Collection on Ships and Shipping, 1700 – 1976

Extent: 3 boxes
The Museum of the City of New York Collection on Ships and Shipping consists of materials spanning from 1700 to 1976 and pertaining to the domestic and international ship travel and commercial trade based out of the port of New York.

Historical Note
New York City was the world’s busiest port between 1830 and 1960. In 1849 alone, over three thousand ships arrived in the harbor from over 150 foreign ports, carrying half of the nation’s imports and leaving with one third of its exports. Most of New York’s early ship traffic served to ferry goods, generally on packet ships. Also known as schooners, sloops, or brigs, these small sailing ships were used domestically for mail and freight. When the Erie Canal opened in 1825, passenger accommodations were added to packets and the ships were instrumental for travel upstate, and even to Ohio and the Midwest. Clippers also frequented the harbor in the middle of the 19th century. These fast sailing ships were first used as a result of the growing demand for faster tea trade between New York and China – clippers cut the trip from New York City to Canton nearly in half. Domestic clipper use increased exponentially during the California gold rush from 1849 to 1859, when thousands of hopefuls left Manhattan for San Francisco on one of the California lines from the East River, run by companies such as Sutton & Co. and Merchants’ Express. The arrival of the first steamships from Europe in the 1830s opened up the waterways to transatlantic tourism. While the packets and clippers sailed out of the East River, the coastal and long-haul steamships were based on Manhattan’s west side. Transatlantic companies like the White Star Line made regular trips to Liverpool out of the Hudson River, where titanic ocean liners still dock today.

Scope and Content
The Museum of the City of New York Collection on Ships and Shipping consists of materials spanning from 1700 to 1976 and pertains to the domestic and international ship travel and commercial trade based out of the port of New York. New York Harbor was the nation’s busiest port during the 19th and early 20th centuries; the collection illustrates the range of ships that sailed in and out of the harbor, and the various functions they served. The main formats of material in the collection are passenger lists, shipping receipts and lists of goods, menus, tickets, invitations, schedules, and trade cards advertising shipping lines. The bulk of the collection pertains to the voyages of individual ships, and a small amount of materials relate to the operations of shipping lines and agencies.

Series I: Ships
Series II: Shipping Lines
Series III: Shipping Operations

Click here to view the complete finding aid for the Collection on Ships and Shipping.

Related Material
The Museum of the City of New York worked in close partnership with the Marine Museum of the City of New York from 1934 until 1954 when the Marine Museum collection was absorbed by the greater collection of the Museum of the City of New York. The Museum’s collection contains many maritime-related objects including photographs, paintings and ship logs.

The Museum’s collection portal contains many photographs, postcards and prints of ships. In particular it features photographs of the Byron Company, which photographed ships’ exteriors and interiors while the boats were docked in Manhattan and Brooklyn in the early 20th century.

The Museum is grateful for the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities; this collection was reprocessed as part of the NEH project Illuminating New York City History through Material Culture: A Proposal to Process, Catalog, Digitize, and Rehouse the Ephemera Collections of the Museum of the City of New York. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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