Collins, Edward Knight

Collins, Edward Knight

(1802–78) shipowner; born in Truro, Mass. He moved to New York City and worked in the shipping business from the age of 15. In 1831 he took over and improved lines that shipped to Vera Cruz and New Orleans. In 1836 he launched his transatlantic Dramatic Line, naming the sailing ships after actors. In 1847, with a Congressional subsidy and supervision by the U.S. Navy, he began building five steamships to compete with the British Cunard steamships and formed the United States Mail Steamship Company. The first ship was launched in 1850 and proved faster than Cunard's ships. In 1854 all passengers—including Collins' wife, son, and daughter—drowned when his Artic collided in fog with a small French steamer off Cape Race and sank. After the Pacific was lost at sea in 1856, Congress gave six months notice that it was canceling its subsidy. He sold his remaining three ships (1858) and turned to coal and iron interests in Ohio.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.