Yesterday I stopped by the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum in Alexandria (the doors open for the 2013 season on May 17th) to chat with the Executive Director, Bruce Olsen. After we spoke and solved most of the world’s problems, we talked about a launch named Frieda. It is a naphtha launch that is on loan to the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum thank to the generosity of Lawrence and Lloyd Ferguson and once was displayed at Yellowstone National Park. What I have learned is that they were very popular in their day (late 1800’s and early 1900’s) but very few remain today.
Naphtha refers to a number of flammable liquid mixtures. In 1883 a man named Frank Ofeldt invented, and patented, a system that didn’t use steam but instead used naphtha. His fuel-burning system was an enclosed single-acting crankcase engine. He found support in a wealthy oil man named Jabez Bostwick and they founded The Gas Engine and Power Company in New York City. The company built over 2,000 naphtha launches between 1885 and 1905. According to the premier vintage boating magazine, Classic Boating, “they are remembered as a sort of ideal, an epitome of the best powerboat design for recreational uses when one to four horsepower per ton was the norm. They were graceful, well proportioned, highly finished, and always recognizable.
A launch is a large motorboat. Originally it was the largest boat carried by a warship. The word comes from the Portuguese lancha “barge”, from Malay lancha, lancharan, “boat,” from lanchar “velocity without effort,” “action of gliding smoothly” (said primarily of boats and turtles).
In the 1700s a launch was used to set the large anchors on a ship. They had a square transom and were about 24 feet long. In 1788 Captain Bligh was set adrift in the “Bounty’s Launch”.