« PreviousContinue »
Van Buren: for George was always a decided democrat in his politica. principles. This boat beat the Gladiator, a famous sailer, three miles, in a race of twenty-four. Two years afterward, he built the John C. Stevens, a row-boat, twenty-one feet long, three feet ten inches broad, and thirteen inches deep; it weighed but one hundred and forty pounds, and, with a full crew on board, drew but four inches of water. The John C. Stevens was believed to be the lightest and fleetest boat in the world ; but, however that might be, it is very certain that she beat the fastest boats that New York could produce, in several match races.
George was never put to a regular apprenticeship, but, at the age of sixteen, he went to work in the ship-yard of Jabez Williams, with whom he continued a year and a half. While he was in the yard of Mr. Williams, he asked the foreman to be allowed to do a certain piece of work, to 66 square the wales," which the foreman refused to do, on account of his youth. But George appealed to the “Boss," who granted him the privilege asked for, and he finished the job to the satisfaction even of the foreman.
After leaving the ship-yard of Mr. Williams, he entered the employ of a ship-builder, named Hathorne, whose partner he became subsequently. But he did not remain long with him as an employee : his object being to gain all the practical knowledge that could be acquired in a particular position, and when that was done; he transferred himself to the next best place. After leaving Mr. Hathorne, he was now employed by W. H. Brown, a celebrated ship-builder, in laying off the model of the frigate Kamschatka, built for the emperor of Russia. Though not yet nineteen years old, he took the job of putting on the deck of this frigate. He also, in connection with two other young men, "lumped” a ship to build for the great shipbuilder W. H. Webb; and found time to build a sail-boat, the Mauhaltes, of nearly thirty tuns.
In 1843, when he was twenty-four years old, he entered into partnership with his old " boss," Mr. Hathorne, who was one of the first yacht builders in the country, and a favorite with the celebrated Stevens, of Hoboken, for whom he had built several steamboats and yachts. The first vessel built by the new firm was the steamboat Columbia, on which Mr. Steers performed the greatest day's work that any ship-carpenter was ever known to accomplish. He fitted and erected forty-five stanchions on the guard, cutting the holes in the oak plank sheer, tenanting them into the facing underneath the beams. He was not, like many inventors, an idle dreamer, but a hard-fisted, thorough-going, conscientious mechanic. Though always extremely temperate in his habits, he was the very reverse of niggardly, and never made money a primary consideration in any of his undertakings. His great pride was to excel in his profession. While in partnership with Mr. Hathorne, he built a great number of vessels of various kinds; but one of his great successes was the pilot, W. G. Ilackstaff, which beats all the boats of that class sailing out of the port of New York. On dissolving with Mr. Hathorne, Steers built a small steamer on Seneca Lake, and two propellers, at Rochester, for Lake Ontario ; one of which, the Ontario, was one of the finest boats of her class. Returning to New York, he engaged again in his favorite business of yacht-building; and among the vessels of that kind, which he modeled and constructed, was the beautiful schooner the Una, which soon made a name for herself among the Yacht Squadron. In the year 1848, Mr. Steers engaged as foreman for W. H. Brown, the largest ship-builder in New York, and laid down the molds for two of the Collins' steamships, the Atlantic, and the ill-fated Arctic.
The next step of Mr. Steers, was in the direction which has given him his great renown as an inventor in the modeling of sailing-vessels. In building a pilot-boat, called the Mary Taylor, he brought to perfection his theory of hollow water lines; and all his subsequent models were but little moro than the expansion of the lines and proportions of this famous vessel.* The
*** This system was conceived when a mere boy, and is based upon the assumption that for a vessel to sail easily, steadily, and rapidly, the displacement of water must be nearly uniform along the lines. When he laid the keel of the pilot-boat Mary Taylor, he engaged in advance to make a faster, a dryer, and a steadier craft than had ever left the port of New York, so -confident was he of his power; and he succeeded exactly according to his expectations. Previous to tliis achievement; a yessel had never been built where the center of displaceinent had not been forward of the beam. Fears were generally entertained that this Deir fórm’ would prove a-failure. Some predicted that this vessel would plunge under water, others thought that in tough weather no one could live on deck, all of which prophecies are certainly contradicted by fact. For, encountering less resistance from the narrow bows, the vessel went faster, and experienced no corresponding strain, and suffered no more in rough weather than in the summer brecze. The advantages of Mr. Steers’ system of ship-building may be thus summed up: greater speed with the same tunnage and canvas ; greater stability in the vessel-that is, an increased hold upon the water: greater evenness and equality of motion, l'esulting from an equalized leverage- since the masts, as levers, work more uniformly upon the fulcrum of the ship; greater endurance, because there is less strain in rapid sailing, or in rough weather; steadiness of motion, which enables her, in sailing, to keep close to the wind, and lose but little leeway.”
