FreightWaves Classics/ Infrastructure: Ballard Locks turn 106 today!

FreightWaves Classics profiles the Ballard Locks, located in Seattle, Washington.

An aerial view of the Ballard Docks and surrounding areas. (Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

FreightWaves Classics is sponsored by Sutton Transport, an LTL leader in the Midwest for more than 40 years. Sutton Transport proudly services Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. Request a quote here.

On August 3, 1916, the steamer Swinomish became the first ship to pass through a complex of locks on the Lake Washington Ship Canal in Washington state. The locks are located at the west end of Salmon Bay and between the Seattle neighborhoods of Ballard and Magnolia. 

The Swinomish on August 3, 1916. (Photo: blog.friendsoftheballardlocks.org)
The Swinomish on August 3, 1916. (Photo: blog.friendsoftheballardlocks.org)

Around 100 government officials were on the Swinomish for the inaugural trip through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, which were named for U.S. Army Major Hiram M. Chittenden, the Seattle District Engineer for the Corps of Engineers from April 1906 to September 1908. Although the locks were named for Chittenden, they are now widely known as the Ballard Locks. The Oregon-based Daily Capital Journal reported in its next-day edition that “thousands of cheering spectators” had also lined up on the banks of the canal to cheer the progress on the project. 

The complex of locks were built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which still operates them. The short voyage by the Swinomish occurred a little more than nine months before other ships began routinely using the locks and 11 months prior to their official dedication and opening on July 4, 1917.

Construction of the locks in 1913. (Photo: livabl.com)
Construction of the locks in 1913. (Photo: livabl.com)

Since then, the Ballard Locks have been a critical component of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, which connects the waters of Salmon Bay, Lake Washington, and Lake Union to the tidal waters of Puget Sound. The Lake Washington Ship Canal and the Ballard Locks allow recreational and commercial vessels to travel to the docks and warehouses of Seattle’s fresh water harbor. In fact, the locks carry more maritime traffic than any other lock system in the United States. 

A large boat passes through the locks. (Photo: sealifer3.org)
A large boat passes through the locks. (Photo: sealifer3.org)

Overview

There are two locks, one small (30 x 150 feet) and one large (80 x 825 feet). The complex also includes a 235-foot spillway with six 32 x 12-foot gates to assist in water-level control. In addition, a fish ladder is integrated into the locks for migratory fish, notably salmon.

The locks and associated facilities serve three purposes:

  • To maintain the water level of Lake Washington and Lake Union at 20 to 22 feet above sea level, or more specifically, 20.6 feet above Puget Sound’s mean low tide.
  • To prevent the mixing of sea water from Puget Sound with the freshwater of the lakes (saltwater intrusion).
  • To move boats from the water level of the lakes to the water level of Puget Sound, and vice versa.
An unidentified schooner outbound in 1916. (Photo: blog.friendsoftheballardlocks.org)
An unidentified schooner outbound in 1916. (Photo: blog.friendsoftheballardlocks.org)

History

Beginning in the 1850s, discussions regarding the construction of a navigable connection between Lake Washington and Puget Sound took place. At that time, the connection was needed to transport logs, milled lumber and fishing vessels. In 1867, the U.S. Navy endorsed a canal project that also included a plan to build a naval shipyard on Lake Washington. However, it wasn’t until 1891 that the Corps of Engineers began planning the project. Modest preliminary work began in 1906, but it wasn’t until 1911, under the command of Hiram M. Chittenden, that construction began in earnest. However, the years of delays in the canal’s planning and construction led the U.S. Navy to build the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. It is located across Puget Sound from Seattle.

The Lake Washington Ship Canal in 1914. (Photo: blog.friendsoftheballardlocks.org)
The Lake Washington Ship Canal in 1914. (Photo: blog.friendsoftheballardlocks.org)

The Washington State Legislature appropriated $250,000 in early 1909 for excavation of the canal between Lake Union and Lake Washington. The funds were placed under the control of the Corps of Engineers. Then Congress gave its approval for the lock in June 1910. However, Congress stipulated that the rest of the canals along the route be paid for locally. Legal challenges by mill owners in Ballard who feared property damage and loss of waterfront in Salmon Bay, and by Lake Washington property owners, then further delayed construction.

Construction of the locks connecting Salmon Bay to Shilshole Bay began in 1911, and it proceeded without further controversy or legal entanglements. The locks’ gates were closed for the first time in July 1912. Over time, this action turned Salmon Bay from saltwater to freshwater. 

After the Swinomish ceremoniously passed through the locks on August 3, 1916, the temporary dam at Montlake was breached on August 25. Over the next three months, this caused Lake Washington to drain, lowered the water level by 8.8 feet and dried up more than 1,000 acres of wetlands, as well as drying up the Black River and cutting off the Cedar River salmon run.

This was followed by the rerouting of the Cedar River into Lake Washington to provide sufficient water flow to operate the Ballard Locks. In addition, the White River was rerouted into the Puyallup River. Previously the Cedar and White rivers flowed into the Duwamish River, which caused frequent flooding. By rerouting the rivers, large areas of lowlands were available for development; however, the actions disrupted the Duwamish salmon runs. 

The locks officially opened to boat traffic on May 8, 1917. The project’s cost up until then was $3.5 million. Of that total, $2.5 million had been federal funding; the remainder came from the state and local governments.

The Ballard Locks in 1917. (Photo: Frank Nowell/Seattle Municipal Archives)
The Ballard Locks in 1917. (Photo: Frank Nowell/Seattle Municipal Archives)

The Lake Washington Ship Canal project was declared complete in 1934. While generally a success, the project did create problems. Salt water intrusion began upstream toward Lake Union, which required a system that included siphons and flushing mechanisms. In addition, the Cedar River was the primary water source for the lakes, the locks and Seattle’s potable water. After the construction, there were problems at times with an adequate water supply to maintain lake levels and operate the locks. Also, redirecting the rivers caused greater flooding throughout the watershed. That was made worse by logging; at times during storms the locks were opened just to allow water to flow out.

Salmon Bay Terminal in 1936. (Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives/livabl.com)
Salmon Bay Terminal in 1936. (Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives/livabl.com)

As a result of the locks’ construction, the topography of Seattle and the surrounding area was reshaped profoundly. In addition to lowering the water level of Lake Washington and Lake Union, miles of new waterfront land were added, the flow of several rivers were redirected, and the eastern half of Salmon Bay was drained. 

As noted above, the Ballard Locks carry more boat traffic than any other lock in the U.S. They were designed and built for the nation’s commerce. Logs and coal traversed the locks for years. Now, over one million tons of cargo, fuel, building materials, and seafood products pass through the locks each year. In addition, a significant portion of the Alaskan fishing fleet moors in Seattle’s fresh waters and use the locks. However, it is smaller recreational boats that make up the majority of the vessel traffic through the locks, with nearly 50,000 boats moving through the locks annually. 

The Ballard Locks. (Photo: myballard.com)
The Ballard Locks. (Photo: myballard.com)

Operation of the locks

The locks are capable of elevating a 760-by-80-foot vessel 26 feet – from the level of Puget Sound at a very low tide to the level of freshwater Salmon Bay, in only 10 to 15 minutes. The locks handle pleasure boats and commercial vessels, ranging from kayaks to fishing boats returning from the Bering Sea to cargo ships. 

Vessels that want to pass from the freshwater Lake Washington or Lake Union to Puget Sound enter the lock chamber through the open upper gates. The lower gates and the draining valve are then closed. Lockwall attendants make sure the vessel is tied down and ready for the chamber to be drained.

Next, the upper gates and the filling valve are closed. The draining valve is opened, which allows water to drain via gravity out to Puget Sound.  When the water pressure is equal on both sides of the gate, the lower gates are opened, allowing the vessels to leave the lock chamber.

The process is reversed for upstream locking. 

Boats traverse the locks. (Photo: myballard.com)
Boats traverse the locks. (Photo: myballard.com)

The complex includes two locks so that the small lock can be used when boat traffic is low. This conserves fresh water during summer, when the lakes receive less inflow. With two locks one can be drained for maintenance without blocking all boat traffic. For the last several years the large lock is drained for approximately two weeks (usually in November); the small lock is drained for about the same period (usually in March).

An aerial view of the Ballard Locks complex. (Photo: ballardlocks.org)
An aerial view of the Ballard Locks complex. (Photo: ballardlocks.org)

The locks complex

In addition to the locks, the Ballard Locks complex also has a visitors center, a spillway, a fish ladder and the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden.

South of the small lock is the spillway dam. It has tainter gates that are used to regulate the freshwater levels of the ship canal and lakes. The gates on the dam release or store water to maintain the lake within a two-foot range of 20 to 22 feet above sea level. Maintaining this lake level is very important – there are floating bridges and mooring facilities on the lakes, and if the lakes were too high it would impact vessel clearances under various bridges. 

In addition, smolt flumes in the spillway help young salmon to pass safely downstream.  Higher water levels are maintained in the summer to accommodate recreation and so that the lakes can act as a water storage basin in case of drought conditions. 

The salt water barrier is very important as well. If excessive salt water were allowed into Salmon Bay, the salt could eventually damage the freshwater ecosystem. To help prevent this, a basin was dredged just above the large lock. Salt water is heavier than freshwater; it settles into the basin and drains through a pipe discharging downstream of the locks area. The saltwater drain was modified in 1975 in order to divert some salt water from the basin to the fish ladder. There it is added via a diffuser to the fish ladder attraction water. 

Visitors in the viewing gallery watch salmon return to spawn. 
(Photo: myballard.com)
Visitors in the viewing gallery watch salmon return to spawn.
(Photo: myballard.com)

To further restrict the intrusion of saltwater, a hinged barrier was installed just upstream of the large lock in 1966. A hollow metal barrier, it is filled with air to remain in the upright position, which blocks the heavier salt water. The barrier is capable of being flooded; it then sinks to the bottom of the chamber when necessary to accommodate deep-draft vessels. 

According to the federal government, the fish ladder at the Ballard Locks is “unique,” because it is located where salt and freshwater meet. Normally, fish ladders are located entirely within freshwater. 

Pacific salmon hatch in lakes, rivers and streams (and now in fish hatcheries). They then migrate to the sea, and only at the end of their life return to freshwater to spawn. Prior to the construction of the locks, no significant salmon runs existed in the nearby area. 

As noted earlier in this article White River was rerouted into the Puyallup River. Cedar and White rivers did support significant salmon runs but also created severe flooding conditions for the area’s early settlers. Rerouting these two rivers was a mixed blessing; while flooding was reduced, the Duwamish River salmon runs were decimated. To help the situation, salmon runs were rerouted through the Locks, which included introducing a major run of sockeye salmon using stock from Baker River, Washington.

Looking down into the viewing gallery. (Photo: myballard.com)
Looking down into the viewing gallery. (Photo: myballard.com)

The ladder was designed to use “attraction water” – fresh water flowing swiftly out the bottom of the fish ladder, in the direction opposite which the salmon migrate at the end of their lives. However, the attraction water from this first ladder was not effective. The Corps rebuilt the fish ladder in 1976 by increasing the flow of attraction water. In addition, the old fish ladder had only 10 “steps”; the new one has 21. A diffuser well mixes salt water gradually into the last 10 steps. When the fish ladder was rebuilt, the Corps added an underground chamber with a viewing gallery.

Part of the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Gardens. (Photo: myballard.com)
Part of the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Gardens. (Photo: myballard.com)

Legacy

Today, the locks are a leading tourist attraction in the Seattle metro area, with more than one million visitors annually. In addition to the attractions noted above, there are the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Gardens. The gardens contain seven acres of exotic trees and plants.

Carl S. English, Jr. was a horticulturist and botanist hired by the Army Corps in 1931. For over 40 years his vision and expertise transformed the area surrounding the locks into an English estate-style garden. English also helped to develop the waterside plantings along the Fremont and Montlake Cuts that are part of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

Seattle residents or visitors can relax in the gardens, enjoy a picnic or a free summer concert. The gardens have also become a favorite outdoor wedding venue.

The Ballard Locks were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and the American Society of Civil Engineers’ list of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks in 1997.

