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Steam Launch?

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 Years ago I came across this photo during my initial research on the USS Tennessee. Unfortunately I do not remember where I located the photo.


 Yesterday while doing some computer house cleaning I brought up this image and was surprised to see what appears to be a steam launch, background, far right. Of all the photos of USS Tennessee's ship's boats stowed in their davits, none are a steam launch. The two profiles shown of the Tennessee are ca. 1880. The first photo showing the Tennessee's boats is dated 1885. If this is a steam launch it was added at the very end of the Tennessee's career. 


 I have a couple of questions. Is this a steam launch? Why are all steam launches seemly covered with either a canvas or wood top (to keep fuel dry)? Because there appears to be an opening in the canvas cover on the starboard side, would this launch have been stowed on the port side? 














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The boat in question appears to be one of the 40’ standard steam cutters of 1900.  The cover is an awning to shelter passengers from the weather.  These launches burned coal stored in closed metal bunkers so keeping fuel dry was not much of a problem.


Canvas covers like these were still used by US Navy boats in the mid 1960’s when transporting personnel.  I spent a 1964 summer Midshipman cruise aboard a US Navy Minesweeper In coastal Japanese waters and the squadron often  anchored at night.  Upon anchoring, our 26’ motor whaleboat was launched and used to visit other ships, trade movies, deliver mail, etc.  in the cold waters of Northern Japan the canvas awning was much appreciated.


The 1900 date is loose.  The Navy began seriously investigating standardization of Boats about 1890.  A paper describing this effort appeared in the Naval Institute Proceedings In 1892. The paper discusses rowed, sailed, and steam propelled boats. The 1892 steam boats are different from the ones shown  in your post.  By the late 1890’s the Navy had developed a complete system of standardized boats and a paper describing this was read at the 1898 SNAME Convention.  Detailed drawings of these boats were published in the 1898 SNAME transactions, available at many large libraries.  A photo of USS Maine taken prior to her 1898 destruction shows her carrying one the “1900” standardized boats.


In 1900, the Navy formally published complete drawings for the entire series of boats in a Boat Book.  It is apparent that the purpose of this book was to allow forces afloat and naval shipyards to build and to repair these boats.  A very high quality edition of this book was reprinted by Marino Press about 2007.  Copies can still be found on used book sites.  The book includes resources for several lifetimes of ship model building.


I would, therefore, guesstimate that your photos were taken in the second half of the 1890’s or later.  








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 Roger, thank you for providing the information particularly regarding the Boat Book. I'll be searching for a copy shortly. If the Lord grants me the time to finish the Tennessee I'd like to build a steam launch and what better than the one in the photo as it's a natural tie in. 


6 hours ago, Roger Pellett said:

The boat in question appears to be one of the 40’ standard steam cutters of 1900.

I A 40 footer wouldn't have fit in the Tennessee's davits. I spitballed the length and came up less than 30 feet. 


6 hours ago, Roger Pellett said:

I would, therefore, guesstimate that your photos were taken in the second half of the 1890’s or later

The plate/photo of the ship's boats is dated, April 11, 1885. The Tennessee was broken up at the end of 1886. 



Edited by Keith Black
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