1824: Steam Boats


To the Editors of the Sentinel–

I perceive that since the late most destructive accident in the Steam Boat Ætna you have, contrary to the practice of most of the editors in the country, wholly refrained from cautioning the public against exposing their lives in boats propelled by high pressure engines. I have no doubt that this omission on your part has been wholly inadvertent: for through design I am persuaded you would not desist from so humane a caution. The danger of high pressure engines, compared with low may be estimated by this simple fact; that in a high pressure engine, there is a pressure of 200 pounds weight on every square superficial inch of the boiler. So that in a boiler like that of the Ætna, 20 feet in length, by 3 feet in diameter the boiler is pressed on the inside by a weight of 248,832,000 pounds! whereas in a low pressure engine a boiler of the same dimensions has only a pressure of 872,631 pounds weight.

Humanity requires that an unsuspecting public should be set right on this subject. In accordance with the foregoing fact when a low pressure boiler breaks, it merely lets the water out, as if it run from a little spout, and only scalds the feet perhaps of those who are very near–but when a high pressure boiler bursts, it is like the explosion of a powder-mill. Justice requires us to say that the Oliver Ellsworth is propelled on low pressure principles.

I propose to examine this subject more at large hereafter, and hope in the mean time that the public will reflect on this matter with that deliberation which so important a subject demands.



[The writer is mistaken in saying that we have published no warning upon the subject. If he will look at the Sentinel a few weeks ago, he will there find a communication taken from the Hartford papers, in reference to the Steam-Boat Oliver Ellsworth, and the Ætna, which we believe explained it. However, our columns are open to “Fulton.”]

From The American Sentinel (Middletown, Conn.), June 9, 1824.

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