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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living On Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about the first steamboat ever to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The SS Savannah took off in 1819 despite many fears and doubts.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: River City Brass Band, "Carnival Day," FOOTLIFTERS (RCBB Recording – 1991)]

CURWOOD: The S.S. Savannah cast off from a dock in Georgia this week in 1819 and became the first steamboat to cross the Atlantic. Some thought she would sink and nicknamed her the Steam Coffin. Frank Braynard is a maritime historian who wrote a book on the Savannah.

BRAYNARD: The idea of going on a vessel with a fire inside was so different that no one dared to do it. And it was absolutely ludicrous. Many people said, "She’ll burn up!"

CURWOOD: The steamboat housed luxurious staterooms filled with mahogany wood trim and mirrored walls, but there were no passengers willing to brave the voyage to Liverpool and no one wanted to crew the ship either. Captain Moses Rogers had to call in favors from old friends in his hometown of New London, Connecticut to fill the roster. The Savannah must have looked odd to eyes accustomed to sails with its stacks spouting heavy black smoke. Several vessels even tried to come to her rescue, thinking she was on fire. At one point she sailed on for nearly five hours before realizing a small British cutter was trying to, quote, "save her."

The Savannah eventually made it safely home with, as Captain Rogers put it, "Neither a screw bolt, or rope yarn parted." But it would take another 25 years before the rest of the world would take her lead and establish regular steamship service across the Atlantic. And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.




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