FreightWaves Classics thanks the following organizations for information and photos used in this article: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, myballard.com, transportationhistory.org, ballardlocks.org, blog.friendsoftheballardlocks.org and the Seattle Municipal Archives.

FreightWaves Classics: USNS Watson launched 25 years ago

FreightWaves Classics profiles the USNS George Watson, part of the Military Sealift Command fleet.

The USNS George Watson. (Photo: navysite.de)

On July 26, 1997 the U.S. Navy cargo vessel USNS Watson was launched at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company shipyard in San Diego. (The vessel’s prefix USNS stands for “United States Naval Ship” – this designation is used to identify non-commissioned ships owned by the Navy but operated by one of the primarily civilian crews of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, or MSC.)

The USNS George Watson during its construction. (Photo: navysite.de)
The USNS George Watson during its construction. (Photo: navysite.de)

The ship’s keel was laid down on May 23, 1996. As noted above, the ship was launched on July 26, 1997. At her launching ceremony, U.S. Secretary of the Army Togo D. West, Jr., was the principal speaker, and his wife Gail christened the ship using a traditional bottle of champagne. 

The ship was put into service in the Pacific Ocean on June 23, 1998. She is the lead ship of her class of vehicle cargo ships.

Mrs. Gail Berry West, Sponsor of Watson (T-AKR-310) breaks the traditional bottle of champagne across the ship's bow on July 26, 1997 to officially launch the vessel at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Co., San Diego, California. In attendance is her husband, Secretary of the Army Togo D. West Jr.; her daughter, Ms. Hilary West, Maid of Honor; and Richard A. Vortmann, NASSCO President. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)
Mrs. Gail Berry West, Sponsor of Watson (T-AKR-310) breaks the traditional bottle of champagne across the ship’s bow on July 26, 1997 to officially launch the vessel at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Co., San Diego, California. In attendance is her husband, Secretary of the Army Togo D. West Jr.; her daughter, Ms. Hilary West, Maid of Honor; and Richard A. Vortmann, NASSCO President. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

The ship’s use and mission

USNS Watson (T-AKR-310) is one of the MSC’s 19 “large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off ships.” Including the Watson, there are eight Watson-class vehicle cargo ships used to preposition ground vehicles and she is one of the 33 ships in the MSC’s Prepositioning Program. 

The 950-foot-long USNS Watson and the ships of her class transport a variety of military vehicles, including tanks and helicopters. The ships are part of the fleet of vessels used by the MSC and are positioned strategically around the globe to provide supplies and other support to the U.S. armed services and the Defense Logistics Agency. Each ship in the USNS Watson-class has a beam of 106 feet; they were the largest vessels able to fit through the Panama Canal until its 2016 expansion.

The USNS George Watson underway. (Photo: navysite.de)
The USNS George Watson underway. (Photo: navysite.de)

Military Sealift Command

The MSC is an organization that controls the replenishment and military transport ships of the United States Navy. In addition, the Military Sealift Command is responsible for providing sealift and ocean transportation for all branches of the U.S. military services, as well as for other government agencies. It was created as the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) on July 9, 1949, when it became solely responsible for the Department of Defense’s ocean transport needs. In 1970 MSTS was renamed the Military Sealift Command.

MSC provides on-time logistics, strategic sealift, as well as specialized missions anywhere in the world, in contested or uncontested environments.

The official seal of the Military Sealift Command. Image: msc.navy.mil/images/logos)
The official seal of the Military Sealift Command.
(Image: msc.navy.mil/images/logos)

The Command operates approximately 125 civilian-crewed ships that “replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.” 

MSC ships include a core fleet owned by the U.S. Navy, as well as other ships under long-term charter. These ships are “augmented by short-term or voyage-chartered ships.” Just as in the civilian world, during a time charter, MSC takes control of a merchant ship and operates it for the chartered amount of time. During its charter the ship is crewed by civilian mariners and MSC pays for all expenses. Time-chartered ships are not subject to inspections by foreign governments when in port, and MSC has operational control of the vessels. 

The USNS Watson at Naval Base Norfolk, Virginia, on December 26, 2021. (Photo: Michael Jenning/navysite.de)
The USNS Watson at Naval Base Norfolk, Virginia, on December 26, 2021. (Photo: Michael Jenning/navysite.de)

Voyage-chartered ships are also crewed by civilian mariners, but MSC only pays a fee for transporting the cargo. Voyage-chartered ships are chartered for a specific voyage, are subject to inspections, and MSC does not have operational control of the ship. 

Ships owned by the Navy carry blue and gold stack colors. As explained above, these ships are in service with the prefix USNS, rather than in commission (with a USS prefix). The ships have hull numbers as an equivalent commissioned ship would have (with the prefix T-) and are primarily civilian-crewed by either civil service mariners (CIVMARs) or contract crews (as are special mission ships). MSC civil service mariners, the largest segment of MSC’s global workforce, are federal civil service employees

In addition, some ships may have Navy or Marine Corps personnel on board to handle  communications and/or special mission functions, or for force protection. Ships on charter or equivalent, retain their commercial colors and bear the standard merchant prefix – MV, SS or GTS, without hull numbers.

USNS Watson moored at Wharf Alpha at, Naval Weapons Station, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, on October 7, 2014. USNS Watson is part of MSC’s Prepositioning Program. Afloat prepositioning strategically places military equipment and supplies aboard ships located in key ocean areas to ensure rapid availability during a major theater war, a humanitarian operation or other contingency. (Photo: Eric Sesit/US Air Force)
USNS Watson moored at Naval Weapons Station, Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, on October 7, 2014. USNS Watson is part of MSC’s Prepositioning Program. Afloat prepositioning strategically places military equipment and supplies aboard ships located in key ocean areas to ensure rapid availability during a major theater war, a humanitarian operation or other contingency.
(Photo: Eric Sesit/US Air Force)

Military Sealift Command is composed of eight programs: “Fleet Oiler (PM1); Special Mission (PM2); Strategic Sealift (PM3); Tow, Salvage, Tender and Hospital Ship (PM4); Sealift (PM5); Combat Logistics Force (PM6); Expeditionary Mobile Base, Amphibious Command Ship and Cable Layer (PM7); and Expeditionary Fast Transport (PM8).”

MSC has multiple reporting lines. It reports to the “Department of Defense’s Transportation Command for defense transportation matters; to the Navy Fleet Forces Command for Navy-only matters; and to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisition) for procurement policy and oversight matters.”

George Watson. (Photo: navysite.de)
George Watson.
(Photo: navysite.de)

George Watson

Then-U.S. Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton named USNS Watson for George Watson, a U.S. Army private who served in the Pacific theater during World War II. 

Private Watson was born in Laurel, Mississippi, and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. He received a bachelor’s degree from the Colorado Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Colorado State University) in 1942. In September 1942, he was drafted and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 29th Quartermaster Regiment as a bath and laundry specialist (which reflected the limited opportunities that Black soldiers had in the military at the time).

He completed his basic training at Camp Lee, Virginia, and then his unit was shipped out from Newport News, Virginia, aboard the USS Hermitage bound for Brisbane, Australia and the Pacific theater.

At Brisbane, Watson boarded the Dutch steamer Jacob, which was headed to his unit’s final destination of New Guinea. Near Porlock Harbor, New Guinea, on March 8, 1943, the ship suffered two direct hits from a surprise Japanese bomber attack. With the ship listing heavily, the ship’s captain ordered all passengers and crew overboard as the ship began to roll over and capsize.

Many of the men from the ship were floating helplessly in the water, not knowing how to swim or were too injured to help themselves. It was then – and under harrowing circumstances – that 28-year-old Private George Watson “demonstrated the utmost courage under fire.”

Once in the ocean, Watson stayed in the water to help other soldiers reach life rafts. Forsaking his own safety, Watson swam through the deadly scene, selflessly pulling members of his regiment and sailors to the few available life rafts. The suction caused by the sinking ship made his efforts even more difficult. Eventually, Watson became exhausted from constant swimming amidst the chaos and drowned.

For his actions, Private Watson was the first Black soldier to receive the Distinguished Service Cross during World War II.  

The wreckage of the Jacob, March 8, 1943, courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.
The wreckage of the Jacob, March 8, 1943. (Photo: Australian War Memorial.

Service in World War II by Black Americans

Approximately 1.2 million Blacks served in the U.S. armed services, which were segregated during World War II. None of those who served received the Medal of Honor during or after the war. However, in the late 1990s, the Army conducted a three-year review of the records of 10 Black heroes from World War II. The purpose of the review was to determine if any of the 10 met the standards for the Medal of Honor. Of the 10, the names of seven were submitted to Congress and the President for consideration.

On January 13, 1997, President Bill Clinton bestowed the Medal of Honor on the seven Black veterans of World War II. Only one, 77-year-old Vernon J. Baker, a platoon leader with the 92nd Infantry Division, was still alive to receive his award in person. The others had died during the war or in the time since and were represented by next of kin.

First Lieutenant Vernon Baker's Medal of Honor. Baker was the only living recipient at the January 13, 1997 ceremony. (Photo: National World War II Museum)
First Lieutenant Vernon Baker’s Medal of Honor. Baker was the only living recipient at the January 13, 1997 ceremony.
(Photo: National World War II Museum)

Most of those honored served with combat units – as infantrymen, tankers, forward observers, etc. – with one notable exception. Private George Watson’s assignment in the Quartermaster Corps meant that it was unlikely he would have served under arms if he had survived. He was also the only one of the seven to earn his medal while serving in the Pacific Theater. Watson’s Distinguished Service Cross was upgraded to the Medal of Honor 

President Clinton said, “Over and over and over again,” Private Watson continued saving others, “until he himself was so exhausted, he was pulled down by the tow of the sinking ship.”

Sergeant Major Eugene McKinney, the Sergeant Major of the U.S. Army, accepted Watson’s medal from President Clinton. McKinney said, “When Private George Watson’s ship was attacked by enemy bombers, over and over and over again he helped others to make it to life rafts so that they might live.”

Sergeant Major of the Army Eugene McKinney. 
(Photo:  ausa.org)
Sergeant Major of the Army Eugene McKinney.
(Photo: ausa.org)

Clinton also closed his speech after presenting the decorations with a particularly stirring reminder of the sacrifices of Watson and the others honored: “I think it might be an appropriate way to close to say that when I gave Mr. Watson’s medal to the Sergeant Major of the Army, he looked at it and smiled and he said, ‘This is indicative of the type of soldiers we have today, a group of people in our military, men and women, that really do reflect the vast and rich texture of our Nation.’”

In addition to the medals he was posthumously awarded and the ship that was named for him, Watson is remembered on a memorial at the Manila American Cemetery and by George Watson Memorial Field at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Since Private Watson had no known next of kin, his Medal of Honor is displayed in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum, which is located at Fort Lee, Virginia.

The Medal of Honor awarded posthumously to Pvt. George Watson. (Photo: history.navy.mil)
The Medal of Honor awarded posthumously to Pvt. George Watson. (Photo: history.navy.mil)

FreightWaves Classics thanks the National World War II Museum, history.navy.mil, navysite.de, navsource.org and Wikipedia for information and photos that made this article possible. FreightWaves Classics also acknowledges the sacrifices the men and women of the U.S. armed forces make daily to keep our nation safe.

FreightWaves Classics: SS Great Britain was launched 179 years ago

FreightWaves Classics profiles the historic SS Great Britain.

The restored SS Great Britain. (Photo: eventfull.com)

On a rainy summer morning in 1843 excited crowds flowed into the city of Bristol, which is located in southwestern England. They sought to witness the “floating out” of a revolutionary new ship – the SS Great Britain. It was July 19, 1843, exactly four years to the day since the ship’s construction began. 

The ship

The SS Great Britain was the first screw-propelled, ocean-going, wrought iron ship. Most large ships of the era were fitted with more conventional paddle wheels. 

Designed by the renowned civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the ship was constructed specifically for the Great Western Steamship Company’s service between Bristol and New York. Brunel originally conceived the ship to be a traditional paddle steamer, but he altered the ship’s design in order to use the new technology of screw propulsion. 

