Saturday, September 13, 2014

“Big Teasers”: Metamorphic Whiskey Trade Cards

   She’s a big teaser, she took me half way there,
She’s  big teaser, she took me half way there, 
She was a day tripper, a one way ticket, yeah,
It look me so long to find out, and I found out.

Most of us will remember that Beatles’ verse from their song, “Daytrlpper.”  It applies very well to the “metamorphic” whiskey trade cards shown here.  They are cards with folds that when closed give an impression of something risqué going on but when opened have a surprising and (mostly)  innocent explanation.  This post will examine five of them and provide some material on their origins.

The first shown here is the most revealing of female pulchritude.  We appear to be backstage where a woman dressed in a hat, bra and stockings and nothing else is embracing a man with a handlebar mustache.  A second man with a hat and cane has approached and is clearly astonished at what has greeted his eyes.   When opened, the card reveals the woman dressed in an evening gown while a her man friend shows her a bottle from which he has just poured them glasses of wine.  More bottles are on the table and a full case on the floor.  Meanwhile a servant is bringing food.  A party is clearly indicated — or perhaps a liquid rendezvous for two.
Trade cards such as this are known to ephemera collectors as “metamorphic,” that is, they change their form and nature completely when opened.  Sometimes they are said to “transmogrify,”  that is, change or alter greatly with a humorous effect.  This card, unlike most, carries no message but would have been available to a whiskey or wine dealer to print an advertisement on the back.
The next trade card has a similar suggestive motif.  It shows what appears to be a couple sprawled on the ground under a large red umbrella.  A man, identified by his shoes, pants, and jacket, appears to be atop a woman.  We see only one of her shoes and a bit of stocking.   Most surprising is the figure of a second man with a straw hat and a fishing pole who is calling out, “Hold on, I’m in for some of that too.”   What is this, a group grope?

But no!  When opened it reveals a young foursome sitting by a lake drinking from a full case of “Old Beauford Rye.”  Everyone is enjoying a beer glass full of the liquor, which may indicate that the real action may come later.   The Old Beauford brand of whiskey was the product of the Duchateau Company of Green Bay, Wisconsin.   The proprietor was Frank J. B. Duchateau, who was a prominent businessman in a town most famous for its Packers football team.  Duchateau is remembered as a man who invented a folding pail, led efforts to assist Belgium in World War I, a collector of Native American artifacts, and a strong supporter of the county public museum. 
Umbrellas are a popular motif in the metamorphic world.  Shown here is a card of a beach scene that shows what appear to be a pair of bare female legs in close contact with a man who is fully dressed with striped pants and pointed shoes.  When opened it reveals a short, fat man who is lighting a cigar from one being smoked by a man in a straw hat and jacket.  “Fooled again!” is the message.  Moreover, we are informed that we will always be fooled unless we use “Resurgam Rye.”  The merchandiser is identified as the “Dallas Transportation Company.”  Despite its name, the Dallas Transportation Co. was a liquor and beer distributor.

The name “Resurgam,”  which in Latin means “I shall rise again,” gained attention in 1878 when it (appropriately) was the name given to an early submarines designed and built in Britain by an Episcopal priest.  They were a weapon to penetrate chain netting placed around ship hulls to defend against attack by torpedo vessels.   Unfortunately for the crew, in February 1880 the Resurgam did not live up to its name and sank in Liverpool Bay..

