The building of packet ships began in 1814, when some semblance of peace and order appeared upon the ocean, and continued until almost the time of the Civil War, when steamships had already begun to cut away the business of the old packets, and the Confederate cruisers were not needed to complete the work. But in their day these were grand examples of marine architecture. The first of the American transatlantic lines was the Black Ball line, so called from the black sphere on the white pennant which its ships displayed. This line was founded in 1815, by Isaac Wright & Company, with four ships sailing the first of every month, and making the outward run in about twenty-three days, the homeward voyage in about forty. These records were often beaten by ships of this and other lines. From thirteen to fifteen days to Liverpool was not an unknown record, but was rare enough to cause comment.
It was in this era that the increase in the size of ships began—an increase which is still going on without any sign of check. Before the War of 1812 men circumnavigated the world in vessels that would look small now carrying brick on the Tappan Zee. The performances of our frigates in 1812 first called the attention of builders to the possibilities of the bigger ship. The early packets were ships of from 400 to 500 tons each. As business grew larger ones were built—stout ships of 900 to 1100 tons, double-decked, with a poop-deck aft and a top-gallant forecastle forward. The first three-decker was the “Guy Mannering,” 1419 tons, built in 1849 by William H. Webb, of New York, who later founded the college and home for ship-builders that stands on the wooded hills north of the Harlem River. In 1841, Clark & Sewall, of Bath, Me.—an historic house—built the “Rappahannock,” 179.6 feet long, with a tonnage of 1133 tons.