Isambard Kingdom Brunel. 
(Photo: historic-uk.com)
Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
(Photo: historic-uk.com)

The ship’s engines were also converted during construction to generate 1,000 horsepower, in order to power a massive 16-foot iron propeller. When the ship was launched it was the largest ship in the world, at almost 330 feet long – almost 100 feet longer than the second-longest ship at that time. The SS Great Britain weighed 1,930 tons – much heavier than any ships on the world’s oceans at that time. The ship was initially designed for the Great Western Steamship Company’s trans-Atlantic luxury passenger trade. It could carry 252 first- and second-class passengers and a crew of 130. It was the world’s longest passenger ship between 1845 and 1854.

FreightWaves Classics is sponsored by Sutton Transport, an LTL leader in the Midwest for more than 40 years. Sutton Transport proudly services Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. Request a quote here.

By combining key innovations, Brunel created a ship that changed history. It is not an overstatement that the SS Great Britain set the standard for modern ship design. It also demonstrated the capabilities and inventiveness of the Victorian era. Almost by himself  “Brunel shaped the future of mass passenger travel and international communications.”

Launching the ship

Prior to the launch of the SS Great Britain, the preceding years had been difficult in Bristol. A “busy trading port since ancient times, the city was in serious commercial decline by 1843.” Many residents hoped that the ship’s construction would help reverse the city’s fortunes. 

The Bristol Mirror published a special supplement to commemorate the launch. The newspaper described how the visit of Prince Albert should be regarded as much a celebration of Bristol as a celebration for the ship. The newspaper described the pride of the city’s residents that Prince Albert would take part in the festivities. It also outlined the efforts they went to in the days ahead of his arrival to spruce up the city. According to the reports, the city streets were decked with flags, banners, ribbons and flowers. On July 19, “when the royal cortege passed through the city, all of its shops were shut and business was entirely suspended. Crowds lined the streets, church bells rang, ships were dressed out in a variety of colors and a cannon was fired.” 

Prince Albert. (Image: royal.uk)
Prince Albert. (Image: royal.uk)

The Royal Train was a special Great Western Railway train driven by Brunel on the newly completed railroad. It arrived at the packed rail station and was greeted by thunderous applause.

Prince Albert was the Prince Consort of the United Kingdom and the husband of Queen Victoria. The prince was accompanied by the Marquis of Exeter; Lord Wharncliffe, President of the Council; Lords Liverpool, Lincoln and others in his retinue. In addition, Charles Russell, Chairman of the Railway Company and C. A. Saunders, the railroad’s secretary, were present. 

The Mayor of Bristol and the Town Clerk addressed the Prince, and then the dignitaries had a private breakfast. Prince Albert then took his seat in one of the royal carriages and began his procession through Bristol. The route was lined with thousands of cheering spectators.

Prince Albert boarded the SS Great Britain and inspected the ship during a tour. The ship was described by contemporaries as ‘revolutionary’ in its design. At about 3:30 p.m., as cannon thundered in all directions, a band struck up ‘Rule Britannia.’ 

Prince Albert hurled a bottle of wine at the vessel and scored a decisive hit. At that point the ship was named to rapturous applause. The Illustrated London News reported, “Amid the shouts of thousands… the Prince broke against the bows a bottle of wine and pronounced as the name by which the ship is after to be known, the words ‘Great Britain.’” 

The ship was slowly towed out of her dock, and with the proceedings over, the Prince returned to the Royal Carriages and was driven to the railway terminal for his return to London.

S.S. Great Britain leaving Bristol, circa 1950. (Painting by Harold Vivien Ing/dominicwinter.co.uk)
S.S. Great Britain leaving Bristol, painted circa 1950. (Painting by Harold Vivien Ing/dominicwinter.co.uk)

The ship’s voyages

In 1845 the SS Great Britain became the first iron steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The voyage took just 14 days. 

While her first few voyages demonstrated her technological abilities, they were not a major financial success, because the ship attracted far fewer passengers than its owners had anticipated. The SS Great Britain’s career in the trans-Atlantic market therefore was short-lived. Following a navigational error, the ship was run aground in Dundrum Bay in Northern Ireland in 1846. 

The ship’s owners were forced out of business after they spent all their funds re-floating the ship. Moreover, her engines were badly damaged when the ship ran aground. This led the ship to be sold for salvage in 1850. Gibbs, Bright & Co. purchased the SS Great Britain to carry emigrants to Australia. The new owners replaced the ship’s original engine with a more efficient one, added a second funnel, replaced the ship’s rudder and propeller, and added an extra upper deck so that the ship could carry up to 750 passengers. 

A painting of the SS Great Britain at sea. (Image: history-for-kids.com
A painting of the SS Great Britain at sea. (Image: history-for-kids.com)

Under Gibbs Bright and Co, the ship prospered. The company took advantage of the increase in emigration caused by the Australian gold rush, and used the ship to transport those seeking a new life in Australia. To save money on the run to Australia, the ship relied more on sail power than her steam engine. 

From 1852 to 1881, the SS Great Britain carried over 16,000 emigrants to Australia on 32 voyages. During that period the ship was known as one of the fastest, most elegant and luxurious emigrant clipper ships – the “Greyhound of the Seas.”

Between 1854 and 1855 the ship was chartered by the British government to carry troops to and from the Crimean War. During the course of the conflict it transported over 44,000 troops.

It then returned to carrying passengers to Australia. It took about 120 days to journey to Australia, which was very competitive for the mid-19th century. Passage on the SS Great Britain virtually guaranteed that a passenger would arrive on time, well ahead of any sail-powered rivals.

The stern of the SS Great Britain. (Photo: bbc.com)
The stern of the SS Great Britain. (Photo: bbc.com)

Conversion to a sailing ship

The SS Great Britain was showing her age in the late 1870s. By 1876 shipbuilding standards had changed; the vessel was no longer insurable for passenger use. Gibbs, Bright & Co. sold the ship; its new owners adapted her after 30 years as a passenger ship into a bulk cargo carrier. They removed the ship’s engines and rigged her as a huge, three-masted windjammer. 

In 1882 she set sail from Penarth, Wales full of coal and bound for San Francisco. Until 1886 she carried different exports (such as coal and wheat) between England and the U.S. West Coast. 

Following storms off Cape Horn (the southernmost headland of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago of southern Chile) in 1886 the SS Great Britain was badly damaged. Her captain was forced to seek shelter in the Falkland Islands. Her owners determined that the ship was too damaged to maintain the ability to sail; and repairs would have cost more than the ship was then worth. 

So the SS Great Britain was sold to the Falkland Islands Company and used as a floating storage hulk. The ship served as a warehouse, quarantine ship, and coal storage vessel.

During the First World War, coal from her hold was used to replenish the British battle cruisers Inflexible and Invincible before the decisive battle of the Falkland Islands on December 7, 1914. In that battle, the British fleet sunk Germany’s armored cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst and light cruisers Nurnberg and Leipzig.

By 1933 the ship’s hull was no longer watertight. In 1937, after being towed to Sparrow Cove, a short distance from Port Stanley, she was beached, abandoned and left to rust away. 

The abandoned SS Great Britain. (Image: history-for-kids.com)
The abandoned SS Great Britain. (Image: history-for-kids.com)

Rescuing the SS Great Britain

There were attempts to rescue the ship in the late 1930s and again in the 1960s. These attempts failed, but in 1970 a major salvage effort refloated the ship, and she was towed across the Atlantic to Bristol – a distance of 8,000 miles.

Naval architect Ewan Corlett understood the importance of the SS Great Britain. After months of research and planning he mounted a rescue operation to bring the ship back to the United Kingdom. The salvage operation was made possible by several large donations, and those working on it managed to refloat the SS Great Britain on April 13, 1970, despite ferocious gales that lashed the area. The ship crossed the Atlantic sitting on a huge floating pontoon pulled by tugboats.

Despite spending nearly 100 years in the harsh weather of the South Atlantic region, the SS Great Britain was able to float up the River Avon under her own power. After sailing over one million miles, Brunel’s 155-year-old iron hull had stood the test of time superbly.

Exactly 127 years after she was christened – on July 19, 1970 – the SS Great Britain returned to Bristol’s Great Western Dockyard. 

The SS Great Britain sailing under the Clifton Suspension Bridge on her way "home." (Photo: history-for-kids.com)
The SS Great Britain sailing under the Clifton Suspension Bridge on her way “home.” (Photo: history-for-kids.com)

Corrosion was the biggest threat facing the iron ship, so conservators spent three years cleaning, repairing and restoring the ship’s hull, ensuring its preservation and preventing further corrosion or deterioration. 

Following this refitting, Brunel’s SS Great Britain was relaunched in 2005 as one of the world’s most important maritime museums. This very special ship is now part of the National Historic Fleet and also serves as a museum ship in Bristol Harbor.

The ship today in Bristol Harbor. (Photo: ssgreatbritain.org)
The ship today in Bristol Harbor. (Photo: ssgreatbritain.org)

SS Great Britain today

Dominating the historic waterfront of Bristol, the ship has been painstakingly restored to recreate life on the world’s first great luxury liner and to celebrate’s Bristol’s history as one of the most important ports in the world. 

Now, the SS Great Britain is one of Bristol’s most popular attractions. The complex where she resides includes the Dockyard Museum (which charts the ship’s history from her conception to the modern day, featuring some helpful historical context to steamships and personal effects from those associated with the ship), the ‘Being Brunel’ exhibition (which explores Bristol’s most famous resident in greater depth), and the ship itself, which has been lovingly restored since returning to Bristol in 1970.

FreightWaves Classics/ Infrastructure: Construction of the Delaware and Hudson Canal began 197 years ago

Mountains of coal were transferred to Hudson River barges at Roundout, NY. (Photo: Wayne County Historical Society/National Park Service)FreightWaves Classics profiles the Delaware & Hudson Canal, used primarily to supply coal to New York and New England.

Mountains of coal were transferred to Hudson River barges at Roundout, NY. (Photo: Wayne County Historical Society/National Park Service)

The period between 1800 and 1850 has been termed the Canal Era in United States history. Since the country’s founding after the War of Independence, the new nation’s leaders understood the need for a network of internal improvements to make continental transportation easier. 

FreightWaves Classics is sponsored by Sutton Transport, an LTL leader in the Midwest for more than 40 years. Sutton Transport proudly services Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. Request a quote here.

The Erie Canal, which was completed in 1825, saw immediate success. Its opening began a period of intensive canal building in the nation. The several canals that were built during this time in U.S. history have been eclipsed by the birth and spread of railroads, which began in 1830. However, the canals were a key reason for much of the economic development that occurred during the early years of the republic.

A map of the Delaware & Hudson Canal. (Image: National Park Service)
A map of the Delaware & Hudson Canal. (Image: National Park Service)

The Delaware and Hudson Canal is built

On July 13, 1825, construction officially started on the Delaware and Hudson (D&H) Canal. The groundbreaking ceremony for the canal took place near Kingston, New York, which is about 90 miles north of New York City. Construction continued from 1825 to 1829. The difficult and often dangerous work was done by hand with picks, shovels and blasting powder. The canal’s primary purpose was to transport coal from the rich deposits in northeastern Pennsylvania to the Hudson River ports of New York.

Brothers William and Maurice Wurts were Philadelphia businessmen who owned coal mines. They had lobbied members of both the New York and Pennsylvania state legislatures to approve the construction of the canal. Their efforts were successful in 1823 when each state passed laws chartering the D&H Canal Company as the entity authorized to construct the waterway. Benjamin Wright, who was key to the planning and development of the Erie Canal, was hired as the chief engineer for the D&H Canal construction project. His assistant was John B. Jervis, who eventually became the chief engineer for the project.

More than 2,500 men worked to build the D&H Canal, and the project’s completion was hailed as a major engineering feat for that time. The canal ran from Honesdale, Pennsylvania, to Kingston. Along its length were 108 locks, 22 aqueducts, 136 bridges, 22 reservoirs, 16 dams and 16 miles of gravity railway.