The third trade card has a rustic motif in its folds.  At first glance it shows a leering old farmer gazing at the stockinged leg of a pretty young miss wearing a bonnet and apron.   He is exclaiming, “Well!  If those ain’t the finest leg I ever saw,”  a comment that does not seem to be displeasing the damsel.  Upon opening, we see the shapely leg belongs to a young rustic, dressed in a straw hat and suspenders.  The girl has an apron full of chicks.  The foxy grandpa is exclaiming not on legs, but on “leghorn chicks.”
The back of the trade card identifies the issuer as C. F. Weber, a dealer in wines and liquors in Burlington, Iowa.  Weber was a well known merchant in Burlington, born in the city in 1864.  He was forced to go to work at the age of 10, working in a brick yard and later in a wheel factory while still in his teens.  By the age of 20 he had earned enough to open his own liquor business  and found success for more than a quarter century.   His wealth allowed him to purchase 176 acres of land near Burlington where he built a country home and raised cattle.
Our final teaser card was issued by the firm of Boswell & Egan, representing Billy Boswell and Andy Egan.  They ran a cafe, wine and liquor store, and pool room on the Main Street of Canandaigua, New York.  The first view here is through the glass in a door.  We see just the shadows of two people, presumably a man and a woman in an embrace.  Opened there is no transmogrifying surprise.  Two people are kissing.  But wait!  The woman is dressed as a serving girl.  She carries a tray in her hand.  The gent has on a smoking jacket, a sign that he is at home.  Wife not home, servant willing….  Is some kind of assignation going on?  Perhaps only Boswell & Egan knew.
This card, like the ones shown before it, are “big teasers.”   Like the woman in the song they take us half way there with their appearance.  Unlike the man in the song, however, it does not take us long to find out we have been teased.  All we need do is fold back the flaps.  In life the process is a bit more complicated.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Life and Death of “Mr. Dry"

In the decade of struggle over the banning of alcoholic beverages in the United States the proponents on each side were branded as “Wets” and “Drys.”  The Wets were those who opposed a ban on strong drink on the grounds that it was an unwarranted infringement on personal liberty and the Drys who saw alcohol as the devil’s work and knew America would be a much better place without it.
By careful manipulation of public opinion, such as marches by substantial citizens as shown above, the Drys eventually  were able to pressure “finger in the air” politicians into doing their bidding.  With the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and Congressional implementing legislation known as the Volstead Act, National Prohibition,the so-called “Great Experiment,” became the law of the land in January 1920.

Among those outraged by Prohibition was a middle-aged aged native of Illinois named Rollin Kirby, shown here in a portrait,  When Kirby’s career as an artist and illustrator proved disappointing, he turned to political cartooning.  After working for two other New York City newspapers, he made his home and reputation at the New York World.  He was there in 1920 when the saloons closed, bars were shuttered and liquor dealers by the thousands were left unemployed. 

Out of his anger, Kirby invented a character who would become the symbol to many of what Prohibition meant.  In an editorial cartoon that was dated January 17, 1920 he depicted a tall, lean foreboding figure wearing a frock coat, stovepipe hat, and black gloves, carrying a black umbrella.  He quickly became known as “Mr. Dry.”  In his first  appearance Dry was depicted standing in front of a giant water bottle looking like a choral director and commanding: “Now then, all together, ‘My country ’tis of thee.”  The image was an immediate success and Kirby followed up with other cartoons of Mr. Dry.  Christmas, a holiday that always had been a time of convivial drinking, had now been made bleaker by the ban on alcohol.  The cartoonist memorialized that sad situation by showing a grinning Mr. Dry dowsing an unsuspecting Santa Claus in the face with water from his syphon.
The figure soon “went viral” and became the icon for anti-Prohibition emotions being felt and expressed by millions of Americans.  It was natural then that others would adopt the image and turn it to their own mocking purposes.  Shown here is the patent design submitted in 1932 by inventor Alfred Flauder of Trumbull, Conn.  Here Mr. Dry is just a head with in two phases, an evil grin and a fierce scowl.  Approved as Design Patent No. 87,658, the device combined a bottle opener (the mouth), a jigger (the hat), a corkscrew, and on the back a swing down cocktail stirrer.  It was manufactured by the Weidlich Bros. Mfg. Co. of Bridgeport, Conn. and marketed as the “4 -in- 1 Friendship Kit.”
Multipurpose drink accoutrements proliferated to celebrate Kirby’s cartoon figure. The “Old Snifter” opener bears a strong resemblance to Mr. Dry even down to the umbrella.  Snifter’s hat concealed a swivel corkscrew, his hand is the bottle opener, and, as is helpfully noted on the box, the base can be used to crush ice.   This imaginative device was the brainchild of John Schuchardt of New York and the casting was done by the Dollin Die Casting Company of Irvington, New Jersey.

The wide and gaping mouth on the next Mr. Dry indicates that it has lost some metal over the years opening, I hope, bottles of beer.  Meant to be attached to a vertical wooden surface by screws though its ears, the cast iron face was the product of Wilton Products Co. which produced the item in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.  The Wilton family began casting metal along the Susquehanna River in 1893 and eventually became known for producing hand-painted cast iron objects, including bottle openers, trivets, candle holders and a wide variety of novelty items.  From the number of them available on-line, this opener must have been a best seller.

