Riverboat Pilot's Historic Journey
Today we celebrate a historic journey which took place 155 years ago this month.
It is the journey of an adventurer whose creative, artistic legacy and whose interest in the world of science is still remembered today. Indeed, this adventurer's influence echoes strongly within the walls of our Head Offices here in Stirling where we design and manufacture perimeter security systems.
On 14 August 1861, a young man of 25 arrived in Carson City, Nevada. It was the end of a 20 day journey by stagecoach which had brought him across the Great Plains and over the Rocky Mountains.
He had come West with his older brother to escape the Civil War and seek a new life in a place he had never visited before and where they knew no-one.
Prior to the journey he had been a Mississippi riverboat pilot but in Carson City there were no riverboats! Instead he worked alongside his brother as Assistant Secretary of the Nevada Territory. His name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
Samuel soon sought other ways to make a living. He speculated in mining but was not successful and then took on work as a news reporter in Virginia City. He adopted a pen name and went on to write some of the most notable and popular novels of the 19th century. He was Mark Twain.
The APS Administration Manager, Elaine, has a great love of reading and history and one of her favourite novels is 'The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer'. Published 140 years ago this year and having sold an estimated 20 million copies in that time, the story is a literary evergreen.
It tells the story of Tom, a young boy growing up along the mighty Mississippi river. There is a great sense of familiarity with the setting that allows the reader to almost feel as if they are there looking over Tom's shoulder as his adventures unfold. This is no accident - Twain himself knew the Mississippi river very well. He had spent a few years on Mississippi steamboats, first in training and then as a qualified pilot. To qualify he had started training at the age of 21 and had to study 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of the Mississippi for more than two years before he received his pilot license in 1859.
That’s where the second connection comes in. Andy, the APS Technical Director, is a keen photographer and one of his favourite photographs, taken on a trip to see clients in the United States, is of a Mississippi steamboat!
You can just imagine the young Clemens at the helm with no inkling of how his river experiences would resonate in the legacy of work he would one day create.
NOTE: Twain even has his own section within the Wikipedia page about Steamboats of the Mississippi.
The third connection comes from Twain's later life when he developed a strong interest in the science of electrical energy and also became a friend of the scientific genius Nikola Tesla who gave the world the alternating current. Twain even included a type of electric fence in one of his novels! Twain actually referred to it as an electric wire. You can read about it in this special feature called Mark Twain’s Electric Fence.
Twain was an imaginative storyteller who was not afraid to use his real life experiences and interests to colour his stories. Perhaps that is why they will endure :)