While Governor Livingston had granted Fulton (his partner, of course) the sole right to operate steamboats on the Hudson River, Steven’s designs were forced to make the riskier runs between New York and Philadelphia. And it was in costal waters that Rogers built his reputation as a navigator and an engineer, cause the engines kept breaking down. It was, at the time, a relatively rare combination of skills. Also, Captain Rogers had already discussed the idea of oceanic steamships with Stephen Vail.
The correct word here is “sailed” as the Savannah’s engine gobbled up 10 tons of coal a day. She could only carry 75 tons (with about another 5 cords of wood as an emergency backup). Besides, under sail, the Savannah could make 10 knots an hour, while under steam alone she could only average about 5 knots. So the steam power was used only when the winds failed. She used her steam engine less than 80 hours in total during her crossing.
Record numbers of people in Boston were sent to debtors’ prison. In Richmond, Virginia, property values fell by half. Farm workers, making $1.50 a day in 1818, were only earning fifty-three cents a day a year later; wood cutters were being paid thirty-three cents for a cord of wood in 1818, but only ten cents for a cord by 1821. (Does any of this sound familar?)
William Scarborough, the inspiration for this noble misadventure, lived out the rest of his life in his own home, (thanks to his brother-in-law), even leaving it to his daughter in his will, just as if he still owned it. He died in 1838, at the ripe old age of 62 and is buried in the Colonial Park Cemetary in Savannah. His home is still standing. It's address is now 42 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, an address which might take some explaining to an old slave holder from 1818. But the building now houses "The Savannah “Ships of the Sea” Maritime Museum", featuring a model of that amazing failure, the steamship Savannah. And that should make the old man proud.
The steamship Savannah was a good idea. But like most ideas, good and bad, it was judged a failure. Nobody got rich off the Savannah and most people associated with her went broke. And that is why they should be remembered. It's the way capitalism moves forward, the way it's supposed to move forward. If death is required to give life meaning, then failure is required to give capitalism meaning. And somebody should explain that to the Wall Street Bankers and the Health Care Leeches who think they are entitled to suck America dry so they can avoid going broke. Please remember, luck is always part of the balance sheet. The Savannah should serve as yet another reminder of that.
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