Steam

Who established the first steam laundry in California? Who ran the first regular steam ferry between San Francisco and Oakland, CA?

The answer to both questions is Hon. Henry Augustus Stearns, but it almost would have had to have been someone else.

In his early twenties, Henry Augustus Stearns was engaged in the manufacture of cotton-wadding in New England. But in 1850 he sailed for California via the Isthmus of Panama with machinery for a steam laundry.

Shortly after leaving Panama, Henry’s story could have easily ended. He could have been just another young man who embarked on an adventure, perished at sea, and never had a chance to make his mark on history.

The ship was not seaworthy. It floated about on the Pacific Ocean for four months. All on board were allowed only four ounces of bread and a pint of water each, per day.

But he survived to reach California and make his mark on history in the San Francisco Bay area. Later he returned to New England and became the first Superintendent of the Union Wadding Company in Pawtucket, RI, father of eight children, Lieutenant Governor of RI, the largest stockholder in the Kilby Manufacturing Company in Cleveland, OH, the owner of a cattle ranch in NM, and a member of the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. He also obtained a number of patents on cotton-gins, and patented the railway safety-gate.

How might one additional week adrift at sea have affected the subsequent chain of events?

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