Arguably the most celebrated racing yacht ever built, America was commissioned by a syndicate of New York businessmen who engaged George Steers to design them a schooner based upon the lines of the city's distinctive pilot boats. Launched on 3rd May 1851, she measured 95 feet in length and was constructed of five different woods, mostly white oak. She left American waters in June and, after a brief call at Le Havre, arrived at Cowes on 1st August where she caused an immediate sensation. The now famous race for which the Royal Yacht Squadron had put up a handsome new Hundred Guinea Cup took place amidst great excitement on 22nd August 1851. Commencing at 10 o'clock, the fifty-eight mile course was around the Isle of Wight and, after a disappointing start, America took the lead at 11.30. She crossed the finishing line at 8.37 that evening, eight minutes ahead of the nearest challenger and, in that instant, achieved the fame which was to remain hers long after her timbers had perished away.
This painting depicts the famous yacht in the East River, New York, in 1881, with a large 'Down Easter' being towed out and the New York pier of the Brooklyn Bridge - still under construction - off her starboard beam. After her legendary victory in 1851, she was sold and remained in British waters, under various owners, until 1861 when she became first a Confederate blockade runner and then a Union blockade enforcer. After the Civil War she became a school ship for U.S. midshipmen and was refitted by the U.S. Navy to compete in the first America's Cup defence races in 1870. Sold to General Benjamin Butler in 1873, he lavishly refurbished her and thereafter she raced competitively until 1901. Eventually presented to the U.S. Naval Academy, she was destroyed in 1942 when the roof of her boathouse collapsed onto her under the weight of heavy snow.