The Pilot Boats of George Steers

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George Steers. Engraved by William G. Jackman and published by D. Appleton & Co. around 1870. (Accession# 1941.401.01/LE 1517)

Ever since man first set foot in a boat and headed out to sea there has been a need for pilots. Sailing in deep water is easy (as long as a storm doesn’t catch you!); navigating the shallower waters along coastlines and entering ports and rivers you aren’t familiar with is a lot more dangerous.

In mid-19th century New York the competition to provide pilotage services to an ever increasing volume of commercial traffic was fierce. Since the first pilot boat to reach an inbound vessel typically got the job the pilot’s need for a fast sailing boat was paramount. As this need increased some of the world’s most talented yacht designers and naval architects jumped into the fray and began designing some of the fastest schooners the world had ever seen.  One of these men, New York’s George Steers, ended up designing boats that changed the face of naval architecture forever.   Read more

Seeing Monitor’s Steam Engine

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Last week I took a few minutes to visit the Conservation wet lab to visit Monitor‘s main engine, the first time I had seen it with the tank drained.

Before I say anything about this experience, I ought to say that I love steam engines, have loved them ever since I was a child.  Like so much nineteenth century technology, the steam engine seemed to me  imaginative, almost pre-scientific (though based on sound science).  I don’t know a thing about steam engines, honestly, but I love them because I find them beautiful.  Their movements are graceful, their lines and curves are elegant.  Their great exposed connecting rods, intricate gearing, the eliptical shapes of the eccentrics, have something of the animate about them.  In the extravagence of their movement, they seem improbable as machines, so unlike the completely restrained electrical motor.  One can be devoted to them easily.   Read more