The D&H Canal Company had originally planned to transport coal from the Pennsylvania mines to the Hudson River entirely by canal boat. But the lack of water at the summit and the number of locks needed to scale the Moosic Mountains between Carbondale and Honesdale caused the Wurts brothers to change their plan.

Stationary engines pulled carloads of coal over the mountains. The railroads then took the coal down the mountain to waiting canal boats. (Photo: Wayne County Historical Society/National Park Service)
Stationary engines pulled carloads of coal over the mountains. The railroads then took the coal down the mountain to waiting canal boats. (Photo: Wayne County Historical Society/National Park Service)

A “gravity railroad” was the solution; construction began in 1827. Designed by Jervis, the gravity railroad utilized a series of inclined planes and steam engines to pull carloads of coal up and over the Moosic Mountains, a rise of almost 1,000 feet. 

Much of the canal’s success was assured when the D&H Canal Company built the gravity railroad. In addition, the latest transportation technology from England was used – the first steam locomotive in the United States (named the Stourbridge Lion) was put into service. The railroad also had the first train to run on rails in the United States.

Completion of the “gravity” in 1829 enabled the canal to transport significant tonnage. While built primarily for coal, cargo also included wood, stone, brick, cement and provisions.

From where the canal began on the Hudson River in Kingston, the route of the canal ran southwest through New York’s Ulster, Sullivan and Orange counties. The canal then ran to the mouth of the Lackawaxen River (a tributary of the Delaware River) in Pennsylvania’s Pike County. The canal’s southern end was the west branch of the Lackawaxen at Honesdale in Wayne County.

Canal boat Little Freddie at the entrance to Roebling's Delaware Aqueduct. (Photo: Minisink Valley Historical Society)
Canal boat Little Freddie at the entrance to Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct.
(Photo: Minisink Valley Historical Society)

Life on and near the canal

Life on a canal boat was a “family business.” Wives and children worked 15- to 20-hour days alongside the boatmen. For all the hard work, the families generally eked out only a meager existence.

The canal affected life throughout the region. During its construction, Irish and German immigrants were among those who helped to build (and later enlarge) the canal. Many stayed in the area and increased its cultural diversity. They brought new customs to an area that had previously been populated mainly by the descendants of Dutch and English settlers.

New towns and industries such as (canal) boat builders, glass works and foundries began along or near the canal. Industries already in the area, such as lumber mills, paper mills, tanneries and stone quarries, prospered because of the improved transportation provided by the railroad and canal. 

Island Dock in the Rondout Creek showing coal loader machines made by the Dodge Coal Storage Co. of Philadelphia. The canal boats behind the steamboat have had their rear compartments 'hipped' (the addition of higher sidewalls to accommodate a greater load), and appear to be possibly rafted together to be towed by the steamboat. (Photo: D&H Canal Historical Society Collection)
Island Dock in the Rondout Creek showing coal loader machines made by the Dodge Coal Storage Co. of Philadelphia. The canal boats behind the steamboat have had their rear compartments ‘hipped’ (the addition of higher sidewalls to accommodate a greater load), and appear to be possibly rafted together to be towed by the steamboat.
(Photo: D&H Canal Historical Society Collection/Hudson River Maritime Museum)

Disease spread due to the canal

Unfortunately, the canal was a breeding ground for disease because of its relatively shallow, stagnant water, which was often contaminated with human and animal waste.

In December 1880 an outbreak of scarlet fever swept through the canal towns of Pond Eddy and Barryville, among other communities. It was attributed to the canal.

“Scarlet fever is raging in this part of the country,” the Port Jervis Evening Gazette reported on December 11, 1880. “A family of three children are affected with it at Pond Eddy, and at Barryville there have been several deaths. First class physicians say it originates from the Delaware & Hudson Canal. For years, the filth of inorganic matter has been allowed to accumulate on the bottom of the ditch.”

The article goes on to claim that the canal company had been promising to clean the bottom of the canal for years, and was supposed to undertake the project that very winter. Given the poor season on the waterway that year (it had been plagued by drought), the article noted that the cleaning project would provide much-needed employment for locals and “would greatly improve the health of the community.”

Generally controlled now by antibiotics, scarlet fever was a killer in the 1800s, especially among children. Several epidemics struck in the United States between 1820 and 1880. Understanding that there was an association between the disease and the streptococcus bacteria did not occur until 1884, and a full understanding of the disease was still decades away. 

A busy day on the D&H Canal at Rondout, New York in 1880. The passenger steamer “M. Martin” is turning in the Rondout Creek to leave amid a crowd of canal boats, some full of coal, at the end of Island Dock. (Photo: Hudson River Maritime Museum Collection)
A busy day on the D&H Canal at Rondout, New York in 1880. The passenger steamer “M. Martin” is turning in the Rondout Creek to leave amid a crowd of canal boats, some full of coal, at the end of Island Dock. (Photo: Hudson River Maritime Museum Collection)

Seven decades of use 

Throughout the 19th century the D&H Canal and the Pennsylvania Coal Company gravity railroad expanded to become part of a 171-mile transportation system. As noted, the coal company’s stationary engines at the top of a series of inclined planes pulled carloads of coal over the mountains. The railroad used sweeping curves and gravity to take the coal down the mountain to waiting canal boats.

Travel on the canal began at the boat basin in Honesdale, where the coal was transferred from the gravity railcars to canal boats. The canal followed the banks of the Lackawaxen River until it met the Delaware River.

The canal boats then crossed the Delaware at Lackawaxen, where the canal paralleled the New York shore of the Delaware to Port Jervis. The canal turned eastward at that point, following the Neversink and Rondout Creeks to the Hudson River. The coal was unloaded at Rondout (near Kingston) and sent by steamship to market.

The D&H Canal was originally 32 feet across at the top, 20 feet at the bottom, with a depth of four feet. Its 76-feet by 10-feet locks accommodated boats that had 20- to 30-ton capacities. At a speed of 1 to 3 mph, the canal boats (which were pulled by mules) made the round-trip in seven to 10 days.

Large tows of canal boats were a common sight on the Hudson River in the second half of the nineteenth century. D&H Canal Historical Society Collection,
Large tows of canal boats were a common sight on the Hudson River in the second half of the 19th century. (Photo: D&H Canal Historical Society Collection/Hudson River Maritime Museum)

In the late 1840s and 1850s, the canal’s depth was increased to five and then to six feet. Its locks were enlarged to 90-feet by 15-feet. These actions increased the canal’s capacity from 200,000 tons to one million tons of coal annually. Boats of 40-ton capacity were replaced by boats that could hold up to 140 tons, which could also go directly from the canal to markets up and down the Hudson River without transloading.

During this expansion period, John A. Roebling was brought in to work on four suspension aqueducts, one of the distinguishing features of the canal. Roebling also designed and built wire rope suspension bridges, in particular the Brooklyn Bridge. (To read a FreightWaves Classics article about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, follow this link.) 

The D&H Canal was in use for 70 years. During that time, millions of tons of anthracite coal  were transported on the canal for use in furnaces, fireplaces and stoves in New York City and New England. The canal also spurred increased settlement in an area of Pennsylvania that had previously been sparsely populated.

"Port Ben, Delaware and Hudson Canal," by Theodore Robinson, 1893. (Image: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts)
“Port Ben, Delaware and Hudson Canal,” by Theodore Robinson, 1893. (Image: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts)

The canal’s end

The canal was different from a number of other 19th-century canals in the U.S. – it remained a profitable private operation throughout most of its tenure. Despite its success, by 1898 the D&H Canal had outlived its usefulness. Transportation by canal was limited by winter weather conditions, droughts and floods. 

Moreover, the railroads of the day were better able to reach new markets. In the Upper Delaware River Valley, the Erie Railroad was thriving at the same time the D&H Canal was abandoned.

After the canal was abandoned, much of it was subsequently drained and filled. Despite that, the canal is an important part of the country’s transportation legacy; in 1968 it was declared a National Historic Landmark.

The Delaware Aqueduct on the Delaware & Hudson Canal. (Photo: sah-archipedia.org)
The Delaware Aqueduct on the Delaware & Hudson Canal. (Photo: sah-archipedia.org)

The canal’s legacy

Most of the canals built during the nation’s canal era were financed by the states that they ran through. The Delaware and Hudson Canal was the nation’s first canal built as a private enterprise.

According to Hudson Valley Magazine, “the positive impacts of the Delaware and Hudson Canal on Sullivan County were indisputable.” The waterway made it possible to easily transport goods to and from the area, “and directly led to the growth of the tanning and bluestone industries. Entire communities, such as Barryville, Wurtsboro and Phillipsport, owe their very existence to the D&H, and while the canal was in operation, each was among the largest communities in the county in terms of commerce and population.”

The canal remains among the most significant enterprises in the history of the nation. In 1873, James Eldridge Quinlan wrote that “the benefit of this canal to Sullivan [County] is a mere bagatelle when compared with its benign influence on the coal-region of Pennsylvania, on New York and other cities, and on the country at large. Its success led to other works for a similar purpose, which now minister to the comforts of the poor, and add to the wealth of the rich. Destroy the coalfields of the Lackawanna, and the public improvements which have been made to convey the carbonaceous deposit to those who consume it, and you will bring upon an immense number of the human family an evil not exceeded by famine and pestilence. From such a contingency only could we learn truly to estimate the benefits conferred by William and Maurice Wurts, whose memory should be honored by all good men.”

Quinlan was publisher of the Republican Watchman newspaper until 1866 and was the author of the History of Sullivan County, which was published in 1873. His use of language is different than what we are used to today, but among other things, Quinlan praised the coal industry – something that few do today.

According to the National Park Service, little survives of the D&H Canal and its associated industries. However, remnants of the canal may be seen along its former route. 

The Lackawaxen Aqueduct no longer exists. The Delaware Aqueduct (now known as the Roebling Bridge), stands within the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River. Remnants of the Neversink Aqueduct are preserved within the Neversink Valley Area Museum properties in Cuddebackville, New York, and remains of the High Falls Aqueduct are near the D&H Canal Historical Society and Museum in High Falls, New York.

FreightWaves Classics thanks the National Park Service, the Hudson River Maritime Museum and other sources for information and images used in this article.

An historical marker erected by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation in 2018. (Photo: wgpfoundation.org)
An historical marker erected by the William G. Pomeroy Foundation in 2018. (Photo: wgpfoundation.org)

FreightWaves Classics/ Infrastructure: Constantine’s Bridge spanned the Danube 

Budapest on the Danube. (Photo: thecruiseline.com)FreightWaves Classics profiles a bridge that was built nearly 1,700 years ago.

Budapest on the Danube. (Photo: thecruiseline.com)

The river

The Danube is one of the most famous rivers in the world, along with the Nile, the Yangtze, the Amazon and the Mississippi. Along their routes are places of great natural and man-made beauty, as well as key sites in human history and culture.

The Danube is the second-longest river in Europe. Its path takes it through much of central and southeastern Europe, from the Black Forest into the Black Sea. The river makes its way through 10 nations – more than any other river in the world. The Danube begins in Germany and flows southeast for 1,770 miles. Along its route, it passes through or borders Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine before draining into the Black Sea. The river’s drainage basin extends into nine more countries. Many European borders, especially in the Balkans, also follow the route of the Danube.

The route of the Danube through Europe. (Image: Public Domain/commons.wikimedia.org)
The route of the Danube through Europe. (Image: Public Domain/commons.wikimedia.org)

Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade and Bratislava are among the largest cities on the Danube. They are also the capitals of their respective countries, which also means that the river passes through more national capitals than any other river in the world. In addition, five more capital cities lie in the Danube’s basin – Bucharest, Sofia, Zagreb, Ljubljana and Sarajevo. 

Interestingly, it’s not called the Danube in any of the countries it passes through. For example, in Germany the river is called the Donau, the Dunaj in the Czech Republic, and the Duna in Hungary. The Romans called it Danubius, based on an older Celtic name from which all the modern names are derived.

