Progress, Off for Chicago

Whaling Bark Progress in Tow

Original content by: Dr. Paul Goodwin

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

The whaling bark Progress, which was exhibited at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, was built in Westerly, Rhode Island, in 1842 and originally named the Charles Phelps.  She sailed out of Stonington, Connecticut until 1859, when she was sold to New London interests.  Chartered by the United States Government during the Civil War as a store ship, the Charles Phelps was sold to New Bedford in 1866 where she was re-built as a whaling bark and renamed the Progress.  In 1871, the Progress and several other ships narrowly escaped being trapped in Arctic ice.  Thirty-three other whalers were not as lucky, and were iced-in, trapping over a thousand men, three women and five children with them.  Due to her escape, the Progress participated in the rescue of the crew from the trapped ships and ultimately carried 226 people on board to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii).  Her whaling career ended in 1882, and for ten years she was tied up in New Bedford.

In 1892, the Progress began a new life.  Refitted as a whaler, in June 1892, she "sailed" from Boston in tow of the tug Right Arm bound for Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1893 as a floating museum.  In her cabin, she carried a "collection of curiosities and products of the whaling industry."  At the Exposition, she wore the banner:  "Arctic Whaling Museum, 10,000 marine curiosities between decks."  After the Exposition, the Progress was stripped of her museum and allowed to sink in the south pond of Jackson Park.  Two years later she was moved and sunk in the Calumet River.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. What do you think would have inspired someone to change Progress from a whaling vessel to a floating museum?
  2. Magazines such as Harpers, despite heavy coverage of the Exposition, failed to mention the Progress exhibit. Why do you suppose a whale ship museum was ignored?
  3. Do you think fairgoers equated the ship Progress with industrial or scientific progress?