The Story of the American Flag Through Stamps

Crossing the Atlantic by Steamship

3-cent Steamship Savannah stamp
The 3-cent Steamship Issue commemorates the 125th anniversary of the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a steamship, the SS Savannah.

While Frémont and others explored western territories, other Americans explored ways of using new technologies. Though first developed in 1704, steamships, which employed steam power as the primary method of propulsion, could not overcome the preference for sailing vessels until the mid-19th century. In 1819, the SS Savannah, a hybrid between a sailing ship and a steam powered ship, made a historic voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. The ship left Savannah, Georgia, on May 22, 1819, and arrived in Liverpool, England, on June 20, 1819. The steam engine was in use for part of the time (about 80 hours). In spite of its historic voyage, the SS Savannah was not financially successful, mostly because the public was not ready to trust that means of transportation on the open sea. The SS Savannah was converted back to a sailing ship shorted after its return from Europe, and later wrecked off Long Island in 1821. It would not be until 1847, nearly 30 years later, that another American-owned steamship would begin crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

The 3-cent anniversary stamp of the SS Savannah was issued on May 22, 1944. The SS Savannah is depicted crossing the Atlantic, its sails and steam engine visible, with the American flag and the flag of the Savannah flying high in the wind. The stamp, issued on National Maritime Day, was modeled after a photograph of the ship’s model submitted to the Post Office Department through the Mariners Museum. Some mild controversy occurred as some historians and philatelists argued that the SS Savannah was not the first ship to cross the Atlantic using steam power, as it was a hybrid, but for the most part, the stamp would go on to be a success.