In 1896, Gustav Schafer and Gunther Vater founded the Schafer and Vater Porcelain Factory in Thuringa, Germany, with the purpose of making high quality porcelain items. By 1910 the reputation of the pottery for craftsmanship and design had grown to international proportions and Sears Roebuck was importing and selling large quantities of Schafer and Vater pottery in the United States.   Among their products were a host of small figural liquor bottles for distribution by American distillers and saloons, often called nips.”  With the coming of National Prohibition to the United States, this major business opportunity was largely denied to the German potters.  Profits from their American exports were severely curtailed. The company response was to design and sell objects lampooning the notion of abolishing alcoholic drink.  Among them was this figural flask with a Mr. Dry look-alike who is drinking and described as “one of the boys.”

With the progression of Prohibition into the 1930s, Kirby continued to satirize its adherents.  In one cartoon published about 1930, shown below, he depicts the gent in three modes. In the first a neatly dressed Mr. Dry simply holds a sign reading "Thou shalt NOT!" The second Mr. Dry, gloating, holds a newspaper describing a "rum-runner" having been "shot by dry agent." In the third Kirby depicts a ragged Mr. Dry holding a tin cup and wearing a sign reading "I am starving.”  It was an allusion to the fact that a backlash against the ban on drink was taking hold in the Nation.
A statuette (and bottle opener) that reads “The End of the Trail,” is a spoof of the famous statue by American artist James Earle Fraser that depicted an American Indian warrior slumped over his horse.  Here Mr. Dry has replaced the Indian and a camel (who can go long without drinking) has been substituted for the horse.  The message was clear:  The era of National Prohibition is about over.  And it was.

The final picture here, taken shortly after Repeal, documents the “death” of Mr. Dry, hanged in effigy on a city street by a group of seven men.  The sign affixed to the dummy indicates considerable lingering hostility to those who had engineered 14 years without legal strong drink.  It read “Death to the Drys.”  

Mr. Dry disappeared from Rollin Kirby’s cartoons for the New York World but his ability was to win him the very first Pulitzer prize ever given to a political cartoonist.  He would go on in his career to be awarded two more.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Soda Pop Paperweights: A Personal Story

Yes, this blog is devoted in a significant way to alcoholic beverages, but there were times in my life, and perhaps the lives of others, when a soft drink was “close to heaven” and its taste could become indelibly etched in memory.   Those exquisite moments can be captured at times in the glass paperweights that advertised those delightful thirst quenchers and they seemed an appropriate subject during the August “dog days” of Summer 2014.
As a teenager in the late 1940s and early 1950s I was constantly at work during the heat and humidity of Ohio during the summer months, mowing lawns, delivering newspapers and carrying groceries.   Close by was a service station with a machine that dispensed a variety of soft drinks.  Among my favorites was orange soda, represented here by two of paperweights issued to advertise Orange Crush.

This “soda pop,” as we called it, had been around since 1911 when invented by Neil C. Ward.  The beverage premiered as “Ward’s Orange Crush” and originally had orange pulp in the bottles to give it a “fresh squeezed” look even though the pulp was added later.  By my time, the pulp was long gone.  The Orange Crush folks have traditionally issued paperweights as advertising, including one shown here from 1924 that features three “Crush” products.
The ginger ale in my part of the world in those days was Vernors', made in Detroit and truly the best ever.  But sadly Vernors' has not left any paperweights, so we will make due with Donald Duck Ginger Ale.  Donald Duck soft drinks were the first sodas to be produced by General Beverages, Inc. of Chattanooga, Tennessee. They were licensed by the Double Cola Company to produce the Donald Duck line. These fruit flavored sodas were introduced in the 1940s and included flavors such as Lemon Lime, Grape, Orange, Strawberry, Black Cherry, Root Beer, Cola and, as seen here, Ginger Ale. The brand was discontinued in the late 1950s. 
The paperweight that follows conjures up a musical jingle of the World War II era:  “Pepsi- Cola hits the spot;  Twelve full ounces, that’s a lot; Twice as much for a nickel too; Pepsi-Cola is the drink for you.  Nickel, nickel, nickel….”  Yes, in those days 12 ounces of a major soft drink could be had for just five cents.  Coca Cola only cost a nickel but offered just six ounces.  On a hot day guess which cola a boy with five pennies and a big thirst would choose.

