Vessels in the Port of San Francisco

Yankee Whalebacks

° Vessels & Rigging ° Clippers ° Steamships ° Lines ° Builders ° Shipwrecks

Daily Californian, Thursday, August 27, 1891
Bakersfield, California, U.S.A.


The above is the name given by the British Pall Mall Budget to the remarkable new type of freight ships invented by Captain Alexander McDougall, of Superior, Wisconsin. Attention has been recently called to these vessels by the successful passage of one of them across the Atlantic ocean. This whaleback steamer, the Charles W. Wetmore, sailed direct from Duluth, Minnesota to Liverpool, carrying a cargo of 95,000 bushels of grain. (Editor's Note: Not sure of number; difficult to read.)

One advantage of the whaleback is that it costs not nearly so much to build as the ordinary vessel. The first one made cost only $45,000. But the great and overwhelming point in its favor is that with the same expenditure of steam power it carries twice as much freight as the old style ship. This has been demonstrated beyond question.

Captain McDougall was himself a sailing master on the lakes and knew every inch of his ground. He knew also what comparatively few persons do, that the freight carried across our great inland lakes exceeds in one year that conveyed by all the Atlantic steamers combined. He built his model to meet the requirements of the occasion, and now it will be adopted for all ocean freight carriers.

Monitor Fighting the Merrimac.
USS Monitor Fighting the CSS Merrimac

When all is said and done, however, it must still be remembered that the whaleback vessel is simply another modification of Ericsson's Monitor.

The pattern reverses the ordinary shape of a ship, and is flat bottomed and round decked. The part above the water when the ship is loaded looks something like an Indian's moccasin. It is not meant that anybody shall promenade the decks of the whaleback. As in the case of the Monitor, the water in the fiercest storm washes over the deck and slips off. The part that can be damaged is far under water, safe from wind and wave.

There are two kinds of whaleback vessels, steam propellers and steel barges for towing. The barges look very much like a monitor, the wheelhouse appearing on top like a turret. So rapidly are these vessels superseding the old ones that the company manufacturing them is preparing to launch a new one every week, fifty-two a year. When the whaleback vessel first appeared in the lake waters the seamen christened it the "pig," a name by which it is still known there. But undoubtedly it will be known in commerce as the whaleback, from its shape.

Malvern Leader, November 5, 1891, Malvern, Iowa

IT all sounds very natural that the Engineer; the English technical journal, should thus early take the trouble to show how impossible a craft the "whaleback" is and must always be. The modest and promising task, as it calls it, of its trans-Atlantic kinsmen "teaching their grandparents the way to make barges" that journal considers little short of an affront. "A moment's consideration," says the New York Tribune, "will show how dangerous the whaleback is for ocean navigation, and how impossible it is that the new Yankee craft could have any advantages; and then it makes sure that shipowners would never, never encourage a type of vessel so entirely unlike "the typical steamers of our merchant fleet."

Let us see; wasn't it the English engineers who proved beyond a pre-adventure that a locomotive could never be made to draw a train over smooth rails? Wasn't it a well-known English scientist Dr. Lardner who undertook to eat the first steamboat that crossed the. Atlantic? And didn't the English naval authorities demonstrate how absurd it was to suppose that the screw propeller could ever move a vessel through the water? These things were altogether too wide departures from English conservatism to be possible. The whaleback, in addition, prevents the objection of being an American contrivance. Of course it. is still an experiment, notwithstanding some successful voyages; but it is one at least from which something may be hoped. And, as in the case of some other experiments, it may hereafter be a little embarrassing to have proved so much against it in advance.

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Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.






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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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