This map shows the darker area that encompasses the Danube's basin. (Image: CC BY-SA 4.0/ commons.wikimedia.org)
This map shows the darker area that encompasses the Danube’s basin. (Image: CC BY-SA 4.0/ commons.wikimedia.org)

The Danube divided nations and provide a route for commerce

The banks of the Danube have been the site of human habitation for millennia, and the river has been instrumental in many historical events and has defined historical borders. For almost its entire length the Danube was once the northern border of the Roman Empire. It provided a defensive line for the empire, as well as a “water highway” to transport troops and materials to Roman settlements downstream.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Danube continued to provide a defensive border for the  Eastern Roman Empire and then for the Ottoman Empire. The river’s separation between East and West would define the river’s story for centuries, particularly through World War I, World War II and the Cold War.

Since ancient times, the Danube also has served as a traditional trade route in Europe. Today, over 1,500 miles of its total length are navigable. In addition, the Danube is now linked to the North Sea via the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, which connects the Danube at Kelheim with the Main at Bamberg. The river is also an important source of hydropower, drinking water and food. 

The Danube in Vienna. (Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl/commons.wikimedia.org)
The Danube in Vienna. (Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl/commons.wikimedia.org)

Constantine the Great

Constantine I (February 27, 272 – May 22, 337), also known as Constantine the Great, was the emperor of the Roman Empire from 306 to 337 AD. He was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. Born in what is now Niš, Serbia, Constantine was the son of Flavius Constantius, a Roman army officer who had been one of the four rulers of the Tetrarchy. The Tetrarchy was the system instituted by Roman Emperor Diocletian in 293 to govern the ancient Roman Empire by dividing it between two senior emperors, and two junior emperors. The Tetrarchy marked the end of the Crisis of the Third Century. Constantine served with distinction under Diocletian and Galerius. His career as a soldier began in campaigns in the eastern provinces (against barbarians and the Persians). Then in AD 305 he was recalled to fight with his father in Britain. 

A modern bronze statue of Constantine I in York, England, near the spot where he was proclaimed emperor in 306. (Photo: Chabe01/wikipedia.org)
A modern bronze statue of Constantine I in York, England, near the spot where he was proclaimed emperor in 306.
(Photo: Chabe01/wikipedia.org)

After his father’s death in 306, Constantine became emperor. He was acclaimed by the Roman legions at Eboracum (now York, England), and eventually was victorious after civil wars against emperors Maxentius and Licinius. Constantine became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire by 324.

Following his ascension to emperor, Constantine began a series of reforms to strengthen the empire. He separated civil and military leaders, restructuring the government. To combat inflation, he introduced a new gold coin (the solidus, which was also known as the nomisma or the bezant). Constantine introduced the coin, and its weight of about 4.5 grams remained relatively constant. It became the standard for Byzantine and European currencies for more than 1,000  years. 

A solidus with an image of Constantine. (Photo: educalingo.com)
A solidus with an image of Constantine. (Photo: educalingo.com)

Constantine also reorganized the Roman legions into two different forces – mobile units (comitatenses) and garrison troops (limitanei) – to make the army more capable of countering internal threats and barbarian invasions. Constantine then pursued successful military campaigns against various tribes on the Roman frontiers (such as the Franks, the Alamanni, the Goths and the Sarmatians). He then resettled territories abandoned by his predecessors during the Crisis of the Third Century with citizens of Roman culture.

Parts of a giant statue of Constantine. (Photo: Khan Academy)
Pieces of a giant statue of Constantine. (Photo: Khan Academy)

Although Constantine lived much of his life as a pagan, he began to favor Christianity in 312. He became a Christian and was baptized. Constantine played a key role in the Edict of Milan in 313, which declared tolerance for Christianity in the Roman Empire. He also convened the First Council of Nicaea in 325; it produced the statement of Christian belief known as the Nicene Creed. On his orders, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was constructed at the purported site of the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem and was deemed the holiest place in all of Christendom. Constantine has historically been referred to as the “First Christian Emperor” and is recognized for moving Christianity towards the mainstream of Roman culture.

Constantine’s rule was a distinct era in the history of the Roman Empire; many consider that he began the transition of the empire from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages. Among his actions, he built a new imperial residence in Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) after himself. Constantinople subsequently became the new capital of the empire for more than 1,000 years. The later Eastern Roman Empire is termed the Byzantine Empire by modern historians. He replaced Diocletian’s Tetrarchy; Constantine established the principle of dynastic succession, leaving the empire to his sons and other members of the Constantinian dynasty. 

The northern and eastern frontiers of the Roman Empire in the time of Constantine, with the territories acquired in the course of the 30 years of military campaigns between 306 and 337. (Image: Cristiano64/commons.wikimedia.org)
The northern and eastern frontiers of the Roman Empire in the time of Constantine, with the territories acquired in the course of the 30 years of military campaigns between 306 and 337. (Image: Cristiano64/commons.wikimedia.org)

July 5, 328

A bridge built across the Danube made its formal debut on this date 1,694 years ago. Constantine was present for the opening of the bridge, which became known as Constantine’s Bridge. It was built between the town and fortress of Sucidava (now the Romanian port town of Corabia) and the town of Oescus (near the present-day Bulgarian village of Gigen).

Roman architect Theophilus Patricius designed Constantine’s Bridge. Among the key architectural features of the wooden arch bridge were its masonry piers and wooden superstructure. It also had two abutment piers at each end. “Abutments are used at the ends of bridges to retain the embankment and to carry the vertical and horizontal loads from the superstructure to the foundation.” The abutments also served as gates for the bridge, helping to protect it from attack at either end. The bridge’s wooden deck was 19 feet wide and crossed the river 33 feet above the water.

Carnuntum Archaeological Park at Petronell: remains of an inn between reconstructed public baths (left) and a large urban house (right). The  inset is the "hypocaust" (heating system) in the baths. This 4th century outpost was near the River Danube and the border between Austria and Slovakia. (Photo: Roberto Piperno)
Carnuntum Archaeological Park at Petronell: remains of an inn between reconstructed public baths (left) and a large urban house (right). The inset is the “hypocaust” (heating system) in the baths. This 4th century outpost was near the River Danube and the border between Austria and Slovakia. (Photo: Roberto Piperno)

While the bridge was destroyed within 50 years of its construction, it is still remembered today because of its overall length of 7,995 feet. Of that length, 3,730 feet spanned the Danube’s riverbed. Constantine’s Bridge was the longest ancient river bridge and one of the longest of all time.

The Dacian kingdom in 82 BC. 
(Image: commons.wikimedia.org)
The Dacian kingdom in 82 BC.
(Image: commons.wikimedia.org)

A key reason for the construction of Constantine’s Bridge was the effort to reconquer Dacia. A Dacian kingdom of variable size existed between 82 BC until the Roman conquest in AD 106. The capital of Dacia was located in modern Romania; it was destroyed by the Romans, but the same name was used by the Romans for the new city built as the capital of the Roman province of Dacia. 

As the Roman Empire weakened, the Dacians overthrew their Roman rulers until Constantine again conquered the area. The Dacian kingdom included the present-day countries of Romania and Moldova, as well as smaller parts of Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine.

FreightWaves Classics: Drayage is first-mile logistics (Part 1)

Intermodal containers on railcars after drayage moves. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)FreightWaves Classics provides an overview of drayage.

Intermodal containers on railcars after drayage moves. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

While the drayage function has been around for thousands of years, its importance has grown significantly in the past 70 years, following the introduction of the shipping container by Malcom McLean and his Sea-Land Corporation.

Definition

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of drayage “is the work or cost of hauling by dray.” Also according to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the term “drayage” occurred in 1791.

Many other sources describe drayage in similar ways. Most agree that in the shipping and logistics industries “drayage is the transport of goods over a short distance.” They also agree that drayage is often part of a longer overall move. According to Wikipedia, some research defines it specifically as “a truck pickup from or delivery to a seaport, border point, inland port, or intermodal terminal with both the trip origin and destination in the same urban area.” 

Drayage traffic near Port of LA. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)
Drayage traffic near the Port of Los Angeles. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

In today’s world of intermodal freight transport, drayage is generally considered to be the transport of containerized cargo by specialized trucking companies between ocean ports or rail ramps and warehouses or shipping docks. As generally practiced today, drayage specifically refers to short distance movements as part of the supply chain process.

Again, most sources would agree that drayage is a “key aspect of the transfer of shipments to and from other means of transportation.” While  drayage in the United States primarily refers to the movement of intermodal containers from one of the nation’s seaports to an off-port location, drayage can also refer to a pickup by vehicle to or from an inland/border point or an intermodal rail terminal.

In addition, drayage may also be defined and used as the term for the fee paid for such services. This use of the term is often used in the container shipping industry for international commerce.

There are subsets and different types of drayage as well (more on this below). However, port drayage is the term most often used when describing short hauls from ports and other areas to nearby locations. 

There can also be drayage within large buildings (such as shopping centers and convention centers) when goods are moved from a loading dock to an interior area. For many shopping malls, there may be a centralized loading area where receivers pick up their goods in order to limit road and parking congestion. 

In regard to trade shows and similar events, whether an exhibitor ships directly to the show site or to a show warehouse, every company’s exhibit needs to get from the loading dock to its respective spot on the show floor. Trade shows often employ outside services, delivering crates to each company’s designated exhibit space, and back to the loading dock after the show is complete.

An intermodal container being loaded on a truck. (Photo: Georgia Ports Authority)
An intermodal container being loaded on a truck. (Photo: Georgia Ports Authority)

History

Drayage is as old as shipping. The earliest forms of drayage have been around since the first ships carried goods from one port to another. 

When the term “drayage” began to be used it meant “to transport by a sideless or low-sided cart,” or a dray. Dray carts were pulled by dray horses, and were used to move goods of various types short distances such as from a dock to a larger wagon or railcar. The distance dray carts could be moved was determined in part by the physical limitations of a dray horse. Dray activities usually occurred at seaports, spreading to canal and rail terminals. Dray carts and horses were used from the 1500s to the early 1900s.

As shipping of imported and exported goods grew, a system to offload ships and move cargo from dock or pier to a distribution center or a different transportation mode was needed. As technology evolved, trucks eventually replaced the “dray” horses, providing more power and the ability to move goods more quickly. Eventually trucks became the standardized equipment for drayage.

In logistics terms, dray refers to the actual vehicle – today a chassis truck – used to carry out drayage. A dray truck transports containers over a short distance as a component of a longer shipping journey. The driver is referred to as the dray driver or in legacy terms, the drayman. 

The Intermodal Association of America (IANA) has noted that there are more than 60 million dray movements annually. Many loads require drayage at both the front- and back-end, and sometimes in the middle of the journey as well.

Although drayage is a very small component (in terms of both time and distance) of the supply chain, its cost and potential problems can be disproportionately high. 

A drayage truck hauling an intermodal container. (Photo: Port of Los Angeles)
A drayage truck hauling an intermodal container. (Photo: Port of Los Angeles)

Key characteristics of drayage

Drayage is a specialty logistics service that is normally finished in one shift. Other forms of transportation take over after a drayage truck moves a container from a port to another location. 

The departure and arrival points are typically part of the same metropolitan area, in comparison to the regional or national movements seen in other forms of shipping.

During a routine freight move, in which numerous transportation methods are used for shipment (such as truck and rail), drayage occurs when the freight is transferred from the truck and placed on the train. At that time, shipping documents are updated, and possibly, the freight may be rearranged (split up or palletized) for the next leg of its journey.

A line of semi-trucks with intermodal containers with the Port of Tacoma in the background.
A line of drayage trucks leaving the Port of Tacoma. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Different types of drayage

Drayage services are not one-size-fits-all. Drayage is classified according to the services that it helps to link. Each classification is different and suits only certain types of container movement. In the end, it is a shipper’s call to decide what type of drayage is best suited for the transport of its cargo.

According to the IANA, there are six different classifications that are used to define drayage. These classifications are universal and serve as part of the vocabulary for those in the shipping business. 

Door-to-door drayage transports goods from one location (port, railhead, warehouse, etc.) directly to a receiver (either at a place of business or home). This type of drayage is often used in e-commerce fulfillment in which door-to-door delivery is offered.

