2021 is the 50th anniversary of the last trip of the sidewheel steamboat Alexander Hamilton, so we thought we'd highlight one of the artifacts currently on display in the museum's new mini-exhibit about the Hamilton and her last voyage.
This life ring from the Alexander Hamilton was donated to the museum in 1986 by Charles Metzger, just 15 years after the Hamilton's last trip.
Built in 1924 and taken out of service at the end of 1971, the Alexander Hamilton was built for the Hudson River Day Line and is considered "the last of the Dayliners," and was the last Hudson River sidewheel steamboat constructed. Over 300 feet long, she was not the largest of the Hudson River steamboats, but her construction toward the end of the steamboat heyday on the Hudson River makes her unique. Accommodating over 3,000 passengers, she ran from Albany to New York City until the last few years of her service, when the route was shortened to Poughkeepsie to New York City.
Life rings like this one were used as emergency life preservers for situations when passengers or crew fell overboard or when anyone ended up in the water and needed rescuing. They were designed to be thrown out to a person in the water, and had a line attached so that rescuers could pull the overboard person back to the boat for recovery. Historic life rings were often made of cork, but after WWI they were also made of balsa wood. These lightweight substances would float, allowing the overboard victim to keep their head above water until rescue. The ring design was first posited by Leonardo DaVinci, and was easy to place around one's middle, which is why the rings are sometimes called lifebelts or lifebuoys, among many other names.
Life rings still remain in use today at marinas and on board vessels where passengers and crew do not regularly use personal floatation devices due to the size of the vessel. The overall basic design remains unchanged - a circle or u-shape floatation device with a line attached to shore or the vessel. Some modern life rings include water-activated lights and GPS tracking, especially those used on ocean-going vessels.
This life ring from the Alexander Hamilton is one of several historic life rings from Hudson River steamboats in the museum's collection. If you would like to visit this artifact in person, it is currently on display in the museum's East Gallery.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
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