The Racing Machines


It ended almost as quickly as it had begun. By 1855 the boom was over, and some of the world’s fastest ships lay idle at the wharves, waiting for freight. They were racing machines, after all, costly to build and costly to operate, and they gave way before long to bulkier vessels which carried larger cargoes more cheaply and more slowly. One great difficulty was that the hard driving which the clippers were given racked them to pieces. Their lives were short; the ones which survived had their sail plans drastically cut down and thereafter sailed more humbly and sedately. Mr. Cutler points out that no one who did not see the clippers before 1860 ever saw them in all their glory. They were like Samson after his haircut. Many of them were still in service, but the old magic was gone. The unusual economic conditions which made the clippers pay did not last very long. When those conditions vanished, so did the flyers. The national intensity of purpose which had created them found different objectives—the internal development of the country, and then the terrible quarrel that led to the Civil War. America was turning away from the sea.