Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
SS Central America
On September 3, 1857, 477 passengers and 101 crew left port from Panama sailing for New York City under the command of William Herndon. The ship was heavily laden with gold recovered in the California gold rush. After a stop in Havana, the ship continued North.
A gale started blowing on September 9th and continued increasing in strength. By September 11th, her sails were shredded, she was taking on water, and her boiler was threatening to go out. A leak in one of the seals to the paddle wheels sealed her fate, and at noon that day her boiler could no longer maintain fire and steam pressure dropped, shutting down both the pumps keeping the water at bay and the paddle wheels that kept her pointed into the wind.
A bucket brigade was formed and her passengers and crew spent the night fighting a losing battle against the rising water. The next morning, two ships were spotted, including the brig Marine. Some people, primarily the women and children, managed to make their way over. But the winds pulled the ship away and roughly 425 people died when the ship sank around 8PM that night.
Her loss, and that of her gold, contributed to the Panic of 1857.
The ship was located by a ROV operated by the Columbus-America Discovery Group on September 11, 1987. Significant amounts of the gold were recovered and brought to the surface by another ROV built specifically for the recovery. Thomas G. Thompson led the group.
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