This drayage method works best for cargo such as artwork or furniture to ensure safety and a minimum of damage.

Expedited drayage is usually the use of over-the-road transport for time-sensitive cargo or goods. This type of drayage transports cargo where it is needed urgently. Expedited drayage is a faster process than the other types of drayage on this list.

Drayage that is expedited requires that all transportation services are well-coordinated to avoid any unnecessary delays getting the cargo delivered to its destination.

Inter-carrier drayage refers to the transport of cargo between carriers, usually over a short distance. This is what comes to mind first when most people think of drayage. It involves the movement of goods between different carriers or from one mode of transportation to another.

As an example, inter-carrier drayage might involve transporting goods from a trucking terminal to a rail station, or moving goods from a port where a container was taken from a ship by a truck to a warehouse. 

Drayage trucks move intermodal containers. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)
Drayage trucks move intermodal containers. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Intra-carrier drayage involves a container being transported in a short-haul move between different freight terminals owned by the same company. For example, a carrier would take freight from its rail hub to its intermodal hub.

Pier drayage refers to the movement of cargo from a railyard or storage area to a pier where there is a ship that is waiting for the next leg of the cargo’s trip. With pier drayage a truck utilizes roads and/or highways to transport intermodal units to a dock or pier from a previous hub.

Shuttle drayage occurs when the hub of origin is full and cannot accommodate additional shipments. Some units are transported for temporary storage elsewhere. Shuttle drayage keeps containers and the goods they hold safe in storage until there is room for them. Shuttle drayage can also be a phase of inter-carrier drayage when containers need to be held at a lot or warehouse until the next mode of transportation is available – whether it be air, land or sea.

Shuttle drayage is used for both loaded and empty containers when overcrowding in the hub occurs.

Among the sources consulted for this FreightWaves Classics article were: ABCO, AsianUSA, BansarChina, BOA Logistics, Envase, FMI, FreightRight, Globecon Freight, Icontainers, InTek Freight & Logistics and Marine Insight. Thanks to each of these companies for the information provided.

FreightWaves Classics: USCGC Juniper was launched on June 24, 1995

The USCGC Juniper on duty. (Photo: pacificarea.uscg.mil)FreightWaves Classics profiles the USCGC Juniper and the Juniper-class of seagoing buoy tenders.

The USCGC Juniper on duty. (Photo: pacificarea.uscg.mil)

The Juniper was the first of its class (the lead ship) of the U.S. Coast Guard’s (USCG) seagoing buoy tenders. 

The USCG seagoing buoy tender is a type of USCG cutter that is “used to service aids to navigation (ATON) throughout the waters of the United States and wherever American shipping interests require.” The Coast Guard has had a fleet of seagoing buoy tenders going back to its origins as the U.S. Lighthouse Service (USLHS).

The Juniper-class ships, which were launched beginning in the mid-1990s, are the second group (class) of purpose-built Coast Guard seagoing buoy tenders. The first class was known as the 180s (180-feet-long cutters). During World War II, 39 of these vessels were constructed between 1942 and 1944. All but one of them were built in shipyards in Duluth, Minnesota. Many of these ships served for more than 50 years (with mid-life modifications). All of the 180s are now retired; the last 180-foot cutter, the USCGC Acacia, was decommissioned on June 7, 2006. 

Artwork of the USCGC Juniper (WLB-201). (Image: George Bieda/usmilitaryart.com)
Artwork of the USCGC Juniper (WLB-201). (Image: George Bieda/usmilitaryart.com)

Juniper-class cutters

The Coast Guard’s Juniper-class cutters are 225-feet in length and weigh some 2,000 tons. They were designed – and are operated – as multi-mission platforms. While the 180s performed other Coast Guard missions as well, they lacked the “speed, communications, navigation and maneuverability” of the Juniper-class cutters. 

According to the Coast Guard, “Juniper’s Integrated Ship Control System has an Electronic Charting Display and Information System that enables it to fix her position to within five meters every second. Her Dynamic Positioning System uses this positioning information, the ship’s controllable-pitch propeller, and the stern and bow thrusters to keep the ship on station without any human input.”

Coast Guard Cutter Juniper installed an LED lantern on the number seven buoy and several other buoys in the Sandy Hook Channel and along the Northeast coast on the winter patrol of 2006. (Photo: USCG)
Coast Guard Cutter Juniper installed an LED lantern on the number seven buoy and several other buoys in the Sandy Hook Channel and along the Northeast coast on the winter patrol of 2006. (Photo: USCG)

The state-of-the-art systems installed on Juniper-class cutters allow the ships and their crews to “work more buoys in less time, more efficiently and safely, and in tougher environmental conditions than her predecessors.” The Juniper-class cutters’ “Machinery Plant Control and Monitoring System includes over 1,000 sensors” throughout each ship. The system allows one person in the engine room control center to monitor the ship’s plant while underway. 

At this time, the Juniper-class cutters conduct almost as much law enforcement as aid to navigation work. In addition, they are also “outfitted to handle electronic charting, position-keeping, and remote engineering monitoring and control.” Moreover, the Juniper-class ships use dynamic positioning that allows them to maintain their positions within a 33-foot circle in winds of up to 30 knots (35 mph) and waves of up to 8 feet.

The Juniper at work, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. (Photo: USCG)
The Juniper at work, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. (Photo: USCG)

The Juniper

USCGC Juniper was officially commissioned less than two weeks after being launched. When she was commissioned the ship was under the command of Commander Timothy S. Sullivan, a 1975 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Sullivan retired from the USCG with the rank of rear admiral in 2013.

Since she began her USCG service, Juniper and her crew have been involved in missions that have involved areas such as law enforcement, homeland security, environmental pollution, and search-and-rescue efforts. For example, the Juniper had a primary role in the recovery operations following the crashes of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 and Egypt Air in 1999. In addition, the cutter assisted in protection and anti-terrorist operations in the New York City region after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. 

Wreckage from TWA 800 on the deck of the Juniper. (Photo: USCG)
Wreckage from TWA 800 on the deck of the Juniper. (Photo: USCG)

On a very different type of mission in 2007, Juniper took part in major reef-building efforts off the coast of New Jersey. As part of the mission, the ship “deployed approximately 160,000 pounds of concrete sinkers recovered from old buoy markers to assist in the recovery of local fish populations.”

Originally based in Newport, Rhode Island, Juniper started her midlife maintenance availability upgrades and overhauls at the Coast Guard Yard in Maryland on September 25, 2019. 

Today, the Juniper is home-ported in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. The 50th state in the United States, Hawaii is separated from the mainland by over 2,300 miles, making it the most isolated population center in the world. However, few ports have the military facilities in and around Honolulu, which is considered the “crossroads of the Pacific.” Juniper moors at Base Honolulu on Sand Island in Honolulu Harbor. Nearby and even closer to Coast Guard housing are Joint Base Hickam and Pearl Harbor. In addition, Hawaii has some of the finest recreational and cultural facilities in the United States.

The Juniper’s primary mission at her current duty station is to maintain ATON using the ship’s Dynamic Positioning System or its team of scuba divers. (The Juniper is one of six USCG cutters with a working dive team.) There are buoys off of all of the major Hawaiian Islands and American Samoa, which the cutter works bi-annually. Other missions that the Juniper is involved in include “maritime law enforcement, patrol of  ports and waterways, coastal security, search and rescue operations, and environmental protection.”

Juniper and its crew of eight officers and 40 enlisted members also visit various island nations in the South Pacific. 

The USLHS tender Juniper, photographed on February 12, 1924. (Photo: archives.uslhs.org)
The USLHS tender Juniper, photographed on February 12, 1924.
(Photo: archives.uslhs.org)

Predecessors

The first Juniper was commissioned into the USLHS in 1903. The USLHS was a uniformed service completely separate from the Coast Guard, which was formed in 1915 by the merger of the Lifesaving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service. THe USLHS’ Juniper was homeported in Baltimore, and was responsible for resupplying lighthouses and maintaining navigational buoys in the Chesapeake Bay. While only 95 feet long and weighing 125 tons, the Juniper was built well and served with distinction until it was decommissioned in 1932. It then served as a Norfolk-based civilian cargo vessel until 1979.

The USLHS constructed the second Juniper in the late 1930s. However, as part of another government reorganization, the USLHS was absorbed into the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939. The Juniper then was designated as a Coastal Buoy Tender. A twin-propeller, diesel electric vessel, the Juniper became the prototype for the 180-foot class of ocean-going buoy tenders. As a Coast Guard vessel the Juniper  operated out of St. Petersburg, Florida. She serviced ATON along Florida’s Gulf Coast until being decommissioned in 1975.

An early history of the USCG. (Image: USCG)
An early history of the USCG. (Image: USCG)

Conclusion

As one of the six branches of the U.S. armed forces, the U.S. Coast Guard has a multi-pronged mission to help keep the United States safe. The men and women who serve on the Juniper-class ships and on other Coast Guard vessels and duty stations are to be commended for their service to our nation.

P.S. – Happy birthday to the USCGC Juniper on her 27th birthday!!!

(Image: pacificarea.uscg.mil)
(Image: pacificarea.uscg.mil)

FreightWaves Classics: The Kiowa served its nation in war and peace

The Kiowa moored pierside at Genoa, Italy in 1966. (Photo: Carlo Martinelli/navsource.org)FreightWaves Classics profiles the USS Kiowa, which served the U.S. in war and peace.

The Kiowa moored pierside at Genoa, Italy in 1966. (Photo: Carlo Martinelli/navsource.org)

As anyone who has been around a harbor knows, tugboats are special boats that assist other vessels into and out of port. Tugboats’ primary purpose is to help move larger ships by towing, pushing and guiding them. They help much larger ships dock at a berth or leave a berth. They may serve many other purposes as well, such as helping propel barges, oil platforms, log rafts, etc. Tugboats may also work as salvage boats and icebreakers. Some also have firefighting accessories to provide firefighting assistance. 

While tugboats are usually much smaller than the ships they assist, they are powerful boats due to strong structural engineering and their propulsion systems. 

USS Kiowa (ATF-72) underway, date and location unknown. (Photo: National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors/navsource.org)
USS Kiowa (ATF-72) underway, date and location unknown.
(Photo: National Association of Fleet Tug Sailors/navsource.org)

The Kiowa story begins

On June 22, 1942 – less than seven months after the U.S. entered World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – construction got underway on a U.S. Navy tugboat that would serve in the war. 

The USS Kiowa was named for the Native American tribe that originally lived on the Great Plains. The tugboat was built by the Charleston Shipbuilding & Drydock Company at its Charleston, South Carolina, shipyard. The Kiowa was launched at the shipyard In November 1942.

The USS Kiowa underway. (Photo: nafts.com)
The USS Kiowa underway. (Photo: nafts.com)

War duties

Officially commissioned into the Navy as a fleet tug in June 1943, the Kiowa’s first skipper was Lieutenant William O. Kuykendall. That summer, the Kiowa was stationed for several months off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, in the North Atlantic. Her key duties included towing a wide range of military ships and floating equipment.

The Kiowa was reassigned to the New York City harbor in March 1944. Her crew prepared the tugboat for more significant wartime responsibilities. The Kiowa then made her way across the Atlantic Ocean to England; she would take part in the D-Day landings of Nazi-occupied France. The U.S. Navy tugboat was part of the largest amphibious operation in world history.

An aerial view of part of the invasion fleet. (Photo: Public Domain)
An aerial view of part of the invasion fleet. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Allied landings of beaches in Normandy took place on June 6, 1944. (To read a FreightWaves Classics articles about the logistics of D-Day, follow this link.) Kiowa was part of a fleet of ships designated Task Group 122.3. The task force’s mission was to provide support as needed as Allied troops stormed the beaches of northern France. 

The Kiowa transported an array of firefighting and salvage equipment on D-Day, and its crew helped disabled ships and landing craft. The Kiowa and its crew continued to service Allied vessels off the coast of Normandy until July 25. “She was subsequently awarded a battle star for her contributions to that large-scale Allied victory,” which led to the eventual defeat of  Nazi Germany.

