The transportation of the mails and of passengers between the United States and Great Britain was, a few years ago, divided almost entirely between two great companies, the Cunard Company, entirely English, and the Collins Company, understood to be mainly American. Great efforts were made by each to excel the other in the splendor and speed of their vessels. The former company has been under the patronage of the British, and the latter of the American government, and each nation has reserved the right to seize the ships of its respective lino and convert them into war steamers in cas of hostility with any other powerful nation. Great interest has been manifested by the whole world in the contest for superiority by these vessels, and it is painful to acknowledge that the American line has at last been fairly beaten. The remaining steamers, the Atlantic, the Baltic, and the Ericsson, (formerly the caloric ship, hired to supply the deficiency occasioned by the disasters,) have been run at a loss for some time. The Adriatic, a very large new steamer, owned by this company, was badly botched in the arrangement of the engine department, as we have several times had occasion to notice during the progress of the work, and the Collins Company has become almost bankrupt. A sale at auction of all the ships of this line has been actually made, but as the purchasers are connected with Messrs. Brown Brothers & Company, who were the chief owners of the line, the property can hardly be said to have changed hands ; and an ultimate sale to Russia or some other party, which has been a long time in contemplation, remains yet to be negotiated before the company can be said to have fairly abandoned the field. Meanwhile its rivals, the Cunard Company, have kept up their reputation for regularity and tolerable speed, and have extended their operations until they run screw and paddle vessels to the West Indies and other places, as well as to New York and Boston. But they do not, as they did before the organization of the Collins Company, monopolise all the best travel between the two great branches of the Anglo-Saxon family. A number of American lines run from our principal ports to the continent of Europe, stopping at English ports on the way ; and these, as also the various independent lines to Glasgow and other ports, have been quite successful without special aid from either government. There appears to have been a kind of fatality, or what is the same thing, bad management, attending the operations of the Collins line, and it is probably better that its existence be terminated, and that new enterprises be allowed to take its place. A portion of the ill success of this line has been due, no doubt, to an unfortunate contract at tue com- mencement, by which the agent was allowed a commission on all the business transacted, whether profitable or otherwise, instead of, as should have been done, allowing a liberal per centage of the actual profits realized. A similar arrangement caused, we think, serious embarrassment to the success of one or more of our California lines at one period. If it had been rendered imperatively necessary for the Collins line to have realized a profit on each transaction before the parties in charge could have received any payment for their services, it is possible that the result of the enterprise might have been very different. It may interest ' our readers to know that the sale of'these steamers, whether real or nominal, was for a sum almost incredibly small, compared with the cost, and what is generally believed the actual value of the vessels. The three ships, the Atlantic, Baltic and Adriatic, were sold together, and but one bid was made. The debts of the line, as stated at the sale, amounted to about $000,-000, principally on account of money advanced to the company by the Messrs. Brown, besides a lien of doubtful validity held by the Government for a failure to fulfil the stipulations of the mail contract. Purchasers were to assume these debts and this risk of forfeiture to our kind and liberal Uncle Samuel. The only bid was $50,000, offered by a relative of the Messrs. Brown ; this was accepted, and the three magnificent relics of this great national struggle now stand in his name.
This article was originally published with the title "The Steamships of the Collins Line" in Scientific American 13, 33, 261 (April 1858)