Welcome to Sail Freighter Fridays! This article is part of a series linked to our new exhibit: "A New Age Of Sail: The History And Future Of Sail Freight In The Hudson Valley," and tells the stories of sailing cargo ships both modern and historical, on the Hudson River and around the world. Anyone interested in how to support Sail Freight should also check out the Conference in November, and the International Windship Association's Decade of Wind Propulsion.
The Schooner Wyoming was built at the Percy and Small Shipyard in Bath, Maine, in 1909, becoming the largest wooden ship ever built. An engineless 6-masted schooner, she carried almost 40,000 square feet of sail, with a crew of only 16 to move up to 6,000 tons of coal at a time.
Wyoming was launched at the tail end of the Windjammer era, and was adapted for moving fossil fuels in the form of Coal. These types of bulk cargoes, for fueling cities, railroads, and steamships were the last cargo carried in large volumes by the Windjammers, and generally proved economically viable into the 1920s. However, the only way to maintain that economic competition was to get ever larger and use fewer and fewer crew to get the job done. To bring crew numbers down to the remarkably low number of 16, the Wyoming had mechanical winches for the running rigging such as sheets and halyards, run by a steam powered Donkey Engine, which also powered the pumps and anchor windlass.
Although originally intended for coastal trade as a Collier, Wyoming also crossed the Atlantic during the First World War, surviving the U-Boat menace which devastated the Atlantic Windjammer fleet at the time. She returned to US coastal trade after the war, and was in service moving coal until she foundered in a Nor'easter off the Massachusetts coast in 1924.
Wyoming is important because of her late date of construction and the innovations built in for conserving crew. She is a good example of the type of ship which was able to compete not on speed, but cost in an era of increasingly inexpensive steam propulsion: Fore-And-Aft rigged, partly automated, and designed for a low crew requirement, she was also built for bulk cargo which did not rely on speed for its value. Such ships would be built into the 1920s, before the economic situation for shipping started to decline and hundreds of vessels were laid up and out of use due to a reduction in international shipping, and the expansion of railroads took over from the coastal shipping trade.
For more information on the Wyoming and the other Schooners launched by Percy and Small, you can visit the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, Maine, or pick up a copy of "A Shipyard In Maine" by Ralph Linwood Snow and Douglas K Lee.
Steven Woods is the Solaris and Education coordinator at HRMM. He earned his Master's degree in Resilient and Sustainable Communities at Prescott College, and wrote his thesis on the revival of Sail Freight for supplying the New York Metro Area's food needs. Steven has worked in Museums for over 20 years.
If you enjoyed this post and would like to support more history blog content, please make a donation to the Hudson River Maritime Museum or become a member today!
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.