On the Water

Oil Painting, Collins Line Steamship SS Atlantic

In 1840, Canadian Samuel Cunard inaugurated regular transatlantic steamship service from Liverpool, England to North America. Within a few years, he had two competitors, one of whom was American Edward Knight Collins (1802-1878), owner of the Dramatic Line of Atlantic sailing packets.

Collins had been lobbying the U.S. government for nearly a decade for the subsidy of an American overseas steamship mail service, and in 1847 Congress authorized an annual transatlantic mail contract for $385,000. Won by Collins, the contract called for five steamships and bimonthly mail service from New York to Liverpool.

Collins founded the New York and Liverpool United States Mail Steamship Company (known as the Collins Line) and commissioned the four sister steamships Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic and Baltic. When service started in 1850, the Collins ships were the fastest, largest, and most magnificently appointed steamships in the world, with stained glass skylights, steam heat in the public rooms and 3,500-bottle wine cellars.

This painting shows the arrival of the Collins liner Atlantic in May 1850 after her maiden voyage from New York to Liverpool. Measuring 282 feet long and 2,856 tons, the Atlantic set a speed record on this passage, while consuming 87 tons of coal per day. Although the Collins line ceased operations in February 1858, the Atlantic was acquired by the U.S. Government for Civil War service. After the war it was operated by other owners until scrapped in 1871.

ID Number:
Louis Honore Frederick Gamain
26 3/4 x 37 1/4 x 2 1/4 in.; 67.945 x 94.615 x 5.715 cm