September 4, 1849 (Tuesday)

This has been quite a day for Philadelphia, it being the day for the launch of the new steamship “Philadelphia.”  The launch came off a little after 3 P.M. and a splendid one it was—all the neighborhood was crowded, and the Del. River was filled with steam boats, all crowded.  She came off beautifully—Did not go out this evening.

The Philadelphia was built and launched at the shipyard of Vaughan and Lynn at the foot of Palmer Street, Kensington (on April 21, Nathan visited the Tuscarora, also built by Vaughan and Lynn). At the time, it was the second largest ship ever built in the City of Brotherly Love. She weighed in at 1,400 tons, was 220 feet long, had a thirty-four foot beam and a depth of eighteen feet. Her promenade was some 300 feet in length.  Due to some fancy engineering by designer Ambrose W. Thompson, she drew only nine feet fully loaded.  This gave the Philadelphia the flexibility to navigate in some fairly shallow areas.  The newly minted steamship had a winged sea serpent at the bow, an eagle at the stern and the coat of arms of the city of Philadelphia in both of her twenty-seven foot diameter wheels. The Philadelphia Inquirer enthused, “[h]er arrangements throughout are perfect and complete. No money—no expense has been spared. . . . She is indeed a model steamer, and reflects the highest credit on all concerned in her construction. May she prove eminently prosperous.”

The Philadelphia and Atlantic Steam Navigation Company was the first owner of the Philadelphia and used her to deliver passengers (mostly gold seekers on their way to California) and the mail from Philadelphia to Chagres, Panama. Passengers and the cargo made the overland journey across the isthmus to the Pacific Ocean where steamships would take them to San Francisco. By 1850, the Philadelphia was sold to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company and eventually to their competitor the United States Mail Steamship Company. In 1860, she was used exclusively between New Orleans and Central America.


“The Launch of the Philadelphia.” North American (Philadelphia), September 5, 1849.

“The Launch of the Philadelphia.” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 5, 1849.

Morrison, John H. History of American Steam Navigation. New York: W. F. Sametz, 1903.

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