The Sailing Ship Columbia had been a Disneyland staple since it first opened in 1958. For this Memorial Day, I’ll look a little deeper into the history of the real ship this classic attraction is based on and give you some food for thought on your next voyage around the Rivers of America.
1. First American Ship Around The Globe, But Not First Ever
The Columbia was not the first ship to sail around the world. The honor for the first circumnavigation of the world goes to the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan in 1522. In fact, there were around 30 earlier voyages (that we know of).
However, as it says on the ride, the Columbia was the first American vessel to sail around the planet. But why did it go? The reason is simple and ultimately American- money.
To be fair, probably every voyage around the world, or just about anywhere else, is and has been for profit. Listening to the spiel at Disneyland makes it seem like the motives for the trip were more egalitarian.
The voyage began several years after the Revolutionary War, at a time when the new America was still recovering economically. The Columbia sailed to what we now call the Pacific Northwest, to open a fur trade with the far off country of China on behalf of New England investors.
2. Not First Around The World, But First Up A River
After completing its voyage around the Earth in 1790, the Columbia turned right around and went out to sea again. It just so happens that upon returning to the Pacific Northwest in 1792, the Columbia ‘discovered’ and named the Columbia River, which runs along the border of modern-day Oregon and Washington.
This would become a major fur-trading river on many charts, including English ones. Years later in 1818, when the border between the US and Canada was established at the 49th parallel, Queen Victoria chose the name ‘British Columbia’ for her territory along the West coast, previously labeled ‘North Columbia’ on maps.
3. Named After A Saint
The Sailing Ship Columbia is actually supposed to be a replica of the Columbia Rediviva. “Columbia” most likely refers to Saint Columba, an Irish priest widely credited for spreading Christianity in Scotland. “Rediviva” is latin for renewed, which was likely added to the name after an extensive refurbishment just before its globe-trotting voyage.
Note that there no ‘USS’ before the ship’s name because it was a private vessel and not property of the United States Navy.
4. Famous Namesake In It’s Own Right
The Space Shuttle Columbia was named after the Columbia Rediviva, as well as the Apollo 11 Command/Service module. It’s interesting how nautical terms and vessels translate directly to the exploration of space.
5. Anti-Pirate Paint Scheme
Ever wonder why the Columbia sports a bright yellow paint scheme?
Back in the 1700’s, ships could either be oiled down to finish them, which would eventually turn black, or be painted yellow. Yellow gave the impression of a newer, faster ship and therefore deterred pursuit from pirates on the open seas. Who knew?
6. “Connected” to the Boston Tea Party
The keel for original Columbia was laid in the North River shipyards in Massachusetts and it just so happens that another ship, the Brig Beaver, was built nearby at nearly the same time.
This ship would go on to be one of the 3 ships involved in the Boston Tea Party in Boston Harbor on December 16th, 1773. This would lead to the “Intolerable Acts“, among them the Tea Act, which pushed America even further toward what we know as the Revolutionary War.
7. 1787 Saw The Birth Of America As We Know It Today
Above, we see what the American Flag looked like that the Columbia sailed around the world in 1787. Elsewhere in 87′:
- The Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia to revise the first working charter of the United States, Articles of Confederation. After months of deliberation, they eventually ratified the Constitution we know and enjoy today.
- Later that year, Delaware would ratify the Constitution and become the first state in the new Union.
- American settlers were fighting against local Indian tribes for the territories surrounding the Great Lakes in what would become known as the “Northwest Indian War.”
- John Fitch’s steam-powered ship completes testing, years before Robert Fulton’s Clermont.
- The French Revolution began, though the ultra-violent period wouldn’t begin for several more years.
- The ‘First Fleet’ left England with shiploads of convicts to found the first penal colony on Australia.
Coincidentally, the publishing date of this article happens to be on the birthday of astronaut Sally Ride! Like the sailors of the original Columbia, she too was a pioneer as the first American woman in space.
Happy birthday, Sally.
After researching this post, I know the next time I ride the Sailing Ship Columbia at Disneyland will mean even more to me. On one hand, I now have an idea of the many hardships her crew had to face.
On the other, I feel so lucky that Walt had her replica built for us all to enjoy today. I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about America’s past. See ya’ real soon!