Despite the fetching figure of the lady in the skimpy outfit and baton, Major Cola does not register on the Internet as a soft drink brand.  Given the image on the paperweight the company issued, perhaps it should have been called “Majorette Cola.”  Nonetheless this item conjures up a memory of a boyhood search of parks, playgrounds and golf courses for empty soda bottles that could be redeemed for two cents each. (Three bottles would buy a Pepsi and leave a penny for candy.)  Frequently we scavengers would come across bottles of sodas not sold in our area and we regarded them as if they were alien objects come from some other planet.
Among them were bottles of a previously unknown (to us) soft drink called “Moxie,”  a favorite of bottle collectors.   One of the earliest American carbonated beverages, like Coca Cola it originated as a patent remedy. Still available in New England and the official soft drink of Maine, Moxie is flavored with gentian root extract, a bitter substance that was claimed to have medicinal benefits.  Despite its unusual flavor, it was said to be a favorite of Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams who endorsed it on radio and in print. 

Fast forward a few years to 1958 and basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas.  Confined to barracks for the first few days, we finally were allowed to explore our immediate quadrangle and use the soft drink machine.  Among the offerings was a carbonated beverage I had never seen before called “Dr. Pepper.”  Urged by buddies to try it, I did and fell in love.  Drank little else before heading North again and still count it among my favorites.

Jump in time once more to 1968.  As a self-funded researcher I was on an extended visit to Southeast Asia and for most of the trip treated to local brands of carbonated drinks, most of them found to be substandard.  Near the end of my overseas activities I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on a hot and steamy day, roaming about on foot looking for the American Embassy.  Emerging through a jungle-like park, I stumbled upon a Hires Root Beer stand.  It was like a finding an oasis in the desert and I spent my lunch budget on a root beer float.  The Hires paperweight shown here dates from 1915 when, as it says, Hires root beer was “still a nickel a trickle.” 
A final “walk down memory lane” takes us to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the 1970s.  My wife’s folks lived about a block and a half from an establishment that dispensed Frostie Root Beer.  Summer nights would find my young boys, their grandpa, and me after dinner heading down to this free-standing dispensary of liquid refreshment.   Although we did not know it then, Frostie was a brand originally produced in 1939 by the Frostie Beverage Co. of Catonsville, Maryland.  In 1979 the brand was sold to an Atlanta company which is said to have “under promoted” it.  Early in the 1980s the Frostie stand was torn down, I think, to build a gas station.  We all but cried.

This is not a blog generally devoted to author reminisces but the idea of doing a post on a grouping of soft drink paperweights got me thinking about an appropriate story line.  It soon came clear that a personal history was the answer.  Perhaps some who read this post will add comments on their own special memories of soft drinks.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Kids Selling Whiskey III

In two prior posts I have dwelt upon the use of children’s images to merchandise liquor, a pre-Prohibition practice that would certainly never be countenanced in contemporary America.  The examples of kids selling whisky continue to come to light, on such ephemera as trade cards, postcards, calendars and advertisement.   Shown here are another ten such items, along with some commentary about their origins.

By far the youngest tyke among the group appears to be a baby boy in a dress, a common garb for males around the turn of the 20th Century.   He is standing next to a low table on which sits an fancy Fulper of Flemington, N.J., whiskey jug.  It advertises Edgewood Rye.  This was a brand that originated in Cincinnati and gained a national audience through vigorous advertising by a firm known as Diehl & Paxton Bros.  In 1874 Cincinnati city directories A.G. Diehl & Co., Wines and Liquors, first is listed, located at 32 East Second Street.  A separate listing for the same address lists Paxton & Diehl, Distillers.   A year later the company name became Diehl & Paxton Brothers. The brothers were Thomas and John. Two years later, the business listing was changed again to Paxton Bros. & Co., designating them as “wholesale dealers in wines, brandies, and whiskies.”  The directory noted that the house had been established by A.G. Diehl.

