The Sitka, a small paddle-wheel vessel, was the pioneer steamer in the waters of the Pacific coast. She was built in the town of that name in Alaska, in 1847, was 37 feet in length, with 9 feet beam and 3 ½ feet depth of hold. She was brought to San Francisco On the deck of a sailing vessel, made her trial trip on November r5th, and, after short runs to Sonoma, Santa Clara, and Sacramento, she, after the discovery of gold, ran under the name of the Rainbow on the Sacramento river, and was finally lost in a gale while at anchor. The wreck of the Beaver, the first steamer that came into the Pacific from the south, now lies opposite Vancouver. She was also a paddlewheel boat, and was for years in the service of the Hudson Bay Company in the Sound. She is not such a wreck but that she could be easily repaired.
With the exception of the Union Iron Works of San Francisco, all the ship-building yards on the coast are for the construction of wooden vessels, the Union Iron Works having the only plant for building deep-sea vessels of any size of iron or steel.
The abundance and accessibility of the timber on Puget Sound, with its tranquil waters, makes it a paradise for wooden ship-builders; and with its coal and iron mines, it promises to be the same for the steel ship builder. The durability of the Puget Sound timber was discovered during its extensive use for repairs. Its advantages are its great length, size, and lightness, and the tenacity with which it holds iron fastenings. Its cheapness was an offset against the high price of labor. There is now on the coast a large fleet of wooden vessels unrivaled for the lumber trade, and which challenge comparison with any other lumber fleet in the world.
Hall's ship-yard, opposite Seattle, is the only permanent one located on the Sound. The largest vessel yet built was the bark Hesper, of 695 tons gross, but the yard has the capacity for building any-sized wooden ship. A steamer intended for trade on the Sound was lately launched at Tacoma. Small vessels are built at many places along the coast, principally on the Columbia and Willamette, and at Humboldt, Coos Bay, and Benecia.
A large industry in San Francisco is the building of steam schooners for traffic along shore. They are most of them engined, and many of them contracted for by the Fulton Iron Works. This firm has placed engines varying from 5 to 800 horse-power in about 8o of these vessels. The ferry-boat Eucinal has engines Of 1200 horsepower. Another great interest in San Francisco is the steam whaling fleet. Out of 47 vessels sailing from this port in 1888, 25 are owned here. In 1884 the catch of the 6 steamers built and equipped in San Francisco was greater than that of the entire eastern fleet of 20 vessels sailing from this port and including their two steamers. The whaling fleet gives employment to 1800 men. What a nursery for a naval force!
As early as August in 1885 the Union Iron Works made proposals to build any of the cruisers then authorized by Congress. In that year was launched from this yard the Arago, the first steel steamer built on the coast for deep-water cruising. She is of 827 tons gross, is 200 feet long, with 30 feet beam, and a draft of 16 feet, and with engines of 4so H. P. The Fulton Iron Works claim to have built at an earlier date a small iron steamer, the Sucre, of 50 H. P.
Up to 1885 the vessels built on the coast were of wood. Since that date the Union Iron Works have built and launched the Charleston, 3200 tons; the Pomona, 1246 tons; the Premier, 1080 tons; and the tugs Collis, McDowel, and Active, all of steel. The San Francisco, of 4000 tons, is on the blocks, and the contract awarded for the coastdefense vessel authorized by the last Congress. The engines of these vessels were manufactured at the machine shops of the works, the steel, castings, and heavy forgings being made at the Pacific Rolling Mills. The launching of the Charleston marked a new era on the coast, the inauguration of a great ship-building trade. Encouraged by a well considered policy on the part of the Government, the wooden fleet on the coast, the vessels that are to carry our trade in the Pacific, and the cruisers and battle-ships of the Navy, can be built as expeditiously and as well as at any other yard in the country or world.