“As most of our readers are not. conversant with the technicalities of ship-building terms, we have endeavored, in the accompanying diagram, to give the relative position of the beam-or extreme breadth-as it occurred in the old style of vessels, and in those
Fig. 1, represents the shape of vessels on the old plan--the dotted line being the position of the beam.
Fig. 2. Plan of Steers, as shown in the yacht America.
Mary Taylor was a wonder for her sailing qualities, and excited unbounded admiration among amateur yacht-men and ship-builders. In 1850, the keel of the world renowned America was laid, and also that of the hardly less celebrated yacht Sylvia. The America has become one of the most famous vessels that ever floated. She was built expressly to compete with England in her own waters, for the championship of the seas, so far as speed was concerned, and she came off victorious. It was regarded as & national victory ; and the young ship-builder, who had been hitherto unknown, became at once one of the most famous men of the day, and the pet of his admiring countrymen. .Mr. Steers went over in the yacht expressly to manage her in the great race. He had an instinctive knowledge in sailing a vessel, and would carry a sail to the last moment; when all but himself were blanched with fear at his boldness, he kept his post at the helm perfectly serene and self-possessed : for he knew the exact strain which his boat could bear, and the right moment to give her relief.
The yacht America was built for the New York Yacht Club. The terms were that the builder should be paid forty thousand dollars, if she beat, in a race, the sloop Maria, and but half of that sum if she failed. There was never a fạir trial of speed between the two vessels, and only thie smaller sum was paid.
On his return to New York, after his great victory at Cowes with the America, (See page.615), Mr. Steers was received with every mark of distinction and respect; he was honored by a public dinner, given him by the mechanics of the city, and was also a guest at the : dinner given by the Yacht Club, in commemoration of their victory. He bore all these honors modestly, and resumed his busiñess again, with as much earnestness as ever, as though he had not achieved so great a success. He built a great number of yachts, and, at every regatta of the Yacht Club, some of his boats carried off the prizes. He also built several ships and steamboats. But his fame had not yet çulminated... A larger and more honorable field was open before him. In the year 1854, congress having made an appropriation for six steamfrigates of the largest class, it was decided to allow one of them to be built by a private architect, or, at least, one not in the service of the government; and though there was great competition for the honor of building this ship, which was to be the largest of all, the secretary of the navy, to the great satisfaction of the country, decided to bestow the favor upon Mr.
Among mechanical triumphs, nothing can be more beautiful than the models of George Steers' ships--they are like the handiwork of Cellini for delicacy of execution, and yet, like the torso of Angelo, suggest mighty results. It was in the closet-in the retiracy of his modest work-shop, that Steer's solved the mighty problems which enter into naval architecture, and speculating, like another Franklin or Laplace, upon the laws of nature, studied to overcome friction in propelling the weighty argosies through the great deep; and so perfectly did he enter into the arcana of nature's inmost temples, that every step of progress he made was through means sublimely simple, and accomplished amid a halo of the most perfect beauty. His ships, like all master works of art, seem to be born of inspiration--the intense labor which produced them is entirely lost sight of in the suggestion that they are the l'esult alone of a creativo power.”
Steers. It was a proud distinction for the young mechanic, and most nobly did he justify the choice of the secretary. The superb Niagara, the largest and fastest man-of-war afloat, was the result. No opportunity has yet been offered for thoroughly testing the capacity of this magnificent ship; but enough has been done to establish her superiority over every other vessel in our own navy. She, as is well known, was the vessel selected to assist in laying down the telegraphic wire across the Atlantic.
The launching of this huge vessel was a triumph of mechanical skill, and as she slid gracefully and swiftly from her ways into the water, her excited architect leaped from the ground in exultation at his success.
