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”

Date Made: 1858

Related Event: Expansion and Reform


See more items in: Work and Industry: Maritime, Coins, Currency and Medals, Transportation, On the Water exhibit, Art

Exhibition: On the Water

Exhibition Location: National Museum of American History

Related Web Publication:

Related Publication: On the Water online exhibition

Credit Line: Gift of Jo Anne and William A. Eidson

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 1980.0464.01Catalog Number: 1980.0464.0180.0464.01Accession Number: 1980.0464

Object Name: speaker's trumpetOther Terms: speaker's trumpet; Maritime

Physical Description: silver (overall material)Measurements: overall: 23 in x 5 in; x 58.42 cm x 12.7 cm


Record Id: nmah_844428

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.