As given in the annexed table, during the year 1888 there were built at and about San Francisco 59 sea-going vessels, mostly for the coasting trade. The climate here is very favorable for the ship builder. During the winter of 1887-88 but ten days were lost on the Charleston because of the weather. Steel plates are never too cold to work or handle, nor in winter is half the time of a riveter lost while he blows his fingers. The summers are cool with no rain. The Pomona was contracted for with the Union Iron Works on September 14, 1887, and launched May 26, 1888. The Corona was contracted for with an eastern firm October 29, 1887, and was launched August 4, 1888. The former vessel cost $200,000, the Corona to cost $188,000, or $198,000 delivered in San Francisco. The Pomona is of 1264 tons gross, 951 net, and the Corona is of 1492 tons gross and 966 net. The Pomona has two boilers, the Corona four, and both vessels have triple-expansion engines. The Pomona will carry as much cargo as the Corona, and runs on zo per cent less fuel, and she is the faster ship.
The company ordering these vessels had the use of the Pomona while the Corona was steaming around to the Pacific, and that trip is considered equal to a year's wear and tear in the regular work of the vessels. The above is cited only to show that the ship-builder on this coast can hold his own in material and workmanship.
Some interesting data was handed the writer lately of a steamer built when Thornycroft's reputation was young and the fast torpedo boat in its infancy. In 1876 the specifications for the iron steamer Meteor, to run on Lake Tahoe, called for a speed of 20 miles per hour. She was built and launched that year at Glenbrook, on the lake. The engines were built at Marysville, Cal., and all material and machinery were teamed over the mountains. There was no previous record of a vessel's steaming 20 miles per hour. The Meteor is 64 feet 6 inches long, with to feet beam, and a draft of 5 feet aft and 3 feet 1 inch forward, and a depth of hold of 5 feet. She is of 19.5 tons displacement, with fuel and 12 passengers on board, and is divided into water-tight compartments. The boiler is of steel, locomotive type, and carries 150 pounds pressure. The engines are one pair inverted cylinders, 10 inches diameter and 12 inches stroke, and weigh 2600 pounds with all fittings. The propeller is of brass, threebladed, and finished all over. The Meteor made 21 miles per hour repeatedly over a measured mile, and from Glenbrook to Tahoe City she made 12 miles in 38 minutes, or 18.9 miles per hour. The engines made between 270-280 revolutions, and were designed and built by W. R. Eckart. The largest torpedo boat afloat in 1881 was built by Thornycroft for the Danish Government. She was of 55 tons displacement, with a coal capacity of to tons. At full speed, as shown on trial as well as during a three hours' run on measured miles, she made 20 knots per hour.
What is most needed in San Francisco is an abundant and cheap supply of good coal. With this, even with the high price of labor, the shipyards here could compete with any in the world. Most of the coal comes from Australia and British Columbia. Mines are being discovered and opened at many places along the northern coast, and some reported very valuable are about being opened at Kenai in Alaska. The Kenai Company claims it can place coal in San Francisco at $3.50 a ton with to per cent profit. Of the 1,400,000 tons of coal received at San Francisco in 1888, nearly 700,000 tons were foreign and almost the whole of it transported by water. The importance of the absolute control of Puget Sound and the Columbia River, as well as the development of lines of supply between the two, needs no argument. At present, in case of war, San Francisco would be without coal at once, even if the whole coast were fortified. Efficient naval and merchant vessels are absolutely necessary.
The material for the steel vessels built on the coast is made and shaped at the Pacific Rolling Mills, and for quality is unexcelled. With its already extensive plant it would not be difficult for this firm to erect hydraulic forges that would turn out any shape for ship or gun. But it would have to be under a contract with the Government for a large enough order, running over some years, to remunerate the firm for its outlay. There are other firms in San Francisco ready to contract for building marine engines and boilers of any size. There is an abundant supply of good iron ore on Puget Sound. But in 1888 there were imported from Great Britain to San Francisco 18,393 tons of pig iron, against 2037 tons from the Eastern States and 1940 tons from the Coast furnaces. The principal reason for this is that grain ships bring the iron for ballast. The Port Townsend ore is excellent, and there is also good Bessemer ore in California.
Besides the Government docks on the coast at Victoria and Mare Island, there is a large dry-dock at Hunter's Point in San Francisco, and the new hydraulic dock at the ship-yard of the Union Iron Works.