The second child shown here, also wearing a dress, almost certainly is a girl.  She is advertising two brands from Applegate & Sons, a firm founded by a Kentucky colonel named C. L. Applegate.  The Colonel first forges onto the scene in 1876 when he and a brother, Edward, purchased land in the small town of Yelvington in Daviess County.  There about 1878 they constructed a distillery, pictured here. Information from insurance underwriter records compiled in 1892 suggest that the Applegate property included a two frame warehouses, both with metal or slate roofs. Warehouse "A" was 115 ft north of the still house, warehouse "B" was 107 ft south. The distillery itself was constructed similarly. The property also included cattle and a barn. The owner was recorded as being C. L. Applegate & Co.
The golden haired terminally cute child shown next appears on a oval metal serving tray advertising The Jacob Pfeffer Co., Cincinnati OH. Brands on the tray include Zeno, Tippecanoe and Lenox.  Pfeffer who was in business from 1876 to 1918.  He advertised as a “rectifier and wholesale liquor dealer and dealer of imported and domestic brandies and wines.  Admitting that he was a “rectifier,”  that is, a blender and compounder of whiskies, set him apart from other  dealers who disliked admitting that they truly were not distillers.

The hooded child that follows is shown in a trade card by the seashore where despite the cold, she has been digging in the sand.  This item  is from Andrew M. Smith who was was born in Denmark, came to the U.S. as a merchant sailor, served in three different outfits in the Civil War, and moved West.  He opened the first California Wine Depot in Salt Lake City, Utah, then moved to Philadelphia where his enterprise failed.  He then set up in Minneapolis in 1886 and found success. Smith died in 1915 but his son, Arthur Mason Smith took over the business.  Smith’s company used the brand names, “Amsco,” “Fine Old U.S. Cabinet Rye,” “Flour City Rye,” “Golden Buck,”  “Harvester,” and “Pennant.”
A greeting card showing a small boy urinating in the snow to spell “Good Luck”  may have had a secondary message.  The Bonnie brothers, whiskey dealers of Louisville, Kentucky, initially were four.  After the eldest retired, Ernest Bonnie, the youngest and still in his 30s, wanted out.   The remaining two Bonnies bought him out for $70, 000, more than a million in today’s dollars.  For that compensation Ernest sold all interest in the business and in the brand names. Unlike his brother, however, Ernest had no intention of retiring from the whiskey trade. Taking two Bonnie Bros. employees with him, he shortly thereafter went into competition with his siblings using the name, E.S. Bonnie  Company and continued use of the Bonnie name.  I surmise this card was Ernest’s subtle way of “sticking it” to his brothers.

The next image of a tyke is that of a lad who apparently has had a successful effort at spear fishing or, alternatively, has stolen a barrel of dead fish.  It appeared on a trade card issued byL. R. Cain who advertised himself as a wholesale and retail dealer in wines, liquors and cigars in Decatur, Illinois.  His featured brand was Old Gum Springs Hand-Made Whisky.  Cain’s card indicates that he also was proprietor of a saloon.  He advertised “a good, substantial lunch every day.”

The three child images to follow feature two children, in each case a boy and girl, but in distinctly different modes.  The first, a 1906 calendar advertising Export Pony Whiskey, uses a design by Ellen Clapsaddle, a noted illustrator of children.  She is credited with more than 3,000 greeting cards and her images of children continue to be popular.  (See my post on her, March 2, 2012). Here she has given us two youngsters having a tete-a-tete across a stone fence.  This calendar was issued by the U.S. Bar, located in Los Angeles.

Old Maryland Dutch Whiskies issued a series of trade cards, often depicting children.  The company itself is something of a mystery, claiming to be located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore but failing to show up in any directories.  It is possible that the brand name came from a Baltimore rectifier who chose to remain anonymous.  Some of the assertions made on the card are novel.  They include:  “When not taken immoderately, there will be an entire absence of Nervous Prostration.”   And “Emphatically ‘The Whiskey of our Daddies.’”

