The United States of America presents the most extraordinary spectacle ot rapid progress in greatness and power, of any nation that has ever existed. There is an inherent vitality and energy in our people, which enables them to transform the waste places of our land into fruitful fields, and lonely deserts into teeming cities, and that with a facility and power akin to the skill ascribed to the old alchymists, in whose magic hands iron became gold, and brass shining silver.— With a most wonderful increase of cities, villages, and everything connected with industrial progress on land, no less wonderful has been our progress on sea—in building ships and subduing the winds and waves by the mighty power of steam. Six years ago there were only two mercantile steamships in the whole United States ; these belonged to New York, and were but insignificant in size.— Then we had no mail steamships, and the star spangled banner had never floated but in a solitary instance in a foreign port above the quarter deck of an American steamer. The smoke from American funnels never was seen afar on the ocean, and in this respect England alone reigned mistress of the seas. But what a change has taken place in that short period. The four largest and as yet the fleetest ocean steamships in the world belong to our country, and the rivers Mersey in England, the Seine and Weser in France and Germany, are now visited regularly by eight American steamships of large tonnage and powerful engines. The two mail steamships Washington and Hermann, which ply between New York and Bremen are 1,700 tons burden each; the two which ply between New York and Havre—the Franklin and Humboldt, are 2,200 tons each ; and the four of Collins' line of steamships are each 3,000 tons burden,; making an Atlantic fleet of steamships amountyears ago not one of these vessels had disturbed the waters of the great deep. Besides these noble vessels there are seventeen steamships ot an aggregate tonnage of 21,912 tons plying regularly between New York and our Southern cities and the West Indies, and there are no less than 4T of an aggregate tonnage of 67,336 tons engaged in the New York, Calitornia, and Oregon trade. All these are American built steamships, and comprise a mercantile marine larger than that of all the other nations in the world—Great Britain excepted—put together. All this steanVmarine has been created in less than six years. Do these figures not exhibit a touch of power more wonderful than that ot any genii of Oriental tale, that of Aladdin's wonderful lamp not excepted. Side by side with us, the people of Great Britain have been running a race in increasing their steam marine also. Within the same period they have built a greater number ot steamships than we have, and the same circumstances which have operated so powerfully to open up new fields of trade with us, now operate upon them—we allude to the gold discoveries of California and Australia. It is difficult for the mind to entertain at once a just idea of the magnitude of these stupendous changes in our steam marine, a contemplation of them makes "the boldest hold his breath for a time." It is very natural to ask,"can our country go on much longer at such a rapid pace ; will a period not arrive at no distant date, when like other nations of the old world, ours will also cease to make such strides in industrial progress—when it will, to use a common term, stand still ? We have no affirmative answer to return. Our nation, if we keep united, and hot-he.aded men do not foolishly precipitate us into war with powerful foes, must go on with just as rapid strides for the next thousand years as it has for the last fifty. We have more natural resources of all those things which go to make a nation great and powerful than all the known kingdoms on this globe. We, like the House of David, mustincrease, while other nations, now S* great and powerful, will decrease.
This article was originally published with the title "Great Increase of our Steam Marine" in Scientific American 8, 31, 245 (April 1853)