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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday Ship History: Steam Heat

A couple of days over 164 years ago, the first trans-Atlantic crossing was completed by a U.S. steam-powered ship, the frigate USS Missouri, as noted here.

While steam packets from Britain and Europe had made the crossing before, it was still a significant feat for what was then a small nation. A contemporary account of the voyage can be found here, in which the opening descriptions of the voyage have some of the tone of a science fiction novel, as the "miracle" of steam propulsion is extolled and the rise of American technology noted:
The observations may seem trivial...still they go so far to prove, that in the construction of steam ships, if not superior, we are at least equal to our transatlantic neighbors, who assume to be the ne plus ultra of human greatness, in all their transactions. In naval architecture, generally, the palm of superiority has already been conceded.
But the nature and efficacy of steam power should not have been a surprise to Americans - for, as noted here, the Father of steam powered ships was an American - Robert Fulton:
In 1802 Fulton contracted with Robert Livingston to construct a steamboat for use on the Hudson River; over the next four years he built prototypes in Europe. He returned to New York in 1806. On August 17, 1807, the Clermont, Fulton's first American steamboat, left New York for Albany, thus inaugurating the first commercial steamboat service in the world. Fulton navigated 150 miles of the Hudson River from New York City to Albany in only 32 hours -- the trip had previously taken four days by sailing ship. This event is one of the most important events in the history of navigation. With the power to go up and downstream, the steamboat transformed American rivers into highways. Clermont, named for Livingston's estate in New York, proved to a nation of farmers and craftsmen that the US could compete technologically with Europe. Clermont revolutionized river travel and played an important role in the development of the South. Fulton's Clermont transformed naval warfare, and fostered international relations by facilitating trade and travel across the oceans.
From the rivers, Fulton began to work on steam-powered warships:
Robert Fulton designed the first steam powered paddlewheel warship, which was the first Navy ship to use steam. Fulton called it Demologos, or "The word of the people." But the Navy called it, variously, the Fulton Steam Frigate, the Steam Battery, and Fulton the First. It was originally intended to defend the port of New York during the War of 1812.

The Fulton, with her clumsy central wheel, concealed from shot by the double hull, with such thick scantling that none but heavy guns could harm her, and relying for offensive weapons not on a broadside of thirty guns of small calibre, but on two pivotal 100-pounder columbiads, or, perhaps, if necessary, on blows from her hog snout -- the Fulton was the true prototype of the modern steam ironclad, with its few heavy guns and ram.

The Fulton was not got into condition to be fought until just as the war ended; had it continued a few months, it is more than probable that the deeds of the Merrimac and the havoc wrought by the Confederate torpedoes would have been forestalled by nearly half a century. As it was, neither of these engines of war attracted much attention. For ten or fifteen years the Fulton was the only war-vessel of her kind in existence, and then her name disappears from the lists.

Fulton's idea was to make his vessel invulnerable with a perfectly protected paddlewheel. The first necessity was to protect the propelling arrangements. This he did by having twin hulls, side by side, as in his ferry-boats, with the paddle-wheel in the space between the hulls and protected by an upper deck with bulwarks and stanchions. This deck also sheltered the engine, which was in one hull, and the boiler, which was in the other. What he'd created was a catamaran. It was a hundred and fifty feet long, sixty feet wide, and it had a slot, fourteen feet wide, down its center.

During the War of 1812, Robert Fulton proposed to build such 20 steam frigates. Shortly after the War of 1812, the Navy launched Demologos. The "floating steam battery" (steam ship) was designed and launched for the Navy on October 23, 1814. Built by Robert Fulton, it was equipped with 20 guns and could do five knots. She was later rechristened Fulton in honor of the builder of America's first steamboat. The first Fulton (or Demologos), a catamaran steam frigate, was completed after Robert Fulton's death, and made successful trial runs in the summer of 1815. With the close of the War of 1812, it was decided not to fit her put for service, but she was delivered to the Navy in June 1816. Many old-time Navymen, however, could not picture steam-powered machinery replacing wind and sail. Fulton was later equipped with sails by leaders of the old school and was not very active during her short career. She was used as a receiving ship until June 1829 when her magazine exploded and she was destroyed.

Despite Fulton's understandable enthusiasm, the Demologas proved underpowered and poorly designed as a warship. Not until the development of better engines and the screw propeller were practical steampropelled fighting ships built. Demologos laid the foundation of the American Steam Navy, but was not followed by other vessels till after the lapse of many years.
But follow they did, when another man of vision, the "father of the steam navy" came to a position where he could influence ship design -Commodore Matthew Perry designed and saw to completion the new steam powered frigates, Missouri and Mississippi built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

It was this Missouri that crossed the Atlantic.