In the fall of 1944 the Kiowa returned to the United States. During the remainder of the war, she operated along the nation’s Eastern Seaboard, assisting and towing disabled vessels and escorting merchant ships to the convoy lanes. In addition, Kiowa served as a tanker, refueling ships at sea.

A patch worn by sailors who served on the USS Kiowa. 
(Mike Smolinski/navsource.org)
A patch worn by sailors who served on the USS Kiowa.
(Mike Smolinski/navsource.org)

1946-1959 and historic salvage efforts

During this period the Kiowa served as far south as the Panama Canal Zone and as far north as Newfoundland. Her duties included towing ships and engaging in salvage work.

An unusual assignment took place in May 1959. The Kiowa participated in the fledgling U.S. space program – she “recovered the nose cone of a Jupiter AM-8 missile that NASA had fired 300 miles into space from Cape Canaveral.” The missile’s nose cone contained two passengers, a rhesus macaque named Able and a squirrel monkey named Baker.

Able and Baker aboard the Kiowa after returning from space. (Photo: National Air and Space Museum/Smithsonian Institution)
Able and Baker aboard the Kiowa after returning from space. (Photo: National Air and Space Museum/Smithsonian Institution)

According to NASA records, “the missile’s nose cone splashed down in an area of the Caribbean Sea located about 40 miles north of Antigua.” The Kiowa’s crew retrieved the nose cone “and the spacefaring monkeys inside it at that site.” The two monkeys were the first to survive a spaceflight. 

The Kiowa took part in another high-stakes salvage effort in 1966. A hydrogen bomb fell into the Mediterranean Sea when the U.S. Air Force B-52G that had been carrying it collided with a refueling aircraft. The Kiowa was one of 28 U.S. Navy vessels sent to the Mediterranean to aid the Air Force in the search for the missing bomb. The search took over two-and-a-half months, but the bomb was located by a Navy submersible and retrieved from the seabed by another underwater vehicle.

A B-52G model. (Image: renderhub.com)
A B-52G model. (Image: renderhub.com)

The end of the line

The Kiowa remained a ship of the U.S. Navy in active service until 1972. At that time she was loaned to the Dominican Republic under terms of the Security Assistance Act. She was removed from the U.S. Naval Vessel Register on September 15, 1979, but continued to serve in the Dominican Navy under the name Macorix. The former Kiowa was decommissioned by the Dominican Navy in 1986 and returned to the U.S. Navy. The tugboat had served the U.S. Navy for 39 years and the Dominican Navy for 14 years. 

On December 12, 1994, the former Kiowa was sold for scrap by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service.

USS Kiowa towing a target sled into Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a photograph taken from the anti-submarine warfare carrier USS Intrepid on February 27, 1963. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
USS Kiowa towing a target sled into Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a photograph taken from the anti-submarine warfare carrier USS Intrepid on February 27, 1963. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

FreightWaves Classics: SS Savannah was first steamship to cross the Atlantic

A model of the SS Savannah. (Built by Francis Fickett/hughevelynprints.com)FreightWaves Classics profiles the SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

A model of the SS Savannah. (Built by Francis Fickett/hughevelynprints.com)

In 1819 the SS Savannah became the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

The ship

The ship was being built in 1818 as a traditional sailing ship by the New York shipbuilding firm of Fickett & Crockett. However, while the ship was still on the slipway and being built, Captain Moses Rogers (with the financial backing of the Savannah Steam Ship Company), purchased the vessel. He instructed the shipbuilders to add an auxiliary steam engine and sidewheel paddles, in addition to ship’s the normal complement of sails. Rogers supervised the installation of the machinery. 

What was the purpose of the steam engine and paddlewheels? Rogers’ goal was to begin the world’s first trans-Atlantic steamship service. 

A diagram of the SS Savannah. (Drawn by G. B. Douglas/The Rudder, May 1919)
A diagram of the SS Savannah. (Drawn by G. B. Douglas/The Rudder, May 1919)

However, the ship was too small to carry much fuel (75 tons of coal and 25 cords of wood). Therefore, the engine was intended to be used only in calm weather, when the sails were unable to provide a speed of at least four knots. 

The ship’s wrought-iron paddlewheels were 16 feet in diameter with eight buckets per wheel. To reduce drag and avoid damage when the engine was not being used, the paddlewheel buckets were linked by chains instead of bars, which enabled the wheels to be folded up like fans and stored on the ship’s deck. In addition, the paddlewheel guards were made of canvas stretched over a metal frame; it could also be packed away when not in use. The process of retracting the wheels and guards only took about 15 minutes. The SS Savannah is the only known ship to have been fitted with retractable paddlewheels.

The Savannah was fully rigged like a normal sailing ship, with the exception of having no royal-masts and royals. Contemporary engravings of the ship show that the Savannah’s mainmast was set further astern than in other sailing ships of the time. This was done to accommodate the engine and boiler.

The ship also was equipped with 32 passenger berths divided among 16 large and comfortable staterooms. Quarters for women were “entirely distinct” from the men’s quarters. There were three fully furnished saloons, furnished with imported carpets, curtains and hangings, and decorated with mirrors. The ship’s interior was described as more closely resembling a pleasure yacht than a steam packet.

The SS Savannah. (By Unknown/in Steamships and Their Story by E, Keble Chatterton)
The SS Savannah under both steam and sail.
(By unknown/in Steamships and Their Story by E, Keble Chatterton)

Preparations 

When it was learned that Stevens intended to use the Savannah for trans-Atlantic service, critics and doubters in New York City began to call the ship a “steam coffin.” Because of that, Rogers was not able to hire a crew there. Instead, seamen were hired in New London, Connecticut. 

A short “sea-trial” of two hours was conducted in New York Harbor to test the Savannah’s engine on March 22, 1819. Less than one week later, (March 28) the Savannah sailed from New York to her operating port of Savannah, Georgia. On the morning of March 29 the ship’s steam-powered engine was started, but was only used for 30 minutes before being shut down due to rough weather. The paddlewheels were stowed and sail power was again used to keep the ship moving. The Savannah reached her namesake port on April 6. The steam engine and paddlewheels were used for 41.5 hours of the 207-hour voyage. 

A Presidential excursion

The fifth president of the United States, James Monroe, took part in an excursion aboard the Savannah shortly before her historic voyage.

President James Monroe. (Public Domain)
President James Monroe. (Public Domain)

A few days after the Savannah arrived in Savannah Harbor from New York, President Monroe visited nearby Charleston, South Carolina, on an inspection tour of arsenals, fortifications and public works along the East Coast (this was less than five years after the War of 1812 had ended). When the Savannah’s principal owner, William Scarbrough, heard about Monroe’s visit, he instructed Rogers to sail to Charleston and to invite the President to visit Savannah aboard the steamship.

Savannah departed under steam for Charleston on April 14, and arrived at Charleston on April 16. Scarbrough’s invitation to President Monroe was delivered, but Charlestonians objected to the president leaving South Carolina on a vessel from Georgia. Therefore, Monroe promised to visit the ship at a later date. On April 30, the Savannah left Charleston, and arrived on May 1 after a 27-hour voyage.

On May 11, President Monroe arrived to take his promised excursion on the ship. After the President and his retinue had been welcomed aboard, the Savannah departed under steam for Tybee Lighthouse. Monroe dined on board the ship and expressed his enthusiasm to Scarbrough regarding the prospect of an American vessel inaugurating the world’s first trans-Atlantic steamship service. 

In addition, President Monroe was impressed by the ship’s machinery, and invited Scarbrough to sail the ship to Washington after her trans-Atlantic crossing for an inspection by Congress. Monroe thought the ship could be used as a cruiser against Cuban pirates.

The first trans-Atlantic steamship leaving the port of Savannah in May 1819. (Painting: John Stobart/scrimshawgallery.com)
The first trans-Atlantic steamship leaving the port of Savannah in May 1819. (Painting: John Stobart/scrimshawgallery.com)

The first trans-Atlantic voyage

Following President Monroe’s departure, the Savannah’s crew, with Captain Moses Rogers in command and his cousin Stevens Rogers as sailing master, made final preparations for the Atlantic crossing. 

The ship’s owners sought passengers and freight for the voyage, but no one was willing to risk lives or property on the novel vessel. This was several years before steam-powered railroads were founded, and steam power was considered “too experimental and dangerous.” Therefore, the ship made her historic voyage with its crew only. 

At 5 a.m. on May 24, 1819, the Savannah set off for Liverpool, England under both steam and sail. Rogers ordered sail-only power that same day; however, during the voyage the ship was spotted by several others with smoke billowing from her stacks while it outran sailing ships along the route.

The schooner Contract spied a ship on May 29 “with volumes of smoke issuing,” and assuming it was on fire, followed it for several hours but could not catch the Savannah. Contract’s captain eventually concluded that it must have been a steamboat, and thought it “a proud monument of Yankee skill and enterprise.”

Then on June 2, the Savannah, moving at a speed of about 10 knots, passed the sailing ship Pluto. After being informed by Captain Rogers that his ship was functioning “remarkably well,” the Pluto’s crew gave the Savannah three cheers, as “the happiest effort of mechanical genius that ever sailed the western sea.” Savannah’s next recorded encounter took place off the coast of Ireland on June 19. The cutter HMS Kite made the same mistake as Contract three weeks earlier; it chased the steamship for several hours believing it to be on fire. Unable to catch the Savannah, Kite fired several shots from its cannons; causing Captain Rogers to halt the Savannah. The Kite’s commander then asked permission to inspect the ship. The British sailors were “much gratified” to satisfy their curiosity about the Savannah.

A painting of SS Savannah, 1819, by Hunter Wood
An 1819 painting of SS Savannah by Hunter Wood. (armstrong.edu)

Liverpool

By June 18 the ship had run out of coal and wood for its boilers. The Savannah was off Cork, Ireland, and sailed to Liverpool on wind power alone. By June 20, the ship reached Liverpool. Hundreds of boats sailed out of Liverpool Harbor to meet the unusual vessel, including a British sloop-of-war. The ship was greeted by large crowds when it anchored at 6 p.m. The voyage across the Atlantic Ocean had taken 29 days and 11 hours, of which 80 hours were under steam (or about 11% of the total time).

The Savannah stayed in Liverpool for 25 days, during which the crew scraped and repainted the ship, tested the engine, and replenished fuel and supplies. During the time it was in Liverpool, the Savannah was visited by thousands of people, including officers of the army and navy and other “persons of rank and influence.” On July 21 the ship departed Liverpool bound for St. Petersburg, Russia.

Scandinavia

The Savannah reached Elsinore (now known as Helsingor), Denmark, on August 9. The ship was quarantined for five days and then sailed for Stockholm, Sweden on August 14. It became the first steamship to enter the Baltic Sea.

Moses Rogers. (Image: househistree.com)
Moses Rogers. (Image: househistree.com)

Arriving at Stockholm on August 22, the Savannah was visited by the Prince of Sweden and Norway on August 28. The ship was used for an excursion around local islands on September 1. This was attended by the “American and other ambassadors, nobles and prominent citizens.” 

While the Savannah was in port at Stockholm, the Swedish government sought to purchase the ship, but the terms were not good enough in Moses Rogers’ estimation and he rejected the offer. On September 5, Savannah departed for Kronstadt, Russia, and arrived there on the 9th.

Russia

The Emperor of Russia came aboard the Savannah and presented Captain Rogers with a gold watch and two iron chairs. From Kronstadt, the ship sailed on to St. Petersburg, arriving there on September 13. During the voyage from Liverpool to St. Petersburg, the Savannah’s engine was used more frequently (a total of 241 hours).

The American ambassador to Russia invited numerous prominent figures to visit the ship, and on September 18, 21, and 23, the Savannah made several steam-powered excursions in the waters near St. Petersburg. Those on the ship included members of the Russian royal family and other noblemen, as well as army and navy officers. As in Sweden, the Russian government tried to purchase the ship; once again Moses Rogers turned down the offer.

SS Savannah profile art print. (Robert North Jr./pixels.com)
SS Savannah profile art print. (Robert North Jr./pixels.com)

On September 27 and 28, the crew of the Savannah loaded coal and stores for the return journey to the United States. 

