SS Savannah

SS Savannah was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

Hybrid vehicle
A hybrid vehicle is a vehicle that uses two or more distinct power sources to move the vehicle. The term most commonly refers to hybrid electric vehicles , which combine an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors.-Power:...

 sailing ship
Sailing ship
The term sailing ship is now used to refer to any large wind-powered vessel. In technical terms, a ship was a sailing vessel with a specific rig of at least three masts, square rigged on all of them, making the sailing adjective redundant. In popular usage "ship" became associated with all large...

/sidewheel steamer built in 1818. She is notable for being the first steamship in the world to cross the Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

, a feat that was accomplished from May to June 1819, although only a fraction of the distance was covered with the ship under steam power. In spite of her historic voyage, Savannah was not a commercial success as a steamship and was converted back into a sailing ship shortly after returning from Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...


Savannah was wrecked off Long Island
Long Island
Long Island is an island located in the southeast part of the U.S. state of New York, just east of Manhattan. Stretching northeast into the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island contains four counties, two of which are boroughs of New York City , and two of which are mainly suburban...

 in 1821. No other American-owned steamship would cross the Atlantic for almost thirty years after Savannah's pioneering voyage.


Savannah was originally built as a sailing packet at the New York
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 shipyard of Fickett & Crocker. While the ship was still on the slipway
A slipway, boat slip or just a slip, is a ramp on the shore by which ships or boats can be moved to and from the water. They are used for building and repairing ships and boats. They are also used for launching and retrieving small boats on trailers and flying boats on their undercarriage. The...

, Captain Moses Rogers persuaded Scarborough & Isaacs, a wealthy shipping firm from Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia
Savannah is the largest city and the county seat of Chatham County, in the U.S. state of Georgia. Established in 1733, the city of Savannah was the colonial capital of the Province of Georgia and later the first state capital of Georgia. Today Savannah is an industrial center and an important...

, to purchase the vessel, convert it to a steamship and gain the prestige of inaugurating the world's first transatlantic steamship service.

Savannah was therefore equipped with a steam engine and paddlewheels in addition to her sails. Moses Rogers himself supervised the installation of the machinery, while his brother-in-law Steven Rogers (no blood relation) oversaw construction of the ship's hull and rigging.

Given that the craft had sails and did not rely exclusively on steam engine-driven paddles, some sources contend that the first ocean-going steamship was the launching several years later, in 1831. The Royal William was the first vessel to cross the ocean almost entirely from steam engine power.


The Allaire Iron Works
Allaire Iron Works
The Allaire Iron Works was a leading 19th-century American marine engineering company based in New York City. Founded in 1816 by engineer and philanthropist James P...

 of New York supplied Savannah's engine cylinder, while the rest of the engine components and running gear were manufactured by the Speedwell Ironworks
Speedwell Ironworks
Speedwell Ironworks was an ironworks in Speedwell, New Jersey, USA, just north of Morristown, New Jersey. It is on Speedwell Avenue, part of U.S. Route 202...

 of New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

. The 90-horsepower low-pressure engine was of the inclined direct-acting type, with a single 40 inches (101.6 cm) cylinder and a 5-foot stroke. Savannah's engine and machinery were unusually large for their time, and after the ship's launch, Moses Rogers had difficulty locating a suitable boiler
A boiler is a closed vessel in which water or other fluid is heated. The heated or vaporized fluid exits the boiler for use in various processes or heating applications.-Materials:...

, rejecting several before settling on a copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 model by boiler specialist Daniel Dod
Daniel Dod
Daniel Dod was a mathematician and a mechanical engineer. He fabricated the engine for the first steamboat to cross the Atlantic Ocean.-Biography:...

. The ship's wrought-iron paddlewheels were 16 feet in diameter with eight buckets per wheel. For fuel, the vessel carried 75 tons of coal and 25 cords of wood.