There is in San Francisco to-day wealth to the value of $936,000,000. Three per cent of this sum is estimated by the Fortification Board as sufficient to place the harbor in a fair state of defense. The value of the cargoes cleared in 1888 was $836,736,000, increasing at a yearly rate of $20,000,000. All of this wealth is now exposed to easy capture in the event of war with a powerful maritime power.
In 1849, and before the days of iron ships, the United States was building wooden sailers of a better quality and at less cost than any other nation. At that date came the discovery of gold in California, and soon afterwards was the Crimean War. England took alarm at our success in ship-building, and permitted the registry of foreign-built vessels of any class. From 1858 to 1864 foreigners, principally English, purchased from the United States over 1,000,000 were built in this country for the foreign trade. The true reason for this is that the United States has had enough to do with its capital in the development of the country, and with the Civil War and reconstruction. But the fault of Congress has been in not legislating so that ship-building and sailing the sea would be remunerative in spite of the opportunity for other investments. It is a most singular thing that all industries have been protected and developed except the one that from a national point of view is most important and most vital to the safety of the country. The delay has made the matter more difficult, but with proper encouragement we can regain our place as ship-builders for ourselves at least, if not for the markets of the world.
The aggressive policy of Great Britain must be counteracted by legislation either by subsidy or compensation for carrying the mails—call it what you will; by liberal contracts for the construction of war-vessels to encourage the private ship-yards, and by the payment of fixed sums to contractors who will construct merchant vessels to conform to plans prepared by the Secretary of the Navy, so that such vessels can be utilized as cruisers in time of war; and by the establishment of a system of inspection the least expensive and only sufficiently severe to obtain the best material and workmanship.
The policy of Congress in relying upon our own ship-yards is, so far as it goes, not open to criticism. The free-ship theory has now but few advocates. The danger of relying upon foreign ship-yards seems patent, risking as it does our commercial independence and national security.
There is a direct effort now being made to divert American business to Canadian cities, and the proposed military works at Victoria, Vancouver, and Halifax mean a determined grasp on the part of England for supremacy in the Pacific. It is absurd to state that all this work in Canada is intended to counteract the fortifications of Vladivostok, or that the Canadian Pacific Railroad is simply intended as another highway to India. This road has been subsidized with about $215,000,000, and its steamers to China receive $300,000 a year. The steamers being built receive also Admiralty subsidies. We owe England nothing but the prolongation of the late war, and the vagaries of a few of our dudes, and her movements in the Pacific require our earnest attention. The Canadian Pacific Railroad is a great military and political work, as well as civil, and unless its influence is met by proper legislation, military and commercial, we might as well make up our minds to pay tribute to Great Britain on all our trade in the Pacific. We are not certain of always finding a market for our grain. The country is restive for proper legislation to enable it to find markets abroad, and transportation of its own, for the products of its manufactories.
The policy of distributing contracts for government vessels in private yards is one from which the greatest advantages are derived. It will accumulate plant that will not only furnish the best and fleetest models of marine architecture for our own naval and merchant marine, but, with the genius of the country at work, we shall in a short time be as independent of the world in building steamers of steel as we were in 1849 with sailers of wood. The navy yards should be used as arsenals, and perhaps for repairs, and turned over to the marines at night for safekeeping. Private invention and enterprise properly encouraged, with rash experiment controlled by systematic inspection, will always be ahead of government work. And in a private ship-yard you can always tell what a vessel is going to cost.
With the high-power long-range guns now in use, a battle-ship being able to choose her position, has somewhat the advantage over forts or batteries on shore. Torpedoes can be destroyed, and with usfor coast defense the fort must be auxiliary to the fleet. Germany has turned the defense of its coast over to its navy, and some of the ablest military minds in England advocate the abandonment of many fortifications, trusting the defense of the coast to the Channel Squadron. An enemy's fleet must be met by coast-defense vessels and torpedoboats, and, with the magnitude of the undertaking to fortify a coast like ours, the batteries on the movable battle-ships must be depended upon to keep an enemy from entering our ports. Internal lines of water communication should be constructed along the Atlantic seaboard, and from the Mississippi to the great lakes; and the Intelligence Offices of the two services should perfect their plans for the transportation in time of war of coal from the great Northwest for the fleet that will rendezvous in the Bay of San Francisco.