The Winans Cigar Steamer, 1858

from the Illustrated London News, 27 Nov 1858

The 1858 steamer Winans116 was essentially an experimental test bed for the Winans' new marine design concepts.  There were two boilers, one in each hull, each powering two engines with two-foot diameter, 26-inch stroke cylinders.  There was a rudder on each end, either of which could steer the boat.  When fully laden, the steamer would run with the spindle centerline just below the waterline. 

The steamer drew considerable criticism from Scientific American almost from their first mention of it.  They speculated10 that it "will roll awfully" and be "perfectly unmanageable".   Eventually15, they "cannot conceive of a worse possible form of steamer for sea going purposes".  The Winans attempted to answer objections in a letter12 to the editors even before the first trial voyage:

  • To the comment that without sails the vessel would be helpless if the engines failed, the designers described the considerable redundancy in the power system that made complete failure highly unlikely and offered that even in that remote case a sail could be rigged between the smoke stacks.  In fact the steamer did experience dual boiler failures but was able to repair them and continue6.
  • Several objections had to do with the shape and waterline of the steamer.  The Winans replied with examples and analysis, all of which were subsequently rejected by the editors13.
  • The editors generally downplayed iron construction as nothing new.  The Winans put much emphasis on the fact that the steamer was unique in that it was constructed entirely of iron with no combustible (wood) parts and so increased the fire safety of the steamer.

Scientific American thought the spindle nose would tend to bury itself rather than pierce the waves, causing excessive pitching.  They considered the circular cross-section and absence of a keel would result in excessive rolling.  In general they considered what was novel about the design to be a detriment and what was not a detriment not to be novel.  

The accounts of the changes to the steamer indicate some of the criticism was valid but clearly the Winans learned from their experiments.  They retained confidence in many of the innovations, especially the hull shape and used them in their later vessels. 

The major problem with the steamer may have been propeller design.  The shroud ring that held the two hulls together had to be big and bulky to minimize relative movement of the two hulls on the propeller shaft but the large ring negated the benefits of the otherwise streamlined shape1.  The propeller would throw up considerable spray.  Considering that the deck was not high above the waves, it was probably impossible to stay dry on deck in even a moderate sea.   Of course, it was necessary to go topside to  get from one hull to the other.  The central propeller was not used on any of the later designs.  It may only be necessary to look at the design of the later Ross Winans to see what the Winans thought were the steamer's weaknesses.

Detail from E. Sachse, & Co.'s bird's eye view of the city of Baltimore, 1869

Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

Detail from 1869 Sachse map - Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division
The detail just above from Sachse's map60 shows the steamer tied up at the shipyard in 1869.  Comparison of a very recognizable shipyard building with earlier photos and drawings confirms the general accuracy of the drawing so we can accept the depiction of the steamer as reasonably good.

The woodcut at the top of the page, from The Illustrated London News8, shows a bow end-view of the steamer after its launch in Baltimore.  I used this drawing and a similar stern view published in Harper's Weekly7 for many details of the steamer reconstruction.  Although the deck railing and the platform over the propeller shroud appear complete, the stacks are apparently ghosted in.  All of the early photographs I've seen were taken before the deck structures were completed.  

The steamer was modified considerably from its initial appearance.  The first change removed 25 feet from the bow, added a 39 foot section, and tapered the result17.  She eventually reached a length of 235 feet.  The Engineer42 describes the shroud ring diameter as 25 feet, but the various early illustrations show a smaller ring.  Enlargement may have been one of the many alterations.  The Winans talked of more changes, but the Civil War intervened. 

In August or September 1861, George Harding of the Twenty-first Regiment Indiana Volunteers camped at Locust Point.  As he records in his personal letters88, "the famous cigar-ship, built by Ross Winans [was] about a mile from camp.  In the company with a number of our officers, I had the pleasure of going all through it".  He describes it, "built entirely of iron, the plates about an inch in thickness", the hull "three hundred feet in length".  The propeller, "twenty-six feet in diameter, revolving  entirely around the hull at the junction of the two sections, which was a little forward of center.  The wheel ... somewhat resembled that of a wind-mill".  "The appearance of the boat inside was by no means inviting.  It was dirty and hot and going into it was a good deal like crawling into a hollow log."  He was told "that it could be turned completely around in a length and a half, and propelled at the rate of twenty miles an hour."  He assesses its capabilities as a war vessel:  "It might be capable of mischief in running down vessels , but could carry no guns of any consequence." 

In his biography107, J.B. Howe mentions a visit on board the steamer in Baltimore.  He gets a few things wrong, but these words "and probably the same that Jules Verne has made immortal in his 'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea'", make it clear that the Nemo reference was widely recognized at the time of publication.

