If you took advantage of the opportunity to meet John Laurence Busch at the CHMM on October 23rd, you know the impressive storytelling skills this independent historian and author reveals in his just-published historical book on the first steamship crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, entitled "STEAM COFFIN: Captain Moses Rogers and The Steamship Savannah Break the Barrier."
Painstakingly researched, containing never-before-published material, this volume chronicles the dawn of steam-powered vessels in the early 19th century, the resistance to this first technology and inevitable shattering of the enormous psychological barrier that had existed in people’s minds; it was in fact, possible to artificially overcome Nature to practical effect.
In 1807, the brilliant, creative and controversial American, Robert Fulton, declared his intent to build an experimental "steamboat" to initiate continuous passenger service between New York City and Albany. While Fulton's first "steamboats" proved their worth on rivers, lakes and bays, it took time for people to accept Robert Fulton’s triumph as truth.
One man who did not need convincing was a sloop captain named Moses Rogers. He had witnessed the first successful runs of the North River Steam Boat to Albany, and the experience gave him the fever—steamboat fever. Moses soon became one of the first steamboat captains in history, taking command of one of Fulton's first rivals, the Phoenix. In his new profession, Moses learned not only the technicalities of this new technology, but the peculiarities of a traveling public just getting used to this new mode of transport.
Running steamboats on rivers, lakes and bays became a normal and accepted part of American life in the years immediately following Fulton’s triumph. But taking such a vessel on a voyage across the ocean was a different proposition altogether. Experienced mariners didn’t think it could be done. These early steamboats, they declared, with their flimsy paddlewheels, wooden hulls and fire-filled boilers, were simply too dangerous to withstand the unpredictable powers of the deep.
Moses believed otherwise. Combining his knowledge of the old mode of transport—sail—with the new mode of transport—steam—he set out to design a vessel that was capable of overcoming the many dangers of the sea. This craft would be not a steamboat, but a steamship, the first of its kind.
Moses found willing partners for his vision in the booming port of Savannah, Georgia. In due course, they formed the Savannah Steam Ship Company, and built what would become the first steamship the world had ever seen.
"A facinating account of early 19th century technology..., and the entrepreneurial spirit of the age."
PowerShips Magazine, Fall 2010 Issue
Signed copies of STEAM COFFIN are available at the CHMM Gift Shop!