S.S. Corwin in the Ice, June 1908

Within the image area of this postcard, the photographer inscribed the negative: “S.S. Corwin in the Ice June -08-“.  He also signed it in the lower right corner: “By J.C. Wats”.  Was his name Watson?

Underneath the image, the sender wrote: “June 23/08  Well but Busy  C.H.”

S.S. Corwin (1908) 2


There’s a lot of information online about the Corwin and her forty years of service in the Pacific and Arctic oceans (1876-1916).  The following excerpt from Wikipedia relates to the time period during which the photo was taken:

The Corwin continued in the passenger and freight business and from 1906 to 1910 held a contract to transport mail to towns on Norton Sound and the Seward Peninsula. She was the first ship to reach Nome in the spring in 1902–1909, 1913 and 1914. She generally returned to Puget Sound in the fall and was often the last ship out of Nome.  In part, her early arrivals were due to the fact that she was sheathed and retained a protected and reinforced bow for ice work. In 1908, after arriving at Nome during a particularly bad ice season, the Corwin headed out again and cut channels to free three steamers that were stuck in the ice 50 miles from Nome, one (the Victoria) in danger of sinking and all in danger of being carried north by moving ice. […]

Captain West returned as Master from 1902 to 1910; his wife Gertrude sailed with him as Ship’s Clerk. Most of the crew were Eskimo (they were less likely to desert the ship to go prospecting), and the kitchen staff were Chinese.

S.S. Corwin (1908) 4
S.S. Corwin near Nome, Alaska, 1908
S.S. Corwin (1908) 3
Unidentified passengers or crewmen from the steamship Corwin, 1908


The postcard was addressed to a Mr. H.C. Austin at the Trade Register in Seattle, Washington.  It has an Alaska cancellation, but the location of the post office is obscured by old album paper.  The year 1908 is visible.

S.S. Corwin (1908) 5


Another 1908 photo of the ship is in the collection of the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center in Anchorage, Alaska.  That one was taken by a photographer named Otto Daniel Goetze.  You can see it here.

John Muir, “Father of the National Parks,” sailed to Alaska on the Corwin in 1881.



40 thoughts on “S.S. Corwin in the Ice, June 1908

Add yours

  1. I was thinking the same thing as Shayne. Today all you need is a smart phone 🙂
    I’m also amazed by the minimal address on the card.
    It must have been fascinating to sail on a ship like that and see so much unspoiled territory.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The address had me scratching my head, until I realized that “Trade Register” was probably a business with a known address.

      Sailing was pretty dangerous in those days! Especially to such a remote location, where weather was unpredictable and there weren’t any forecasts. It required a sense of adventure. Fortunately, Alaska is still mostly unspoiled.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. While the passengers were standing around or posing for photos, two crew members were busy aloft. I’ve sailed Glacier Bay in summer, and even then it could be a little nippy, with plenty of icebergs and snow around. I can’t imagine tending to the rigging in those conditions, although plenty of people did it.

    Here’s a little coincidence: one of the small almost-towns I go through on my way to my new pineywoods playground is named Nome. I’ve always wondered about its name, so I looked it up this morning, and found this in the Handbook of Texas Online:

    “Residents and travelers began to refer to the junction as Nome after oil was discovered at Sour Lake (Hardin County) around 1900. The newer name probably referred to the gold strikes, which produced a similar population influx and economic boom at Nome, Alaska, at roughly the same time. In any event, the post office name was changed to Nome in 1903.”

    In the early 1900s, Nome clearly was a big deal!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What a funny coincidence! The only thing I associate with Nome is the Iditarod. I didn’t know there was ever a gold rush there. Did you sail much of the Inside Passage? It’s so beautiful, and the only way to see it up close is by boat.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. “In 1908, after arriving at Nome during a particularly bad ice season, the Corwin headed out again and cut channels to free three steamers …”

        What a great duty Corwin fulfilled! And many others according to its Wikipedia page.

        A brilliant and insightful read, Brad! ✨

        Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s so kind of you, Liz! I don’t want to overwhelm my readers with history, so I try to keep the posts concise, and to alternate between shorter posts and longer ones. I hope it’s a good balance.

      Does your work let up at all in the summer?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, it doesn’t because summer is when we update the online courses for the new academic year. Summer is actually my busiest time. I don’t know if I’ve told you, but I just accepted a new job with Champlain College Online, starting next month. A new adventure in curriculum and assessment!

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Great image! I got curious about the history, too, and I’m always fascinated by historical perspective. This photo was taken only 41 year after Alaska was purchased by the US, and it would be another 51 years before it became an actual state. Also, I think the Trade Register was a publication, like a business journal.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Agreed. It seems to have been a weekly publication, perhaps useful to some, though not something that enjoyed an enormous popular readership. It’s possible the addressee was just a friend of the sender., but it’s also possible that the blocked shipping route was actual news fit for print in a publication that kept people up to date on such things.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I hadn’t given much thought to what the sender might have been doing in Nome, but he could have been reporting on trade activity there. Nome was probably the shipping port and trade hub for all of northwestern Alaska.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Curiously I read ‘Trade’ as Tiade’ (as there is a dot over what seems to be an ‘i’ and the letter ‘R’ in ‘Mr’ is written differently) and wondered what the heck it was! Trade makes more sense. What an astonishing photo and history – I can’t imagine being on a boat in that sort of environment.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. At first I thought it was a studio photograph – you know, have an Arctic backdrop, a few paper mache glaciers at the front, and you can easily sit on one of those in your shirtsleeves. I’m quite impressed that it’s the real thing. I also wondered at the lack of beards, but I assume that they would have had the time for shaving.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Paper mache glaciers, haha! 😀

      I hadn’t thought about beards or lack thereof. The Corwin was actually pretty luxurious. A paragraph on Wikipedia discusses major modifications done in Seattle before the 1904 season, which included extending the stern cabin to create a whole second deck. She was also “modernized with addition of electric lighting throughout the ship and running water in all staterooms. The changes added six first-class staterooms and more steerage space, bringing her capacity to 100 passengers and about 200 tons freight.” Shaving wouldn’t have been a problem!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Really brave people! I am not sure that I would go on such a journey away from civilization. I also thought at first that it was a studio photo. But snow on the boots of a young man made me accept a different point of view. Awesome photo!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! Nowadays, with satellite phones, it’s possible to be almost anywhere in the world and still in touch with civilization. On the other hand, the world is still unpredictable, and I like my comforts! There are plenty of dangerous places that I have no interest in visiting. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A truly striking photograph – and great composition given the terrain and slipperiness and care needed in moving equipment. Such a photo would have wowed ’em back in the day, and it’s still impressive today.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know it’s a great photo if people are impressed 111 years later! Thanks for visiting, Ruth. I’ve been taking a break because of a sore back, which has limited my screen time (sitting hurts more than standing). I hope to start posting again soon. Brad

      Liked by 2 people

  8. I enjoyed this post and thought about writing “Well But Busy” in the postcard, but ended up writing longer. Surprisingly, Suzanne has already got hers, I hope that means you’ll receive yours soon. I checked my mail yesterday, still waiting for mine to arrive!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I have photos from the corwin expedition in 1916 from my great great grandfather signed and dated I’d like to share, And get any additional information on that particular trip.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: