abandoned.


Part 3 (Guion Line and Inman Line)

Fineness of lines is equally essential, together with the proper distribution of weights, and the like. The great average speed exhibited by the modern steamship is due in large part to the momentum of such a vast weight, which, once started, has a tremendous force in overcoming resistance.


Part 4 (Passenger Comforts and Accommodations)

The disadvantage of carrying them against a head wind amounts to very little in a long voyage and is fully counterbalanced in the long run by the advantage gained when the wind is favorable. No ocean steamship should be permitted to go to sea without canvas; at least no passenger ship; it is a penny-wise economy which leads a company to dispense with it.


Part 5 (Passenger Comforts and Accommodations - Conclusion)

She made on her first passage the fastest run yet achieved between China and England, running in 29 days and 22 hours 11,250 miles, including stops for coal, or an average of 375 per day. This indicates a higher average of speed, for it includes three stoppages and the slow passage through the Suez Canal.


Source of Article: S. G. W. Benjamin - October 1882 Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Vol. XXIV, New Series Vol. II, Pages 666-678.

* See also " The Evolution of the American Yacht " and " Steam-Yachting in America," by the same author, in THE CENTURY MAGAZINE for July and August, 1882. -- ED.


Note 1: Some doubt seems to have been thrown on this statement. We quote the following from a communication by Henry Smith in the New York " Evening Post" of June 24th, 1882:

"Happening to be in Liverpool at the time of her arrival, I visited and examined the ship, machinery, etc. She was complete ship-rigged, and made no pretensions to having navigated the ocean by steam, and if I remember correctly, sailed all the passage, carrying her steam-engine with her as any other ship might do. At any rate, if she used her engine at all, it was too little to be of any account. She was not designed to navigate the ocean. It was not till 1833 that the subject of navigating the Atlantic Ocean by steam-power was seriously brought forward, and after years of vigorous and persevering labor was carried into successful operation." -- En.


Note 2: It is well known that the invention was pushed with such vigor that upward of forty propeller vessels, several being constructed of iron, were plying on our coasts, lakes and rivers before England was aware of the commercial advantages of the new mode of propulsion. -- ED.


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