Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
George Steers Papers, 1851-1856

Finding aid created by
Dawn M. Dittmar, May 2005

Summary Information
Title: George Steers papers
Creator: Steers, George 1820-1856
Inclusive dates: 1851-1856
Extent: 95 items (0.25 linear feet)
The papers of George Steers consists of incoming business correspondence regarding all aspects of his work as a naval architect in New York City.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1991. M-2761.5.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


No copyright restrictions.

Preferred Citation:

George Steers Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


George Steers was a naval architect and yacht designer who inherited much of his ability from his father, Henry Steer, a successful British shipbuilder and leading naval constructors of his time. Henry Steer emigrated to the United States from Devonshire in 1819 and added a final "s" to the family name. George, the third son of thirteen children was born in Washington, D.C. and grew up in his father’s shipyard at the foot of East Tenth Street, New York City.

Throughout his career, George built a number of notable vessels, including the steamship Adriatic for the Collins line, and the warship Niagara , which was used to lay the first transatlantic cable. He also became well known as a builder of pleasure craft; the most famous of which was the America .

George died at the age of 36. His death notice in the newspaper Brooklyn Eagle (September 26, 1856) stated: "We learn that, while riding on the Long Island Plank Road, yesterday afternoon, his horse took fright and ran away, throwing Mr. Steers to the ground. He was so severely injured by the fall that he died last night about 10."

Collection Scope and Content Note

Of the 96 letters in the collection, the bulk of the letters to George Steers came from within the United States, but he received letters from all over the globe (e.g. London, Cienfuegos, Hong Kong, and Constantinople). Many of the writers request quotes for building steamers, yachts, or ship models for display. A few inquire about jobs in his shipyard, and one letter writer asks George to provide a letter of reference for a presidential appointment under the Steamboat Act of August 1852 (October 1, 1852 letter).

J. J. Burrowes wrote an interesting letter from Kingston, Canada, dated August 16, 1853. Apparently Mr. Burrowes wanted to engage the yacht Prima Dona in a race for a purse of $1,100. Mr. Burrowes wanted George to inspect his vessel and to suggest ways to increase its speed in order to win the race. A clipping advertising the race is attached to this letter.

Of historical note is a letter dated January 7, 1854, from Captain James C. Luce, commander of the steamship Arctic . Captain Luce was writing George to encourage him to try to get a contract from the United States Navy to build one or more steamers for the government. In September of that same year, the Arctic collided bow to bow with the French ironclad Vesta off the coast of Newfoundland. All but 87 of the Arctic 's 408 passengers perished, including every woman and child on board.

Requests for George’s expertise and opinion varied. One person asked him to submit an article about the speed of vessels in the publication American Institute. The sophomore class of 1855 at Cambridge wanted him to build a "boat for their club." Yet another sought George’s opinion regarding an application for a patent for an improvement to the paddle wheel.

The collection contains no personal letters concerning home and family and unfortunately does not contain any letters written by George Steers.

Subject Terms

    • America (Yacht)
    • Arctic (Steamship)
    • Naval architects--United States.
    • United States--Navy.
    • Yachts--Design and construction.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   21, Small Collections  
    George Steers papers,  14 November 1851-17 September 1856 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Lindsay, N. The America’s Cup (London, 1930), New York Herald, September 26, 27, 1856.

    Martin, W.M., Stephens, W.P., Swan, W.U. (1925). The Yacht "America".

    Shaw, David W. (2002). The Sea Shall Embrace Them: The Tragic Story of the Steamship Arctic. New York: Free Press.

    Stone, H.L. (1914). The "America’s" Cup Races.

    Thompson, W.M. (1902). The Lawson History of the America’s Cup.