As the ship was too small to carry much fuel, the engine was intended only for use in calm weather, when the sails were unable to provide a speed of at least four knots. In order to reduce drag and avoid damage when the engine was not in use, the paddlewheel buckets were linked by chains instead of bars, enabling the wheels to be folded up like fans and stored on deck. Similarly, the paddlewheel guards were made of canvas stretched over a metal frame which could also be packed away when not required. The whole process of retracting the wheels and guards took no more than about 15 minutes. Savannah is the only known ship to have been fitted with retractable paddlewheels.

Savannah's hull and rigging were constructed under the direction of Captain Steven Rogers, who later became the ship's Sailing Master. The ship was full rigged like a normal sailing ship, excepting the absence of royal-masts and royals. Contemporary engravings suggest that Savannah's mainmast was set further astern than in normal sailing ships, in order to accommodate the engine and boiler.


Savannah was fitted with 32 passenger berths, with two berths in each of the 16 state rooms. The women's quarters were reported to be "entirely distinct" from that of the men's. Three fully furnished saloons were also provided, complete with imported carpets, curtains and hangings, and decorated with mirrors. The state rooms were large and comfortable and the interior has been described as more closely resembling a pleasure yacht than a steam packet.

Early service

When it became known that Savannah was intended for transatlantic service, the vessel was quickly dubbed a "steam coffin" in New York and Moses Rogers was unable to hire a crew there. He was forced to travel to New London, Connecticut
New London, Connecticut
New London is a seaport city and a port of entry on the northeast coast of the United States.It is located at the mouth of the Thames River in New London County, southeastern Connecticut....

, where his reputation as a competent ship's captain was well established, and he could find seamen prepared to serve on the vessel.

Savannah conducted a successful trial of approximately two hours duration in New York Harbor
New York Harbor
New York Harbor refers to the waterways of the estuary near the mouth of the Hudson River that empty into New York Bay. It is one of the largest natural harbors in the world. Although the U.S. Board of Geographic Names does not use the term, New York Harbor has important historical, governmental,...

 to test her engine on Monday 22 March 1819. On Sunday, March 28 at 10 a.m., Savannah commenced her maiden voyage, under sail power, from New York to her operating port of Savannah, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia
Savannah is the largest city and the county seat of Chatham County, in the U.S. state of Georgia. Established in 1733, the city of Savannah was the colonial capital of the Province of Georgia and later the first state capital of Georgia. Today Savannah is an industrial center and an important...

. The following morning the ship got steam up for the first time at 11 a.m., but the engine was in use only half an hour before rough weather persuaded the captain to stow the paddlewheels and revert to sail power once again. The ship reached her destination April 6, having employed the engines for a total of 41½ hours during the 207-hour voyage. In spite of arriving at 4 a.m., a large crowd was on hand to welcome the vessel into port.

Presidential excursion

A few days after Savannah's arrival in Savannah Harbor, the President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

, James Monroe
James Monroe
James Monroe was the fifth President of the United States . Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father of the United States, and the last president from the Virginia dynasty and the Republican Generation...

, visited the nearby city of Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston is the second largest city in the U.S. state of South Carolina. It was made the county seat of Charleston County in 1901 when Charleston County was founded. The city's original name was Charles Towne in 1670, and it moved to its present location from a location on the west bank of the...

 as part of an extended tour of inspection of arsenal
An arsenal is a place where arms and ammunition are made, maintained and repaired, stored, issued to authorized users, or any combination of those...

s, fortification
Fortifications are military constructions and buildings designed for defence in warfare and military bases. Humans have constructed defensive works for many thousands of years, in a variety of increasingly complex designs...

s and public works along the Atlantic Coast
East Coast of the United States
The East Coast of the United States, also known as the Eastern Seaboard, refers to the easternmost coastal states in the United States, which touch the Atlantic Ocean and stretch up to Canada. The term includes the U.S...

. On hearing of the visit, Savannah's owner, William Scarborough, instructed Rogers to sail north to Charleston to invite the President to return to the city of Savannah aboard the steamship.

Savannah departed under steam for Charleston on April 14, and after an overnight stopover at Tybee Lighthouse, arrived at Charleston two days later. Scarborough's invitation was sent, but as the locals objected to the President leaving South Carolina on a Georgian vessel, he pledged to visit the ship at a later date. On April 30, Savannah made steam for her home port once again, arriving there the following day after a 27-hour voyage.