What are we to think of a card that shows two kids dress as adult, of whom the boy is throwing coins into a hat with no crown being held by a frog in a suit.  The trade card includes a poem that fails to help with an interpretation:  “Children cry, Papa’s dry, And wants some Sour Mash Rye.”   The flip side of the card advertised Schwartz & Malmbach’s “famous” whiskey as sold by J.E. Hughes, the proprietor of the Central Hotel in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.  Hughes obviously ran a saloon along with the hotel and also asserted “Good Livery attached.”  Your horse was well cared for while you were drinking.
The last image is an 1897 ad from Green River Whiskey and shows the five children of a proud distilling father,  John McCulloch.  McCulloch, a former U.S. revenue agent, shucked his federal career when the opportunity arose for him to buy an Owensboro, Kentucky, distillery.  He built the whiskey into a well-recognized national brand.  Among his strategies was vigorous advertising.  These children are not from an artist’s imagination but portraits of real people. At left, the boy hugging the baby is his McCulloch’s eldest son, Wendall.  The baby is his brother, Charles.  Below them are two other brothers, on left is John Wellington, Jr. and on right, Hugh.  Standing at right is his daughter and the oldest child, Martine.  Several of his sons as adults followed him into the whiskey trade.

There they are, ten more examples of selling whiskey by using the images of children.  As unthinkable as it is in our age, the practice was common in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and apparently a successful merchandising strategy since it was so frequently used.

Friday, July 4, 2014

“Steamboat’s A-Comin’ “ -- Out of the Past and Under Glass

The era of the steamboat is largely a closed chapter in American transportation history,  brought to mind only by the few sternwheelers that ply our larger rivers, most of them carrying sightseers.  Fortunately many of those earlier steamers were captured in glass paperweights that continue to bring their memories to mind, for most have interesting stories to tell. Displayed here are a dozen of these vintage artifacts to carry us back to a time when travel in America was more leisurely.

Launched in 1899, the Tashmoo was the flagship of the White Star Line.  This side-wheeler steamboat was built by the Detroit Shipbuilding Company to ply the Great Lake.  Its regular route was from Detroit to Port Huron, Michigan.  Believed by some to be the fastest ship on the lakes -- it could make 20 knots (23 mph), it was a competitor in a famous race from Cleveland, Ohio, to Erie, Pennsylvania.   The president of the White Star Line, offered $1,000 to any ship that could beat the Tashmoo in a race. The president of the Cleveland Buffalo Transit Company accepted the challenge on behalf of his ship, the City of Erie. The course was 82 nautical miles (94 miles) long.  After encountering several mishaps along the way the Tashmoo lost the race by 45 second but afterward was accounted the faster ship. 

Mishaps seemed to plague the Tashmoo, named after a whale hunting Indian in Herman Melville’s famous novel, Moby Dick.  On December 8, 1927, the ship snapped its moorings during a storm and headed up the Detroit River, threatening a major bridge.  Followed by two tugboats, the Tashmoo was stopped only yards from smashing into the span.  Repaired and back in service, the ship subsequently struck a submerged rock as it was leaving Sugar Island,  Michigan.  It was able to dock in Amherstberg, Ontario, and the passengers evacuated before it sank in 18 feet of water.  Eventually scrapped, the Tashmoo was entered into the National Maritime Hall of Fame in 1985.

The steamer, R. B. Hayes, shown above, also met disaster on the sea.  It was built to ply the Great Lakes as a large excursion boat and for a time was a principal source of transportation to and from the Lake Erie recreational center at Cedar Point, Ohio.  The Hayes was on the north side of Lake Ontario, however, when it collided with the J. N. Carter, a schooner laden with grain.  The Carter was struck on her starboard side, carrying away its bowsprit and jiboom and smashing the bow. Named after U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes, the steamer was held responsible for the accident when its crew failed to heed warnings from a tug towing the schooner.  

The City of Buffalo was launched in 1895 and at that time was the largest passenger ship on the Great Lakes at 308 feet long,  capable of carrying 3,000 passengers and 800 tons of cargo.   The steamer boasted a grand salon, public and private dining rooms, and 160 staterooms.  Its route generally was between Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago and Duluth.  The trip between Buffalo and Cleveland took about nine hours and cost $2.50. The onset of the Great Depression severely curtailed passenger traffic on the Lakes and, as a result, the City of Buffalo was often idle.  The ship met its demise in March 1838 when it burned at its winter moorings in Cleveland as it was being prepared for the summer season.

The steam paddle ship, Empire State, shown right, was built a New York City shipyard in 1863.  Formerly known as the Sylvan Stream and renamed in 1893, the ship for many years provided passenger service on Lake Ontario.  Home ported in Cape Vincent, New York,  it burned at the dock in Kingston, Ontario, and was a total loss.  Although her owners received a settlement equivalent to $500,000 today and initially hoped to rebuild it,  they quickly abandoned the effort, stripped the Empire State of its equipment and scrapped the hull.