It was this Commodore Perry who sailed the Pacific and "opened" Japan by sailing the Mississippi (and other ships) into Tokyo Bay and calling on the Emperor:
Commodore Perry's distinctive achievement, however, was his negotiation in 1854 of the treaty between the United States and Japan, which opened Japan to the influences of western civilization. Perry sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, on the 24th of November 1852, in the "Mississippi." He reached Hong Kong on the 7th of April and on the 8th of July dropped anchor off the city of Uraga, on the western shore of Tokyo Bay with the "Susquehanna", his flagship, the "Mississippi", and the sloops-of-war "Saratoga" and "Plymouth." On the 14th of July, accompanied by his officers and escorted by a body of armed marines and sailors (in all about 300 men), he went ashore and presented to commissioners especially appointed by the shogun to receive them, President Millard Fillmore's letters to the emperor, and his own credentials. A few days later the American fleet sailed for Hong Kong with the understanding that Perry would return in the following spring to receive the emperor's reply. On the 11th of February, accordingly, he reappeared in Tokyo Bay with his fleet -- this time composed of the "Susquehanna", "Powhatan" and "Mississippi", and the sailing vessels "Vandalia", "Lexington" and "Southampton", and despite the protests of the Japanese selected an anchorage about 12 miles farther up the bay, nearly opposite the present site of Yokohama, and within about 10 miles of Edo (now Tokyo). Here, on the 31st of March 1854, was concluded the first treaty (ratified at Simoda, on the 21st of February 1855, and proclaimed on the 22nd of June following) between the United States and Japan. The more important articles of this treaty provided that the port of Simoda, in the principality of Idzu, and the port of Hakodate, in the principality of Matsmai, were constituted as ports for the reception of American ships, where they could buy such supplies as they needed; that Japanese vessels should assist American vessels driven ashore on the coasts of Japan, and that the crews of such vessels should be properly cared for at one of the two treaty ports; that shipwrecked and other American citizens in Japan should be as free as in other countries, within certain prescribed limits; that ships of the United States should be permitted to trade at the two treaty ports under temporary regulations prescribed by the Japanese, that American ships should use only the ports named, except under stress of weather, and that privileges granted to other nations thereafter must also be extended to the United States.
Of course, the need for coal to heat the water in the boilers of the new steam ships required that the Great Powers acquire "coaling stations" around the globe and gave rise to new exploration and land grabs, Honolulu and Samoa being examples, as are Guam and the Philippines. The British, the Germans, the French, the Spanish and others also acquired such stations in remote locations to allow their steam-powered fleets to cover the globe- a step unnecessary in an age of wind power. And when these Great Powers had conflicts, to the winners would go the spoils, including coaling stations such as Guam.

But what of the Missouri? Properly hailed for its achievement, its fame was cut short. During refueling in Gibraltar, a fire broke out, and Missouri burned and exploded, sinking in the Gibraltar harbor:
In August 1843, Missouri left the U.S. to convey a U.S. diplomat to Alexandria, Egypt. While at Gibraltar on 26 August 1843, she was accidentally set afire, exploded and sank, fortunately without loss of life. Missouri's sunken hulk was later demolished to clear the harbor.
An ignominious end to a true achievement. William Bolton's book A Narrative of the Last Cruise of the U.S. Steam Frigate Missouri, cited earlier, recounts the loss:
The water had been hoisted in, and the launch hauled off. Two others were alongside, filled with coal. Several Spaniards, and many of our men were in it, filling bags. One man...doing the duty of a boatswain's mate ...suddenly exclaimed, "ring the bell! ring the bell!! fire! fire!!"
The fire spread, the crew abandoned ship and no human lives were lost when the ship's magazines exploded. A tame bear, a mascot of sorts, was killed.

Despite the setback caused by the loss of Missouri, the U.S. Navy (and the rest of the world) converted to steam ships, first powered by coal, then by oil and later, by nuclear energy, And, in the end, that's the real lesson to be learned from the short note
1843 - Steam frigate Missouri arrives at Gibraltar completing first trans-Atlantic crossing by a U.S. steam-powered ship.
Caption for the last picture:
USS Missouri (1842-43)
Burning at Gibraltar, 26 August 1843.
Hand-colored lithograph by T.G. Dutton, after a drawing by E. Duncan based on a "sketch made on the spot" by Lt. G.P. Mends. Published by Day & Haghe, Lithographer to the Queen.
Another copy of this print (Photo Number NH 47227-KN, which is not colored) contains the text: "This view represents the falling of the mainmast and the explosion of the last gun, which occurred at the same moment. everybody had quitted the vessel about five minutes previous to this. On the spankerboom is an unfortunate Bear which perished in the flames."
One other side note. As found here, it was American divers who successfully removed Missouri from the Gibraltar harbor:
A few years since, American sub­marine divers, after repeated failures by Englishmen, removed the hull of the steam frigate Missouri, which was sunk at the mouth of the harbor of Gibraltar. Their character stands very high for marine en­gineering, and an evidence of this fact is found in their employment by the Russian government, to raise the ships which were sunk at Sevastopol during the famous siege of that city. We understand that the con­tract was made with Col. J. E. Gowan, of Boston, who achieved so much distinction at Gibraltar, and he has departed with a large corps of Americans to carry out his engage­ments with Russia.
Now, offer up a salute to the brave crews of these early steam warships.

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