The Clermont, primitive when compared to the palace steamboats of a later day (see
the Commodore below), but the first successful commercial steamboat and therefore
the forerunner of them all.
Yes, today one can do it by bus in less than two hours, but since the sloops then operating on the river (again, see post #48) could take as long as three days, this event immediately revolutionized navigation on the Hudson and fired up this country’s passionate belief in Progress, our obsession with Bigger, Better, and Faster, a mania that gripped us throughout the whole nineteenth century and beyond. (Obsession? Mania? If you think I'm exaggerating, just consider our eager embrace of high-speed Internet, and our frantic gobbling at fast food restaurants.) Thanks to steam, now at last we empowered mortals could, within limits, master wind and waves, and reduce travel time by hours, days, and weeks.
| Vanderbilt the shipowner, before he went into railroads.|
Would you want to mess with this man?
|This was Dan Drew's background. But did it prepare |
him for operating a steamboat?
Daniel Drew was not used to being told he couldn’t succeed. If this big-limbed wharf rat wanted a fight, he would give it to him. Relentlessly he slashed his rates, forcing Vanderbilt to do the same, until by October both boats were carrying passengers at only twelve-and-a-half cents a head. Meanwhile in newspaper ads he and his allies described the Vanderbilts as outsiders, monopolists, and rate gougers. The result: while the Water Witch carried three hundred to six hundred passengers daily and was greeted by cheering crowds at every landing, the Cinderella carried only twenty or thirty, and at times a mere solitary patron, a friend of the Vanderbilts, who hid from the hostile gaze and jeers of the locals. Now, when he met Drew on the docks, Vanderbilt had to admit that the ex-drover had a head for business and evinced an obstinacy that matched his own. With the rates now so low that neither boat could cover its costs, he told Drew that, in the name of good sense alone, Drew ought to abandon the route. But Drew refused.
|This (plus Vanderbilt's aura) is what enticed Drew. No U.S. currency yet, just |
bank notes, but the New York bank notes were highly esteemed.
Banknote: I shan't bore viewers with further protestations of the love I bear my bank, J.P. Morgan Chase, in its hour of trial, when it is assailed by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. I will only note that, in honor of Easter, my branch now features a small table laden with four (yes, four!) kinds of candy, one of them simulating Easter eggs, as well as an Easter bunny and three big colored balloons. All this, in addition to free pens and coffee, and a hand sanitizer. But who would ever have associated the biggest bank in the country, headquartered in a towering Park Avenue high-rise, with an Easter Bunny surrounded by colored eggs?
Follow-up to post #52: One of my regular viewers has informed me of a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Museum over its allegedly voluntary admission fee, the subject of the middle section of post #52. The story has also been covered in the Times and is well worth following.
Coming soon: Silence (with a brief glance at new religions), more monuments, farewells, steamboat wars, and who knows what else.
(c) 2013 Clifford Browder