The Steamer quayside, courtesy of Roddy Smith and Diana Armas

     In 2006 Roddy Smith and Diana Armas discovered a stereograph80 of the steamer at an antique market and generously sent me a copy.  The photo is very similar to the Sachse image.  Single stacks are set just forward and just aft of the propeller shroud.  Each stack has a narrow object on each side, running almost its entire height.  "B."'s 1860 letter25 to Scientific American mentions "two life-boats attached to the chimneys, near their tops" (the 1860 article in Hunt's Merchants' Magazine and Commercial Review111 also mentions life boats), so these might be parts of the davits.  David Hathaway suggests these are steam vent pipes from the boilers.  Less likely is the possibility that the stacks are extendable.  The side objects resemble the the chains described on the later Ross Winans masts, and close examination does hint at links.  The Winans have no patent I've found on the extendable mast, but in 1869 W.W. Dugan of Baltimore was awarded patent 91103 for an extendable smoke stack.  
     There are single masts forward and aft about a third of the way from the center.  No rigging for the masts is visible in the photo.  The stacks are joined to the central tower by a much flimsier structure than depicted by Sachse, probably to steady the tower and stacks.  The tower itself is much less elaborate than in the Sachse image, simply a cylinder atop a gracefully curved narrower cylinder.  The shape is almost identical to that shown in the Alexandroffsky album painting reproduction62.  Patent 21918 and the early published material7,11 equate the interior ventilator with the tower.  Examination of the photo shows there is room for air pipes from the tower base to the engine rooms just forward and aft of the propeller shroud.  The photo shows a larger and more elaborate shroud structure than in the construction photos61,79 and drawings, consistent with The Engineer42 dimensions.  There are more radial fins than in the early photos and there appears to be a circular ring at the original diameter.  Surprisingly the shroud appears to end at the hull horizontal center line.  The propeller was a disk the same diameter as the hull with blades extended outward.  None of the blades are obvious in the photo.  Because the steamer itself had two hulls connected only by the common propeller shaft, the shroud served the dual purpose of joining the two hulls outside the propeller for additional stability and catching the propeller spray.  Contemporary reports indicated the shroud caused unacceptable drag.  It may have been reduced below the center line to the minimum required for structural rigidity.  The photo shows deck railings both fore and aft and wedge-shaped structures just beyond the stacks that might be Click for a 3D anaglyph of the original stereograph. companionways to the engine rooms.  
     Careful examination shows the hull beyond the masts to have a conical shape rather than the smooth curve of the original hull.  This would be a necessary compromise to keep the hull fair when it was extended.  Reshaping the central hull would have required a complete rebuilding of the ship.   
     Click the image at right for an anaglyph conversion of the stereograph.  Red-blue glasses are required to view it in 3D.

Reconstruction based on stereograph

The above reconstruction image is based on my initial evaluation of the stereograph.  The size of the propeller blades and shroud is per The Engineer42.  Dimensions given there are consistent with the photo.  I kept the rudders in the same position relative to the center, and retained some hull details originally taken from the post launch engravings7,8 although these had to be adjusted for the new hull shape.  I took the beefed-up upper shroud as evidence that the entire lower half was removed.  This is of course speculative.  A narrow frame below the waterline would add strength with little added drag. 
Steamer reconstruction
Click here for my original 3D reconstruction of the steamer as it may have originally appeared.  The stacks are speculative, based on early artists impressions7,8  and the lookout tower is highly speculative.  Both early artists impressions show an open structure.  Patent 21918 and the early published material7,11 equate the interior ventilator with the tower.  One would expect the ventilator to be high above the waves but lower than the tops of the stacks.  I guessed at the steamer's look on its maiden trip.  Later material and some of the earlier depictions show two stacks rather than the four pictured.

(To view the 3D reconstruction, you will need JavaScript enabled and the MetaStream 2 plug-in, unfortunately now only available here, for PCs and Macs.)

(Source references are in the bibliography on the main cigar ships page.)


John Taylor Ships John Taylor is an artist with an original vision who creates fascinating ship sculptures.  He says of his interpretations, " I prefer work which is not correct or regular, that is divorced from precedents, work that is not fine or fully explained.  The ships should appear so old as to have never had a beginning, representing a tally of life and character, seldom telling a thing, but suggesting it."  Images of his unique sculpture of the Baltimore steamer are not currently available on the John Taylor Ships Facebook page.

John Taylor's steamer image Copyright  2007 Heather Taylor. All rights reserved.

Comments and questions are welcome. E-mail me. Click to close and return

Except as noted this page and its content © Copyright 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 Michael & Karen Crisafulli. All rights reserved.
15 Aug 08 Links updated 5 Apr 15