On May 7 and 8 Savannah took on coal, and on May 11, President Monroe made good on his promise and arrived to take an excursion on the ship. After the President and his entourage had been welcomed aboard, Savannah departed under steam around 8 a.m. for Tybee Lighthouse, arriving there at 10:30 a.m., and departing for town again at 11. Monroe dined on board, expressing enthusiasm to the ship's owner, Mr. Scarborough, over the prospect of an American vessel inaugurating the world's first transatlantic steamship service. The President was also greatly impressed by Savannah's machinery, and invited Scarborough to bring the ship to Washington
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 after her transatlantic crossing so that Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 could inspect the vessel with a view to purchasing her for use as a cruiser against Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

n pirates.

Historic transatlantic voyage

In the days following Monroe's departure, Savannah's crew, with Captain Moses Rogers in command and Captain Steven Rogers as Sailing Master, made their final preparations for the atlantic crossing. On May 15, the ship broke free from her moorings during a squall, but apart from slight damage to her paddles, the ship was unharmed.

Savannah's owners made every effort to secure passengers and freight for the voyage, but no-one was willing to risk lives or property aboard such a novel vessel. On May 19, a late advertisement appeared in the local paper announcing the date of departure as May 20. In the event, Savannah's departure was delayed for two days after one of her crew returned to the vessel in a highly inebriated state, fell off the gangplank and drowned. In spite of this delay however, still no passengers came forward, and the ship would make her historic voyage purely in an experimental capacity.

The voyage

After leaving Savannah Harbor and lingering at Tybee Lighthouse for several hours, Savannah commenced her historic voyage at 5 a.m. on Monday May 24, under both steam and sail bound for Liverpool, England. At around 8 a.m. the same day, the paddlewheels were stowed for the first time and the ship proceeded under sail. Several days later, on May 29, the schooner Contract spied a vessel "with volumes of smoke issuing", and assuming it was a ship on fire, pursued it for several hours but was unable to catch up. Contract's skipper eventually concluded the smoking vessel must be a steamboat crossing for Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, exciting his admiration as "a proud monument of Yankee
The term Yankee has several interrelated and often pejorative meanings, usually referring to people originating in the northeastern United States, or still more narrowly New England, where application of the term is largely restricted to descendants of the English settlers of the region.The...

 skill and enterprise".

On June 2, Savannah, sailing at a speed of 9 or 10 knots, passed the sailing ship Pluto. After being informed by Captain Rogers that his novel vessel was functioning "remarkably well", the crew of Pluto gave Savannah three cheers, as "the happiest effort of mechanical genius that ever sailed the western sea." Savannah's next recorded encounter was not until June 19, off the coast of Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 with the cutter HMS Kite, which made the same mistake as Contract three weeks earlier and chased the steamship for several hours believing it to be a sailing vessel on fire. Unable to catch the ship, Kite eventually fired several warning shots, and Captain Rogers brought his vessel to a halt, whereupon Kite caught up and its commander asked permission to inspect the ship. Permission was granted, and the British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 sailors are said to have been "much gratified" by the satisfaction of their curiosity.

On June 18, Savannah was becalmed off Cork
Cork (city)
Cork is the second largest city in the Republic of Ireland and the island of Ireland's third most populous city. It is the principal city and administrative centre of County Cork and the largest city in the province of Munster. Cork has a population of 119,418, while the addition of the suburban...

 after running out of fuel for her engine, but by June 20, the ship had made her way to Liverpool. Hundreds of boats came out to greet the unusual vessel, including a British sloop-of-war
In the 18th and most of the 19th centuries, a sloop-of-war was a warship with a single gun deck that carried up to eighteen guns. As the rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above, this meant that the term sloop-of-war actually encompassed all the unrated combat vessels including the...

