Today's featured artifact is this electric lantern from the steamboat Mary Powell. The Mary Powell, built in 1861, underwent one of many overhauls during the winter of 1887-88. Several changes were made to the steamboat, including rearranging the interior accommodations. For instance, the main dining room was moved from the hull to the main deck, so passengers could see out the windows as they ate. The other major change was the installation of over one hundred electric lights, which made evening travel safer and more pleasant.
This particular lantern was likely meant for use by the crew. Designed to either plug in to direct current lines or unplugged for use powered by an internal battery, this was likely used in the engine room.
A similar lantern is held in the collections of the National Maritime Museum in London, UK, where it is listed as a "naval emergency lantern."
Electric improvements continued aboard the Mary Powell in subsequent seasons. In the winter of 1893-94, two new private parlors were constructed, with electric call bells - presumably to call the steward or other staff for assistance. In 1905, an electric fire alarm system was installed. On May 10, 1905, the Kingston Daily Freeman reported on the improvement:
An electric fire alarm, the idea of Captain Anderson, is being installed on the Mary Powell by H. B. Legg and H. H. Buckbee. Instead of sounding a large gong in case of fire, which would alarm the passengers, electric annunciators are placed throughout the boat notifying the crew where to report, thereby saving time. The inspectors who were here Tuesday say the system is perfect and the first to be installed on any vessel.
Although historical record of these electric systems is limited, we can presume that the electricity was produced by a dynamo powered by the steam engines.
If you would like to see the electric lantern in person, it is on display as part of the museum's "Mary Powell: Queen of the Hudson" exhibit.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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