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Regular Departures and Fixed Schedules

by Simone Kennedy-Mitton

The 19th century concepts of regular departures and fixed schedules, first applied in South Street’s transportation system, completely transformed the world’s trading commerce. Until the early 19th century, a vessel did not leave port until there were appropriate weather conditions and it was completely filled with cargo. As a result, vessels were often unmovable for months at a time. Those merchants and common civilians who had entrusted their goods to the vessel would often lose patience and business. It was not surprising for businesses that relied on these services to go out of business because of them.

One such circumstance occurred when a dry-goods merchant’s business on Pearl Street packaged a china tea-set for an upper-class woman in Liverpool. The woman expected her tea-set for her cousin’s literature reading, a month to the very day the package was to leave South Street Seaport, December 3, 1815. This was all very well except that the ship still had room for additional goods, and the trader did not want it to set sail until it was full enough to make a profit. Also due to the icy hail, the captain hesitated whether to leave port. In the end, the captain decided to cancel the voyage altogether because he thought it too risky in winter’s temperamental weather patterns. The vessel would not leave South Street Seaport for another two months. Even though the lady in England had planned her event around the promised arrival of her tea-set, her tea-set did not arrive until many months after. As a result, she was not inclined to do business with the merchant. The merchant, on the other hand, lost clients as well as the success of his business.

As imagined, many such instances occurred frequently before the running of the ocean liners in 1818. With ocean liners’ regular departures and fixed schedules, vessels left the port regardless of capacity and rain, snow or shine. As a result, businesses and common civilians alike could depend upon these vessels for the arrival of their goods at punctual and promised dates and merchants upon staying in business.

In addition, regular departures and fixed schedules allowed humans to triumph over the obstacles of the elements of nature that here-to-fore had been limiting (link to my – colleen’s – essay?). They also set into motion human’s fascination with speed and consequent shift of time and space. Ships being built in and around South Street Seaport, and leaving the port were in a constant quest for speed in order to dominate the local and international trading routes. South Street would experience an influx of new and improved designs to further its success as a port. One of which were the clipper ships.

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