, an officer from whom hailed Savannah's sailing master Steven Rogers, who happened to be on deck. The New London Gazette of Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

 later reported the encounter in the following terms:

The officer of the boat asked [Rogers], "Where is your master?" to which he gave the laconic reply, "I have no master, sir". "Where's your captain then?" "He's below; do you wish to see him?" "I do, sir." The captain, who was then below, on being called, asked what he wanted, to which he answered, "Why do you wear that penant, sir?" "Because my country allows me to, sir." "My commander thinks it was done to insult him, and if you don't take it down he will send a force to do it." Captain Rogers then exclaimed to the engineer, "Get the hot-water engine ready." Although there was no such machine on board the vessel, it had the desired effect, and John Bull
John Bull
John Bull is a national personification of Britain in general and England in particular, especially in political cartoons and similar graphic works. He is usually depicted as a stout, middle-aged man, often wearing a Union Flag waistcoat.-Origin:...

 was glad to paddle off as fast as possible.

On approaching the city, Savannah was cheered by crowds thronging the piers and the roofs of houses. The ship made anchor at 6 p.m. The voyage had lasted 29 days and 11 hours, during which time the vessel had employed her engine for a total of 80 hours.

At Liverpool

During Savannah's stay at Liverpool, the ship was visited by thousands of people from all walks of life, including officers of the army and navy and other "persons of rank and influence." Perhaps reflecting the suspicion with which both nations still regarded one another after the recent War of 1812
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

, some suspected the ship of planning to rescue Napoleon Bonaparte from prison on the island of St. Helena, whose brother Jerome had recently offered a large reward for such a service.

Savannah remained at Liverpool for 25 days, while the crew scraped and repainted the ship, tested the engine, and replenished fuel and supplies. On July 21 the ship departed Liverpool bound for St. Petersburg in Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...



Savannah reached Elsinore
Helsingør is a city and the municipal seat of Helsingør municipality on the northeast coast of the island of Zealand in eastern Denmark. Helsingør has a population of 46,279 including the southern suburbs of Snekkersten and Espergærde...

, Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 on August 9, where she remained in quarantine
Quarantine is compulsory isolation, typically to contain the spread of something considered dangerous, often but not always disease. The word comes from the Italian quarantena, meaning forty-day period....

 for five days. On the 14th the ship sailed on to Stockholm
Stockholm is the capital and the largest city of Sweden and constitutes the most populated urban area in Scandinavia. Stockholm is the most populous city in Sweden, with a population of 851,155 in the municipality , 1.37 million in the urban area , and around 2.1 million in the metropolitan area...

, Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

, thus becoming the first steamship to enter the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...


Savannah arrived at Stockholm on 22 August, and on the 28th was visited by the Prince of Sweden and Norway. On September 1, an excursion on board the ship around the local islands was arranged, which was attended by the American and other ambassadors, nobles and prominent citizens. While in port at Stockholm, the Swedish government offered to purchase the vessel, but the terms were not attractive enough for Moses Rogers and he rejected the offer. Before leaving, the King of Sweden, Charles XIV John, presented Rogers with the gift of a stone and muller
Stone and muller
A stone and muller is a hand-operated tool used for mixing and grinding paint. The stone and muller was popular with artists and tradesmen from the late 18th through the 19th century...

. On September 5, Savannah departed for Kronstadt
Kronstadt , also spelled Kronshtadt, Cronstadt |crown]]" and Stadt for "city"); is a municipal town in Kronshtadtsky District of the federal city of St. Petersburg, Russia, located on Kotlin Island, west of Saint Petersburg proper near the head of the Gulf of Finland. Population: It is also...

, Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

, arriving there on the 9th.


At Kronstadt, the Emperor of Russia came aboard Savannah and presented Captain Rogers with gifts of a gold watch and two iron chairs. From Kronstadt, Rogers sailed on to St. Petersburg, arriving there September 13. During the journey from Liverpool to St. Petersburg, Savannah's engine had its most frequent use, being employed for a total of 241 hours.

