Ship’s Speaking Trumpet, Bark Laura

The sidewheel steamer George Law was built in 1852/53 at New York 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. In 43 round trips between 1852 and 1857, the ship carried as much as a third of all the gold found in California. In 1857, the ship went aground and returned to the Webb yard for a major overhaul. The Law's name was changed to Central America during the rebuilding, possibly to reflect its most common route and because its namesake had sold his interest in the company.
On September 3, 1857, the Central America left Panama for New York City with nearly 600 passengers and crew, as well as thousands of new $20 Double Eagle gold coins produced at the San Francisco mint. Nine days later, the vessel sank in a hurricane off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in the deadliest peacetime shipwreck in American history. Four hundred twenty-five people perished in the wreck, and tons of California gold went to the bottom. The wreck horrified and fascinated the American public and helped fuel a financial crisis known as the Panic of 1857. Without the Central America’s gold, several New York banks were unable to pay their creditors.
In 1858, President James Buchanan gave this ornamental silver speaking trumpet to the captain of the German bark Laura for bringing the Central America’s final three survivors to New York. Actually, the British brig Mary had rescued the men after nine horrific days on the open sea. However, the Mary was bound for Ireland, so it transferred the survivors to the New York-bound Laura. The inscription reads:
“The President of the United States to Capt. Martin Brinckmann of the Bremen Bark Laura for his humane zealous and successful efforts in rescuing one of the Passengers and two of the Crew of the Steamer Central America from the perils of the Sea. 1858”
Object Name
speaker's trumpet
Date made
Physical Description
silver (overall material)
overall: 23 in x 5 in; x 58.42 cm x 12.7 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Coins, Currency and Medals
On the Water exhibit
Expansion and Reform
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
Credit Line
Gift of Jo Anne and William A. Eidson
Publication title
On the Water online exhibition
Publication URL

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