Today's featured artifact is a unique one. The museum has several of these tin foghorns in its collection, but this is one of the only ones with a name attached! This dark green tin foghorn belonged to the William S. Earl, often abbreviated to Wm. S. Earl, a Cornell Steamboat Company tugboat in operation on the Rondout from 1884 until 1947. Built in 1859 in Philadelphia, PA, she was seriously damaged by fire on three separate occasions - on December 1, 1881 in Greenbush, NY; on December 13, 1903 at Rondout, and on May 30, 1936 also at Rondout. Each time she was rebuilt and continued to operate. One of the oldest propeller tugs in the Cornell fleet, she was beaten in age only by the Terror, an aptly named tugboat built in 1854, purchased by Cornell in 1892, and condemned by steamboat inspectors as unsafe in 1910.
The Wm. S. Earl was finally abandoned July 20, 1949 and scuttled in Port Ewen, NY at 90 years old. Her long life and frequent rehabilitation was attributed Edward Coykendall (grandson of Thomas Cornell), who considered the Wm. S. Earl a favorite.
The foghorn itself appears designed to be blown by the mouth and the sound likely would not have traveled very far, but it would have been enough to notify other boats of the Wm. S. Earl's presence in a fog. Essentially, foghorns like this helped prevent boats from hitting each other!
The Smithsonian National Museum of American History also has several tin foghorns, including this one, which was used on fishing dories off the Grand Banks in the 1880s.
To learn more about the history of fog signals, check out this detailed article from the United States Lighthouse Society.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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