At St. Petersburg, the American ambassador to Russia extended an invitation to a number of prominent citizens to visit the ship. On September 18, 21 and 23, Savannah made several excursions under steam in the waters of St. Petersburg, with members of the Russian royal family and other noblemen, as well as army and navy officers aboard. During the ship's stay at St. Petersburg, the Russian government also offered to purchase the vessel, but again the terms were not attractive enough for Moses Rogers to accept.

On 27 and 28 September, Savannah was occupied in taking on coal and stores for her return journey to the United States. Before leaving, Lord Lynedoch
Thomas Graham, 1st Baron Lynedoch
General Thomas Graham, 1st Baron Lynedoch, GCB, GCMG, GCTE was a Scottish aristocrat, politician and British Army officer....

 of England, who had travelled on board Savannah from Stockholm to St. Peterburg, presented Captain Moses Rogers and Sailing Master Steven Rogers with mementos of a solid silver coffee urn and a gold snuffbox respectively.

Homeward crossing

On 29 September, Savannah sailed for Kronstadt on the first leg of her journey home. After experiencing several days of rough weather while at Kronstadt, during which the ship lost an anchor
An anchor is a device, normally made of metal, that is used to connect a vessel to the bed of a body of water to prevent the vessel from drifting due to wind or current. The word derives from Latin ancora, which itself comes from the Greek ἄγκυρα .Anchors can either be temporary or permanent...

 and hawser
Hawser is a nautical term for a thick cable or rope used in mooring or towing a ship. A hawser passes through a hawsehole, also known as a cat hole, located on the hawse....

, Savannah left Kronstadt under steam on October 10 bound for Copenhagen, Denmark, arriving on the 17th. At Copenhagen the ship took on a pilot
Maritime pilot
A pilot is a mariner who guides ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbours or river mouths. With the exception of the Panama Canal, the pilot is only an advisor, as the captain remains in legal, overriding command of the vessel....

 who directed the vessel to anchor at Arendal
is a town and municipality in the county of Aust-Agder, Norway. Arendal belongs to the traditional region of Sørlandet.The town of Arendal is the administrative center the municipality and also of Aust-Agder county...

 on the Norwegian
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...


From Arendal, Savannah set out on her homeward crossing of the Atlantic. The ship experienced gales and rough seas almost all the way back to the United States, and the engine was not employed again until reaching home waters, the crossing having taken 40 days. Savannah steamed up the Savannah River
Savannah River
The Savannah River is a major river in the southeastern United States, forming most of the border between the states of South Carolina and Georgia. Two tributaries of the Savannah, the Tugaloo River and the Chattooga River, form the northernmost part of the border...

 and arrived safely back at her home port at 10 a.m., November 30, six months and eight days from the date of her departure.

Later history

Savannah remained at her home port until December 3, when she set sail for Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

, arriving there on the 16th. In January 1820, a great fire swept through the city of Savannah, doing severe damage to the business district. Savannah's owner, the firm of Scarborough and Isaacs, suffered financial harm due to the fire, and consequently was forced to sell the ship.

Savannah's engine was removed and resold for the sum of $1,600 to the Allaire Iron Works, which had originally built the engine cylinder. The cylinder was preserved by the proprietor of the Allaire Works, James P. Allaire, and was later displayed at the New York Crystal Palace
New York Crystal Palace
New York Crystal Palace was an exhibition building constructed for the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in New York City in 1853, which was under the presidency of Mayor Jacob Aaron Westervelt...

 Exhibition of 1856. After removal of the engine, the ship was used as a sailing packet, operating between New York and Savannah, Georgia, until running aground at Long Island
Long Island
Long Island is an island located in the southeast part of the U.S. state of New York, just east of Manhattan. Stretching northeast into the Atlantic Ocean, Long Island contains four counties, two of which are boroughs of New York City , and two of which are mainly suburban...

on November 5, 1821 and subsequently breaking up.

Savannah had proven that a steamship was capable of crossing the ocean, but the public was not yet prepared to trust such means of conveyance on the open sea, and the large amount of space taken up by the engine and its fuel made the ship uneconomic in any case. It would be almost another 20 years before steamships began making regular crossings of the Atlantic, and another American-owned steamship would not do so until 1847, almost 30 years later.
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