Film still from the 1911 Svenska Biografteatern film of New York City, featuring a tugboat and barge at far left, passenger ferry in the middle distance, and another tugboat (stack smoking) towing a barge at right. The Brooklyn Bridge is in the background and the Manhattan Bridge is in the foreground.
A few years ago the Metropolitan Museum of Art release this beautifully shot film of New York City in 1911. Made by a team of cameramen with the Swedish company Svenska Biografteatern, these views of New York were just one of the films they made chronicling famous cities around the world.
Some of this footage may look familiar, as you may have seen a shorter version (basically they cut the steamboats out!) published in 4K on YouTube a few years ago that went viral. A genealogist even did a follow-up investigation of some of the people featured in the film, and tracked down their ancestors!
But for the maritime historians at HRMM, the version published by MOMA was super fun to watch because we got to see several historic steamboats in action! The Orient, Mary Patten, Rosedale, and the sidewheel steam ferry Wyoming are all featured, and the Rosedale and the Wyoming are both depicted underway with their walking beam steam engines rocking away. It's interesting to see how slowly the walking beam is moving when compared to the speed of the boats, which indicates that those pistons are moving with an incredible amount of force to turn the paddlewheels so quickly.
Although the rest of the film is fun to watch, the steamboats are in the first two minutes, so we thought we'd give a little history of some of the vessels you're seeing!
The sidewheel steamboat Orient was originally built in 1896 as the Hingham for the Boston & Hingham Steamboat Company. In 1902 she was purchased by the Montauk Steamboat Company and renamed Orient, where she operated until 1921 when she was sold to a company in Mobile, Alabama and renamed Bay Queen and continued to operate until 1928.
Built in 1893 in Brooklyn, NY the Mary Patten was operated by the Patten Steamboat Company, running between New York City and Long Branch, NJ, which was a resort area in the late 19th century. The Patten Line (also known as the New York and Long Branch Steamboat Company) was founded by Thomas G. Patten in 1890 and in 1893 he built a new passenger steamboat named the Mary Patten after mother, Maria (Mary) Patten, who had died in 1886. (It is not, sadly, named after heroic Cape Horner Mary Ann Brown Patten.) The steamboat Mary Patten stayed in the family and on the NYC run until 1930, when the Patten Line folded and the Mary Patten was sold to the Highlands, Long Branch, and Bred Bank Steamboat Company, where she may have operated for a year until being taken out of operation.
The history of the sidewheel steam ferry Wyoming was not easy to track down, especially since there were a number of other vessels named Wyoming, including an earlier sidewheel steamboat immortalized by James Bard. But thankfully Brian J. Cudahy's Over and Back: The History of Ferryboats in New York Harbor had some answers.
The iron-hulled, walking beam sidewheel steam ferry Wyoming was built in 1885 by Harlan & Hollingsworth in Wilmington, Delaware for the Greenpoint Ferry Company (1853-1921). The Wyoming was in service as a ferry on the East River until around 1920, when she was sold to the City of New York. She "later ran for upper Hudson River interests" (p. 444 of Cudahy) until she was scrapped in 1943, likely a victim of both bridges and the war effort.
The above photo, taken in 1940 by steamboat historian Donald C. Ringwald, may have been one of her last.
If you'd like to learn about the last steamboat visible in the film above, the Rosedale, stay tuned! We'll featured more on her later this week.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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