The Alfred Olcott Collection of Hudson River Steamboats
Language of Materials
This collection contains photographs, ship plans and blueprints, ephemera, and clippings relating to Hudson River steamboats from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.
Alfred Van Santvoord Olcott was born in 1886, to a family that had been operating steamboats on the Hudson River for three generations. His great-grandfather started an excursion business on the Hudson in 1835. In 1861 his grandfather, Commodore Alfred Van Santvoord, converted the river excursion business into a steamboat line that would be come know as the Hudson River Day Line. The line regularly transported passengers between New York City and Albany on a fleet of side-wheelers. The Day Line developed a reputation for its style and elegance, promoting steamboat travel as glamorous as well as convenient. In 1895, Van Santvoord named his son-in-law, Eben Erskine Olcott, General Manager. When Van Santvoord died in 1901, Eben Olcott became president of the company. He expanded and modernized many facets of the operation and the company thrived under his direction. The line attracted passengers with its grand ships, such as the Albany and the New York, which were appointed with luxurious furnishings and original artwork. The Day Line also fostered a relationship with the local railroad lines, linking the departure and arrival points of the two modes of transportation to facilitate travel.
Following his graduation from Princeton University in 1909, Alfred Olcott, Eben Olcott's son, became Treasurer of the Hudson River Day Line. He was promoted to General Manager in 1917. After his father's death in 1929, he succeeded him as president of the company. Olcott struggled to keep the Day Line afloat during the 1930s as the nation's economic woes impacted all sectors of activity. A brief resurgence in riverboat travel following the World War II pulled the line out of debt and seemed to point toward a prosperous future. The boom, however, was short-lived. As the era of steamboat travel was winding to a close, the Hudson River Day Line suffered heavy profit losses in 1946 and 1947 and Olcott was forced to discontinue it service at the end of 1948.
Alfred Olcott went on to serve as a director of the Hudson River Conservation Society, as president of the Federated Chambers of Commerce of the Hudson River Valley and as a member of the executive committee of the State Chamber of Commerce. He died in Booth Bay, Maine in 1961.
The collection is divided into three series.
- Series I. Steamboat Lines
- Series II. Miscellaneous Views
- Series III. Oversize Materials
Scope and Content Note
The Alfred Olcott Hudson River Steamboat Collection spans the period 1871-1951 and contains photographs, blueprints, prints, and ephemera relating to steamboat travel on the Hudson. The collection is divided into three series: Steamboat Lines; Miscellaneous Views; and Oversize Materials.
Series I. Steamboat Lines contains photographs, prints, clippings, and ephemera dating 1886-1951. The material is arranged alphabetically by subject with the majority relating to the Hudson River Day Line, although the Central Hudson Line and the Hudson River Navigation Company are also represented. Individual steamers highlighted include: the Benjamin B. Odell; the Homer Ramsdell; the Newburgh; the Fort Orange; the Albany; the Alexander Hamilton; the Chauncey M. Depew; the DeWitt Clinton; the Hendrick Hudson; the Mary Powell; the New York; the Peter Stuyvesant; the Robert Fulton; the Washington Irving. The photographic material includes both vintage prints and copy prints of steamer exteriors and interiors, and passengers. Included in the photographic material is an album documenting the construction and 1927 launch of the Peter Stuyvesant, a Hudson River Day Line steamer. The ephemera consists primarily of advertisements, schedules, and brochures published by the steamboat companies. There are also several souvenir postcards.
Series II. Miscellaneous Views consists primarily of photographs of steamers and sites along the Hudson dating from 1875-1950, with some printed material and ephemera of similar subject matter and period. Three photographs show the tour through Howe Caverns, a tourist attraction not far from Albany. Another series of photographs shows steamboat launches at the Jamestown Exposition, an event at Sewells Point, VA (now the Norfolk Naval Base) from April to November 1907 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in America. There are two folders of photographs showing various boats, most of which are steamboats, although not necessarily Hudson River Day Line boats. Several folders of unidentified material include copies of paintings of non-maritime subjects, a menu, views of boats, and people. Three folders in this series contain views of the Hudson River and of sites along the river.
Series III. Oversize Materials contains original art, broadsides, photographs, and ship plans and blueprints from the Hudson River Day Line dating from 1871-1930. The original art for advertisements includes pencil sketches and ink sketches for broadsides describing the line. The printed broadsides advertise the line from the 1880s through the first two decades of the twentieth century, providing information on particular steamers routes and schedules. The earliest item in this series is a page from an 1871 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Magazine concerning the steamer Mary Powell. Two steamers, the Albany and the Hendrick Hudson, are documented in photographs. Another group of photos shows Hudson River piers. The inspection certificates for the Hudson River Line steamers date from 1879-1917. The ship plans and blueprints are of particular interest in the documentation of individual steamers. Those represented include: the Albany; the Alexander Hamilton; the Clermont; the Chauncey Depew; the Dewitt Clinton; the Hendrick Hudson; the Mary Powell; the New York; the Robert Fulton; and the Washington Irving.
Materials in this collection may be stored offsite. For more information on making arrangements to consult them, please visit www.nyhistory.org/library/visit.
Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.
Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, email@example.com. Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.
Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit: https://www.nyhistory.org/about/rights-reproductions
This collection should be cited as: The Alfred Olcott Hudson River Steamboats Collection, PR 098, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.
Location of Materials
Gift of Alfred Olcott, 1949-1951.