Although not one of her builder's most famous creations, North America was nevertheless one of that exalted group of 'extreme' clippers which emanated from the East Boston yard of the great Donald McKay. Like many of McKay's ships, North America was built as a speculation and only after her completion late in 1851 was she sold to Nickerson & Company of Boston even though her name was McKay's own choice. Specifically designed by McKay for the tough North Atlantic packet service, she was registered at 1,464 tons and measured 215 feet in length with a 39 foot beam. Despite the intention of her designer however, her new owners put her onto the San Francisco run such was the colossal demand for both freight and passengers caused by the California 'Gold Rush' which had begun in 1849. A typical passage, including calls at Rio de Janeiro and Valparaiso for fresh water and supplies, took her 151 days although in 1853 she sped down the so-called Maury run [Cape St. Roque, Brazil to the 50th parallel] in just 20 days, one of only 12 ships out of 130 that year to complete the distance in either the same time or the record (which stood at a mere one day less).
Another portrait of North America but in an altogether calmer sea is listed and illustrated in L.G.G. Ramsey's Montague Dawson, R.S.M.A., F.R.S.A., second revised edition, Leigh-on-Sea, 1970, no. 169, p.42, plate 37.