Homeward crossing

The Savannah sailed for Kronstadt on September 29 on the first leg of her journey. Several days of rough weather delayed the departure from Kronstadt, and the ship lost an anchor and a hawser (a thick rope or cable used to moor or tow a ship). The Savannah finally left Kronstadt under steam on October 10 bound for Copenhagen. It arrived there on the 17th, then  continued on to Helsingor to pay the toll to exit the Baltic. It then stopped at Arendal, Norway, where it waited out more bad weather before beginning its transit of the Atlantic Ocean. The ship was plagued by gales and rough seas for almost its entire westward voyage. The engine was not used until the Savannah neared the United States. The crossing took 40 days; the ship steamed up the Savannah River and arrived safely back at the port of Savannah at 10 a.m., November 30, six months and eight days after she had departed.

A model of the SS Savannah. (Photo: National Museum of American History/Smithsonian Institution)
A model of the SS Savannah. (Photo: National Museum of American History/Smithsonian Institution)

Washington, D.C. and then bad luck

The Savannah only stayed at her home port until December 3. As was promised to President Monroe, she set sail for Washington, D.C., arriving there on the 16th. While the ship was docked at Washington, a major fire swept through the city of Savannah on January 20, 1820, severely damaging the business district. William Scarbrough and his partners, the owners of the Savannah, suffered financial losses in the fire and were forced to sell the ship.

Savannah’s engine was removed and sold for $1,600 (about $40,000 today) to the Allaire Iron Works, which had originally built the engine’s cylinder. It was preserved by James P. Allaire, and was later displayed at the New York Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1856. 

After its engine was removed, the Savannah was used as a sailing packet, operating between New York and Savannah. However, the Savannah ran aground along the south shore of Long Island on November 5, 1821, and subsequently broke apart.

A mounted model of the SS Savannah along the Savannah Riverfront in Savannah, Georgia. (Photo: freemansrag.com)
A mounted model of the SS Savannah along the Savannah Riverfront in Savannah, Georgia. (Photo: freemansrag.com)

Legacy

A hybrid sailing ship/sidewheel steamer built in 1818, the SS Savannah was the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Despite this historic voyage, the space taken up by her large engine and its fuel left little room for cargo, and the public’s anxiety regarding her revolutionary steam power kept the Savannah from being a commercial success as a steamship. 

Nonetheless, the Savannah proved that a steamship was capable of crossing the ocean. However, it would be almost another 20 years before steamships began making regular crossings of the Atlantic (and the first ships to do so were British). Another American-owned steamship would not cross the Atlantic Ocean until 1847.

The Savannah was the subject of a 3¢ U.S. commemorative stamp that was issued on May 22, 1944.

The 3-cent stamp issued on the 125th anniversary of the SS Savannah's trans-Atlantic crossing. (Image: postalmuseum.si.edu)
The 3-cent stamp issued on the 125th anniversary of the SS Savannah’s trans-Atlantic crossing.
(Image: postalmuseum.si.edu)

FreightWaves Classics: Merchant mariners receive Congressional Gold Medal for World War II service 

The Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo: seafarers.org)FreightWaves Classics celebrates the award of the Congressional Gold Medal to U.S. Merchant Marine veterans of World War II.

The Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo: seafarers.org)

National Maritime Day was established by the U.S. Congress in 1933. It is observed on May 22, the date in 1819 that the American steamship Savannah set sail from Savannah, Georgia, on the first ever transoceanic voyage under steam propulsion. 

FreightWaves Classics missed the 2022 celebration of National Maritime Day. While the United States is the world’s largest importer of goods via ocean carriers, and also exports huge quantities of agricultural and industrial products via ocean shipping, it is now a nation with very few ships of its own. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Jones Act, many wonder if there would be any U.S.-owned ocean-going cargo vessels. 

The seal of the United States Merchant Marine. (Image: caww2.org)
The seal of the United States Merchant Marine. (Image: caww2.org)

At one time, the United States had one of the largest fleets of ships in the world. Today, however, three shipping alliances control 86% of the world’s ocean container shipping. None of the companies in the alliances are U.S.-owned. By contrast, OPEC controls just 40% of the world’s crude oil supply.

The United States is almost entirely dependent on ships owned by: the 2M Alliance (AP Møller-Maersk and MSC); the Ocean Alliance (CMA CGM, APL, COSCO, OOCL and Evergreen); and THE Alliance (Hapag-Lloyd, ONE and Yang Ming).

However, a review of the state of U.S. shipping will be held for another day. Instead, this FreightWaves Classics article will focus on another group of unsung heroes of World War II. 

World War II recruiting poster. (Image: usmm.org)
World War II recruiting poster. (Image: usmm.org)

Recognition of service during World War II

Earlier this week FreightWaves Classics posted an article about the anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944. FreightWaves Classics once again salutes the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who helped to liberate the world from fascist tyranny. 

In addition, more than 250,000 members of the American Merchant Marine served their country during World War II. Of that all-volunteer group of men, 9,521 merchant mariners lost their lives between 1939 and 1945 – a higher proportion of those killed than in any military branch, according to the National World War II Museum. In addition, hundreds were detained as prisoners of war and nearly 2,000 U.S. merchant ships were sunk or damaged by enemy fire. Flashback Friday, this author’s precursor to FreightWaves Classics, featured an article recognizing the service of the Merchant Marine in World War II. 

What FreightWaves Classics missed, however, was that former President Donald Trump signed legislation passed by Congress (the “Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2020”). The legislation was signed into law on March 14, 2020. The Act awarded “a Congressional Gold Medal, collectively, to the United States merchant mariners of World War II, in recognition of their dedicated and vital service during that conflict.” The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress.

A World War II recruiting poster. (Image: Minnesota Historical Society)
A World War II recruiting poster.
(Image: Minnesota Historical Society)

At that time, the following information was provided: “Awarded by the U.S. Congress, the Congressional Gold Medal is presented to honor those whose dedication, heroism, and public service has created a lasting impact on American history. The United States Mint will design and strike the medal that will honor World War II merchant mariner veterans. This medal will then be awarded by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.” 

Retired United States Navy Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby was the Administrator of the United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) when the legislation was passed. He said at that time, “Congress and President Trump’s awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to World War II merchant mariners is a fitting tribute to those who served with valor and distinction. With the memory of the sacrifices of World War II merchant mariners always with us, we honor their patriotism and service on this and every Maritime Day.” 

(Image: usmm.org)
A World War II recruiting poster. (Image: usmm.org)

Gold Medal awarded

FreightWaves Classics also missed the Congressional Gold Medal award ceremonies to the U.S. Merchant Marine, which occurred more than two years after the Gold Medal was authorized. If it had not been for a conversation with a new friend of FreightWaves Classics – Ed Gor of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance – this article would not have been written. Thanks, Ed!

The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded on May 18, 2022, to the U.S. merchant mariners of World War II, who played crucial roles in the country’s war effort.

A World War II recruiting poster. 
(Image: usmm.org)
A World War II recruiting poster.
(Image: usmm.org)

During World War II, U.S. merchant mariners and the ships they sailed plied dangerous seas that were far too populated by enemy vessels. The merchant marine’s job was to help maintain the vital supply lines fueling the worldwide effort to liberate the world. Known as the nation’s “fourth arm of defense,” U.S. merchant mariners delivered nearly 270 billion long tons of cargo to the armed forces of the Allied Powers. That equates to an average of 17 million pounds of cargo every hour.

At the ceremony, which was held in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said, “[President Franklin D. Roosevelt] called their mission the most difficult and dangerous transportation job ever undertaken.” 

The American Merchant Marine Museum in Kings Point, New York, is where the Congressional Gold Medal will be displayed. Also, each of the surviving merchant mariners (now estimated to be no more than 12,000 of the more than 250,000 that served during World War II) are eligible to receive a bronze replica of the Congressional Gold Medal. 

Two of the merchant mariners who served during World War II – Charles Mills, 101, of Baltimore, Maryland, and Dave Yoho, 94, of Vienna, Virginia – attended the ceremony to represent their fellow mariners. 

A poster created for National Maritime Day in 1944. (Image: Public Domain)
A poster created for National Maritime Day in 1944. (Image: Public Domain)

First-hand observations

According to a Defense Department interview, Yoho enlisted in the merchant marine when he was only 15 years of age. He became a civilian merchant mariner at 16. Once he was a member of the U.S. Merchant Marine, he passed his basic training and then worked in the boiler room of a refueling tanker, which served ships in the South Pacific.

Yoho said it was his role to speak at the ceremony for the World War II mariners who can no longer speak for themselves. At the ceremony, Yoho said, “I’m speaking for 248,500 guys that are already dead. One out of 26 of us died [during the war], but thousands of us came home deprived of a part of our life. That’s probably one of the least-understood missions that ever was accomplished in modern warfare,” [speaking of the merchant mariners’ role supporting the U.S. military].  

A World War II recruiting poster. 
(Image: usmm.org)
A World War II recruiting poster.
(Image: usmm.org)

By 1943, the merchant marine had more ships than men because of the rate of loss. The age requirement for mariners was dropped to 16 to fill the manpower void, and Yoho was among those accepted. “In World War II, we had 130 million people in the United States. We put 16 million into uniform – 12.5% of our population,” he explained in an interview. 

“We brought home the scars of war,” Yoho said. “[We] delivered millions of tons of war materials to five continents.” 

A World War II recruiting poster. 
(Image: usmm.org)
A World War II recruiting poster.
(Image: usmm.org)

About merchant mariners 

During World War II, the civilian merchant mariners served as part of the U.S. military while delivering supplies and armed forces personnel by ship to nations engulfed in the war. What few know is that during wartime or a national emergency, the U.S. military can call the merchant mariners into service to transport personnel and supplies to wartime theaters.  

The merchant mariners became eligible for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1988. As noted above, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is the mariners’ federal-service school and is similar to those of the U.S. military branches. In his academy commencement speech in 2018, then-Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said the United States needs its merchant mariners for commerce and, when “storm clouds gather.” 

A World War II recruiting poster.
(Image: usmm.org)
A World War II recruiting poster.
(Image: usmm.org)

Remarks honoring the mariners

During the recent Gold Medal ceremony, MARAD Deputy Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley said, “The Medal is an inspiring depiction of the resolve of the mariners who sailed into harm’s way for our Nation when, more than 80 years ago, America became what President Roosevelt called the ‘arsenal of democracy.’ 

“As the United States and our allies fought tyranny, it was Merchant Mariners who delivered this arsenal – and many of the soldiers who fought with it – to shores around the globe. 

A World War II recruiting poster.
(Image: usmm.org)
A World War II recruiting poster.
(Image: usmm.org)

“Performance of this essential mission came at great risk. With reverence and gratitude, we remember the thousands of Merchant Mariners who were lost. We also honor and thank the more than 240,000 Merchant Mariners who served during World War II. 

“Finally, as I close, I note that just as it was during World War II, our Merchant Marine remains vital to the movement of the cargoes and supplies on which our military depends. I thank the American mariners sailing today who support our defense and our economic success.” 

A World War II recruiting poster. 
(Image: usmm.org)
A World War II recruiting poster.
(Image: usmm.org)

Receiving an award 

The following information is given to those who served in the Merchant Marine or are their relatives. 

MARAD announced eligibility criteria for duplicates of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to World War II merchant mariners. Eligible World War II merchant mariners, or their surviving next of kin, will now be able to request duplicate medals from MARAD. 

The Merchant Mariners of World War II Congressional Gold Medal Act of 2020 authorizes MARAD to award duplicates of the medal to individuals who, between December 7, 1941, and December 31, 1946, were members of the United States Merchant Marine, or other related services. If a qualified individual has passed, MARAD is authorized to issue medals to the next of kin. 

Inquiries can be emailed to Katrina McRae, Maritime Awards Officer, at katrina.mcrae@dot.gov.

A World War II recruiting poster. 
(Image: usmm.org)
A World War II recruiting poster.
(Image: usmm.org)

To those who served, and those who are serving in the merchant marine, thank you for your service!