Fire was a frequent problem for steamboats.  The steamer Manhattan, shown above, was a large and comfortable ship, plying the Atlantic to take customers directly from New York City to Portland, Maine for the Maine Streamship Company.   It had made the trip successfully for years when on March 7, 1916, upon arriving in Portland early in the morning and discharging its passengers, it caught fire from unknown causes and was destroyed at the dock.  The destruction was assessed as complete and the loss at $6.25 million calculated in today’s dollars.

Another oceangoing steam boat of note was the Yale.  Built in 1907 to operate between New York and Boston,  it served that route well for a few years before being drafted into World War One as an English Channel troopship.  Later the Yale was taken to the West Coast to serve a San Francisco-Los Angeles run.  In 1937 the steamer was retired and sold for use as a power and light plant in Kodiak Bay, Alaska.  With the advent of World War Two, the Yale was refitted and called back into military service.  Making almost 24 knots,  the ship had significant speed to be able to sail out of Alaska without a convoy cover,  joining the war effort, according to a press account, “alone and unafraid.”    

The Clyde Steamship Company, owned by William P. Clyde, featured three lines.  One operating from New York City carried passengers down the Atlantic Coast to Wilmington, North Carolina; Georgetown and Charleston, South Carolina; and Jacksonville with continuing service to the Turks & Cacos Islands, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  A Philadelphia-based service stopped at similar ports but added Norfolk, Virginia, and climbed the York River to Richmond, Virginia.;  the Potomac to Alexandria, and the Hudson to West Point.  The third line ran out of Jacksonville to various ports in Florida,  including intermediate points on the St. John’s River.

When the Fall River Line launched the S.S. Priscilla  in 1894, it was at the time the largest side-wheeler afloat, capable of accommodating 1,500 passengers.  Shown above, it was famous for the extremely ornate and luxurious interior of the ship.  During its lifetime, the Priscilla was traveled by several U.S. presidents including Grant, Harrison, Cleveland and both Roosevelts, as well as dignitaries such as the Vanderbilts, Astors, Belmonts and Rockefellers. One Boston editor declared, "If you went on a trip to New York and didn't travel the Fall River Line, you simply didn't go at all.”  The Priscilla served for 44-years, the longest in the history of the company.  Her last voyage left Fall River, Massachusetts, on July 12, 1937.  A strike the next day shut down the Fall River Line forever after a 90 year history.
Another steamer serving mid-Atlantic states was the City of Norfolk.  It followed a Chesapeake Bay route, linking the Virginia port city with Baltimore.  This ship was launched in 1911 and measured 297 feet.   It plied the bay as part of the Baltimore Steam Packet Line until its owners joined a large merger of steamship companies and the City of Norfolk became part of the Old Bay Line.  The City of Norfolk was one of the last two vessels operated by Old Bay before it went out of business in 1962.  For four years the ship was idled at Norfolk until 1966 when it was towed to Fieldsboro, New Jersey, on the Delaware River and scrapped.

The City of Annapolis also was a Chesapeake Bay steamer.  Part of the York River Line, it served customers along the west side of the Bay,  from Baltimore, with stops along the way, including up the Severn River to Annapolis, and then up the York River to Richmond, the city at the “fall line” beyond which the stream becomes impassible.  

While some steamer plied the oceans and others the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay others were built to navigate the rivers of America.  While the most famous plied the Mississippi, others served on smaller rivers.  The People’s Line Steamer -- that was its name, was built in 1907 by several East Coast contractors: the hull by the New York Shipbuilding Company at its Camden, New Jersey, yard; the steam engines at a Hoboken company, and the interior fittings and the superstructure by a firm on Greenpoint, Long Island.  When completed the People’s Line ship, shown below, steamed up and down the Hudson River carrying passengers in luxury between New York City and Albany.

These steamboat “back stories” are brought to mind in these paperweights showing the ships in their heyday, still preserved there though almost all of them long since have burned or sunk or been sold for scrap.  As a result their images under the glass will have to suffice to reminds us of the joys -- and some pitfalls -- of travel by steamboat.