" And then, the next moment,” says a friend, who was with him, “as the united cheers of ten thousand rent the air, the modesty of the simple-hearted man received such a shock, that he at once shrank from observation, and became personally lost in the crowd of heaving, exultant human beings that surrounded him. Relieved from the presence of observers, and standing on the deck of the newly-born ship, he walked over the vast area, pointed out the advantages he calculated would be gained by her construction, imagined the stars and stripes floating aloft, and then coming to the immense embrasures, in his glowing: imaginings, he ran out the tremendous guns intended for the Niagara's armament, and asked, with a proper glow of pride,
what vessel could successfully dispute her supremacy on her ocean home?' It was a sublime spectacle thus to witness the great commander triumphant upon his own deck-it 'was a new thing to behold a victory so complete, so mighty in its results, unaccompanied by the sheilding of blood, uustained by a single aggressiýe act. We admired, nạy; venerated, the man, and inwardly thanked Heaven that among all our national blessings we could reckon the wealth of the cônstructive mind of George Steers, who was so eminently adding luster to our acknowledged supremacy of the seas, and thus collecting under our glorious flag not only thie largest marine in the world, but also adding the additional graces of specimens unsurpassed in excellence of shape, and unapproached in speed."
But this monster ship did not engross all his thoughts, nor all his time; while she was in process of construction he modeled and built another beautiful yacht the Widgeon, and took the contract for the steam ship Adriatic, for the Collins line of steam-packets. The model of this ship has been pronounced nearer perfection than that of any other vessel afloat, while she is the largest wooden ship that has ever been built; the iron ship, Great Eastern, alone excelling her in dimensions.
The Adriatic was his last work. She was launched in the presence of the greatest crowd that was ever assembled on a similar occasion. It was a splendid triumph for the self-reliant, self-taught mechanic. After the launch, the proprietors of the line gave a banquet, at a hotel in Broadway, in honor of the occasion, to which, of course, the builder of the ship was invited, and was expected to be the principal guest. But, when all the company were assembled there was the vacant chair at the head of the table; all eyes were watching for the entrance of the man in whose honor the feast was given ; but he did not come. He was sent for, and found in his ship yard directing his workmen, not having deemed it worth his while to attend the festival. This was a characteristic trait of his modest nature. All that he aimed at was to do his work perfectly. The glorification which followed he never thought about.
The completion of the Niagara and the Adriatic was the culmination of his aspirations; he had abundantly proved to the world that he was not a mere builder of yachts and pilot boats, and, in spite of all opposition had demonstrated on the largest scale that the principles he had adopted were as true in their application to the largest class of ships, as they were to the smallest boats. The huge Adriatic of six thousand tuns burden was but a big yacht; and she was finished in every part with the accuracy and elegance that he bestowed upon his smaller craft.
He had now reached the point at which he had been aiming; his talents were recognized, and he had made grand calculations for the future. Preparatory to putting his new schemes in practice, he had dissolved partnership with his elder brother James, and there were large capitalists who stood ready to invest any amount of capital he might require in the prosecution of his plans. But it was not ordained that he should achieve any more triumphs.
On the 26th of September, in the.year 1856, he drove out on Long Island with a pair of gay horses, to bring home his wife and children, who had been spending the summer at a farm house. The horses took fright and he was either thrown or leaped from the carriage, and he was found a few minutes afterward lying upon the ground insensible. His fall was fatal and he never spoke again.
His funeral was attended more largely than that of any private citizen who had died in New York, and every mark of affection and respect was paid to his memory. He died, like Byron and Raphael, in his thirty-seventh year, just as his genius was at its full vigor, and when he seemed about to commence his career. But he had done enough to insure him renown, and his death was lamented as a national 'loss, as it undoubtedly was.
In person George Steers was tall and vigorous, his complexion was florid, and his eyes were a dark blue. His countenance had a remarkable expression of honesty and simplicity. He was extremely liberal, yet careful in money matters; and, though he had never thought of saving for his family, he left them in comfortable circumstances. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, and a very elegant marble monument, erected by his widow, marks the place of his interment. Among the testimonials he had received, was a very costly ring, set with precious stones which was sent to him by the Emperor Nicholas of Russia, and, if he and his imperial admirer had lived, it is probable that he would have been employed to rebuild the Russian Navy.
CHARLES GOODYEAR, THE INVENTOR OF VULCANIZED INDIA-RUBBER. Middle aged men recollect when they were boys that the only use of India-rubber was for the purpose of obliterating marks made by the lead pencil. But the manufacturing spirit of our days having formed an alliance with chemistry, the result has been that this among other materials has risen into great importance and of varied uses for the welfare of society.
“With regard to the material itself, we shall just state that it was first seen in Europe about the middle of the last century; that it was soon afterward discovered to be the gum, or, more properly, the coagulated juice of certain tropical trees, the chief of which is the celebrated Siphonia elastica of the