Donald McKay Essay

This essay has a total of 1461 words and 6 pages.

Donald McKay

During the 1840's and 1850's America experienced its golden age in shipping and sailing.1
At the front of this era was Donald McKay whose innovative ship designs lead to the
numerous sea speed records, some of which stand today. For most of the early 19th century
American ship building consisted of merchant and cargo ships. It took a long time for
these ships to sail across seas. With the increased speed came decreased time to wait for
pay. Another need for increased speed was the California gold rush of 1849. People wanted
to make the trip as quickly as possible in order to stake their claims. Donald McKay's
clipper ships enabled people to do that.

This paper investigates why Donald McKay is the father of American clipper ships. He was
born in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, September 4, 1810.2 When Donald was sixteen years old he
had the desire to learn the trade of ship building, so he went to New York. In 1826 New
York was the worlds best shipbuilder and shipbuilding was America's leading industry.
McKay decided that in order to learn the trade he must obtain an apprenticeship. So he
became an apprentice to Isaac Web who has appropriately been called the "Father of
Shipbuilders". This is because more successful master shipbuilders came out of Web's
shipyard than from any other place in America.3 At the conclusion of his apprenticeship he
went on to work for Brown & Bell. In 1832 packet building was the best and most readily
available work in New York. The majority of these ships were built at Isaac Web's, Brown &
Bell's, and Smith & Dimon's. At this time McKay was what would be called a free lance ship
wright. McKay then married Albenia Martha Boole the eldest daughter of John Boole.4 At
this time McKay then went to Newburyport and formed a partnership with William Currier.

They formed the firm Currier & McKay and built the Courier. This was McKay's first real
production as designer and builder of a ship. The Courier was built for the coffee trade
between New York and Rio de Janeiro and was sold to Andrew Foster & Son.5 Their firm soon
dissolved and McKay then become connected with William Pickett and formed the firm of
McKay & Pickett. Under this name they built the New York packet ship St. George. This was
the first of the Red Cross Line. This line would become famous ten years later for the
clipper ship Dreadnaught.6 After he dissolved his partnership with Mr. Pickett McKay left
Newburyport for the shipyards at Boston to work with Enoch Train.

In Boston McKay started to build packet ships. Packet ships are ships that are smaller the
clippers and were meant to carry both passengers and cargo at the same time. They were
ships designed for strength, speed, stability at sea, ease of handling, easy rolling,
beauty of model, and comfort for the passengers. It took numerous years and even more poor
ships to attain all of these characteristics. In 1849 packets were either one or two
decked vessels with a poop-deck aft and top-gallant forecastle forward. The cargo was
usually stored in the lower hold with some light freight going between decks if the cargo
was a large one. The cabins for passengers were located towards the front of the ship with
the kitchens in the back. The freight on these ships was mostly Virgin Turpentine and
Pitch. The other things consisted of food, tobacco, lard, cheese, oil cake, woods, and
staves. Anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000 could be made on a single voyage. Every voyage was
insured in full which meant that as much as $30,000 of insurance would be carried on the
hull of each packet. From about 1820-1848 American packets had seized a monopoly of North
American trade.7

In January of 1845 the first clipper ship was launched from the Smith & Dimon yards. The
Rainbow, was the initial three-masted clipper ship.8 Although Donald McKay didn't
originate the clipper he was the man who made it famous. His advanced production of the
extreme clipper class proved to be a notable contribution to America's prestige as a
maritime nation. With the creation and evolution of the California clipper ships came the
establishment of the Atlantic seaboard as a leader in the art and designing of these
ships. Many of Donald McKay's ships have been written in history books for their
accomplishments and achievements on the high seas. One of the most famous ships is the
Flying Cloud. The Flying Cloud received recognition for the two voyages that it made from
New York to San Fransico in under 90 days.9 A speed record for sailing vessels that still
stands today. The reason that such a trip could be made in such a short time was due to
its extremely long and narrow body design and the sharpness of the ends. It was famous at
the time also because it meant that potential miners could reach California in half of the
time that it used to take with packet ships. On July 31st the ship made a record run of
374 nautical miles or 433 land miles in a 24 hour period. That is an average of over 15.25
knots per hour.10 This is a speed that would not be attained for another 25 years by steam
ships. It has been said that the triumph of the Flying Cloud was not just one of the
builder and the captain but a triumph of the United States upon the sea.
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