Rigged Model, Steamship George Law (Central America)

The ocean steamer George Law was built in 1852/53 at New York, NY by William H. Webb for the United States Mail Steamship Company. Named after the company president, the Law measured 278 ft. long and 2,141 tons. It was built to sail the New York-Panama route for the California gold rush; on its return maiden voyage from Panama, it brought 465 passengers and $872,831 in gold to New York. Over more than 40 bi-monthly trips, the Law averaged slightly less than nine days per leg. In 1857, the ship went aground and returned to the Webb yard for a major overhaul.
The Law’s name was changed to the Central America during the rebuilding, possibly to reflect its most common route and because George Law had sold his interest in the company. On the vessel’s second trip under the new name, it cleared Havana, Cuba for New York on 8 September 1857. Two days later, during a gale south of South Carolina, a bad leak was discovered and the main boilers had to be shut down. On the 12th, some passengers were rescued by passing ships, but the Central America sank that night with 425 passengers and $2,189,000 in gold bullion from the San Francisco Mint. The loss helped fuel the Panic of 1857, which sent the nation into an economic recession that lasted into the Civil War.
In 1987 the wreck of the Central America was discovered in more than 8,000 feet of water depth, and treasure salvors recovered much of the gold bullion and coinage.
Object Name
ship model
model, ship
date made
ship built
ship sank
wreck discovered by treasure salvors
owned ship
New York and Liverpool United States Mail Steamship Company
Webb, William H.
Webb, William H.
Boucher-Lewis Precision Models, Inc.
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
textile (part: lines material)
metals (overall material)
overall: 17 in x 38 in x 7 1/2 in; 43.18 cm x 96.52 cm x 19.05 cm
Place Made
United States: New York, New York
where the ship was built and sailed from
United States: New York, New York
sailed to
United States: California
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
On the Water exhibit
Civil War and Reconstruction
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
On the Water exhibit
On the Water
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Publication title
On the Water online exhibition
Publication URL

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