Model of clipper ship Great Republic

Great Republic was built by Donald McKay in Boston in 1853. It measured 335 feet in length, 53 feet in beam, 38 feet in depth of hold and 4,555 tons. The huge wooden ship was the largest extreme clipper ship ever constructed.
McKay was unable to secure financial backing for the building of Great Republic, so he built the ship on his own account. It was launched on October 4, 1853. The ship was being fitted out for its first voyage under the management of Grinnell, Minturn, and Company. The night before its maiden voyage began on the East River, Manhattan, Great Republic was destroyed by a fire that broke out on shore and spread to the ship. To save the hull, it was scuttled, or deliberately sunk in place at the pier. Despite best efforts to save it, Great Republic burned to the water surface. The wreck was sold, raised and towed to Green Point, Long Island, where it was rebuilt by Sneeden & Whitlock. During its rebuilding, it lost a deck and was reduced to 3,357 tons; its spars and area also were greatly reduced. The great clipper transported general and bulk cargoes all over the world for the next several years. It was confiscated by the North during the Civil War, since a majority of its owners were Southerners. Under Northern owners, it engaged in the California trade for the remainder of the conflict. After the war, it was sold to British owners; in 1869, it was resold to the Merchant’s Trading Company of Liverpool, England and renamed Denmark. It was lost off Bermuda during a winter 1872 hurricane.
The Insurance Company of North America (INA) insured Great Republic for $175,000.00 in 1853. However, INA never paid for the damage to the ship. The day after the fire, the premium was returned and the policy was cancelled. INA archives do not have a copy of the policy, so there is no record of the exclusions that might have prompted this action.
Built by an unknown 19th century craftsman, this model was purchased at a New York antique shop by the Insurance Company of North America (INA) in 1962. It and a painting of the Great Republic were donated to the Smithsonian by the CIGNA Corporation, the successor company to INA.
Currently not on view
date made
19th century
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
cloth (overall material)
overall: 21 in x 37 in x 6 1/2 in; 53.34 cm x 93.98 cm x 16.51 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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