Very Important Passengers

San Francisco Gold Rush 1849.

William Aspinwall

December 16, 1807-January 18, 1875

In 1832, William Aspinwall joined Howland & Aspinwall, a New York merchant firm founded by his cousins. They specialized in trade with the Carribbean, and, in 1835, when Aspinwall assumed control, expanded into South America, China, Europe, the Mediterranean.

After establishing the family in new ports, Aspinwall concentrated on ship design ? faster ships meant greater profits ? and was one of the first to commission the noted naval architect, John Willis Griffiths, to design what some have called the first clipper ship, Rainbow.

Pacific Mail Steamship Company San Francisco for Panama.

In 1845, Congress authorized a number of ocean mail contracts to be sold. The contract between Panama and the Oregon Territory appeared the least profitable - there were no great ports, no facilities, no industry of any kind, no coal, no repair yards. Admidst skepticism, Aspinwall acquired the contract and on April 12, 1848 the Pacific Mail Steamship Company was incorporated by the New York Legislature, with Howland & Aspinwall as its agent.

On the 12th of April 1848, the Pacific Mail was incorporated with a capital of five hundred thousand dollars, and contracts were entered into for the building of three steamers; the California, 1060 tons, theOregon, 1099 tons, and the Panama, 1087 tons, the California was completed first and sailed from New York October 6, 1848, under command of Cleveland Forbes. She carried no passengers for California. Footnote: "The Pacific Mail was incorporated for the purpose of carrying mails between Panama and the Columbia river. The enormous business consequent on the discovery of gold in California caused the original design to be abandoned." (The Beginnings of San Francisco, Vol. II, Zoeth Eldridge, 1912; pg. 452-53)

Aspinwall ordered three new ships to inaugurate the trade. The California was the first steamer on the west coast. By the time she rounded The Horn, the word of gold had spread across the land. Because winter snows made overland travel impossible, gold seekers booked passage on anything afloat. Once on the Pacific Coast, the California, which was not set up as a passenger ship, was beseiged with men trying to reach the gold fields. She took on hundreds of passengers and entered San Francisco Bay on February 28, 1849.

April 1849, Alta California, San Francisco

THE Undersigned, Agents of the United States, Atlantic and Pacific Mail Line of Steamers, Forwarding and Commission Merchants, Panama, respectfully inform the public, that they have made arrangements for forwarding Specie, Bullion and Gold Dust confided to their care for transit across the Isthmus; their charges on treasure remitted from the Pacific to the Atlantic, will be one quarter of one per cent; and on that remitted from the Atlantic to the Pacific, one half of one per cent, which charge covers Commission and all expenses.

Coin and Gold dust should be put up in bags, and the bags carefully packed in boxes. Packages should not exceed in weight 125 lbs.: the seals on the boxes should be countersunk.

The undersigned are now making arrangements for, and will shortly be prepared to forward passengers, Baggage and Merchandise, with punctuality and despatch. Due notice will be given when their arrangements are completed.


The California was joined shortly by the Panama and Oregon. These three ships became the backbone of Aspinwall's empire as the California gold rush quickly catapulted the Pacific Mail to success. In 1852, the City of Aspinwall, on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus, was dedicated and named after him.

Aspinwall secretly developed plans to build a railroad across the isthmus of Panama to shorten the journey from coast to coast by avoiding the perils of Cape Horn. Construction proved extremely difficult and costly, but in the end the railroad was completed. The first train crossed the Isthmus on January 28, 1855. When Aspinwall inspected the railroad at Panama, he continued on to California. That trip marked the only time Aspinwall ever traveled on either his Pacific Mail line or the Panama Railroad.

American President Lines notes that he retired in 1856 and went on to become a founder of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and, in 1869, a founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Pacific Mail Steamship Company still survives in the form of American President Lines, now celebrating 150 years of continuous service.

The Mapmakers: Revised Edition
John Noble Wilford
The Mapmakers.Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner John Noble Wilford recounts the history of cartography from antiquity to the space age. With this revised edition, Wilford brings the story up to the present day, as he shows the impact of new technologies that make it possible for cartographers to go where no one has been before, from the deepest reaches of the universe (where astronomers are mapping time as well as space) to the inside of the human brain. Modern-day mapmakers join earlier adventurers ? including ancient Greek stargazers, Renaissance seafarers, and the explorers who mapped the American West.

The Fourth Part of the World: An Astonishing Epic of Global Discovery, Imperial Ambition, and the Birth of America
Toby Lester
Global Discovery.Mapmakers."Old maps lead you to strange and unexpected places, and none does so more ineluctably than the subject of this book: the giant, beguiling Waldseemuller world map of 1507." So begins this story of the map that gave America its name. For millennia Europeans believed that the world consisted of three parts: Europe, Africa, and Asia. They drew the three continents in countless shapes and sizes on their maps, but occasionally they hinted at the existence of a "fourth part of the world," a mysterious, inaccessible place, separated from the rest by a vast expanse of ocean. It was a land of myth?until 1507, that is, when Martin Waldseem?ller and Matthias Ringmann, two obscure scholars working in the mountains of eastern France, made it real. Columbus had died the year before convinced that he had sailed to Asia, but Waldseem?ller and Ringmann, after reading about the Atlantic discoveries of Columbus's contemporary Amerigo Vespucci, came to a startling conclusion: Vespucci had reached the fourth part of the world. To celebrate his achievement, Waldseemller and Ringmann printed a huge map, for the first time showing the New World surrounded by water and distinct from Asia, and in Vespucci’s honor they gave this New World a name: America.

The Mapmaker's Eye:David Thompson on the Columbia PlateauMapmakers.
Mapmaker's Eye.Mapmakers.Jack Nisbet
David Thompson was a fur trader, explorer, and meticulous geographic surveyor. He was the English and Canadian counterpart of Lewis and Clark. He visited the Mandan villages on the Missouri River in 1798. He crossed the Continental Divide in 1807 and spent five winters on the west side of the divide trading with the Indians. He explored the Columbia River from its origin to the Pacific Ocean. He kept complete journals. He was a better writer than Meriwether Lewis, although not Lewis' equal as a naturalist. He took astronomical readings and did his own computations of both latitude and longitude. Because of this, his maps were much more accurate than those of William Clark. Later in his life, Thompson helped survey the boundary between Canada and the United States.

Naval Order of the United States.

The Naval Order of the United States The Naval Order of the United States. has a history dating from 1890. Membership includes a wide range of individuals, many with highly distinguished career paths. When it was established, the Founders provided "that any male person above the age of eighteen years who either served himself, was still presently serving, or was descended from an officer or enlisted man who served in any of the wars which the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, or Revenue or Privateer services was engaged was eligible for Regular membership." Today, the Order is a "by invitation only" society, and includes men and women who have served or who assist in accomplishing its Mission, including research and writing on naval and maritime subjects.

The San Francisco Commandery meets the first Monday of each month in San Francisco, California and holds two formal dinners each year:

The Project

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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