Ice sailing was on the minds of America’s founders! This post was originally going to be about how the 1918 influenza pandemic affected the ice yachting world but during the course of research, I stumbled upon some important history that took place 150 years earlier while browsing the National Archives website . Benjamin Franklin ordered a Dutch ice yacht model* and a set of plans from someone in Holland. (The Dutch are founding fathers of ice sailing.) John Adams even was a passenger in one while in Holland though he didn’t seem too thrilled with it. Maybe Ben Franklin’s iceboat plans and model are gathering dust in some museum? Below are excerpts from letters to Ben Franklin and from John Adams.
To Benjamin Franklin from François Willem de Monchy, 9 January 1767
“I have spoken here with a man to make you a model of an Iceboat, but as it must be made in the proportion of an Inche, or perhaps less to a foot it will cost you about 10 Duc., that is between 4 and 5 guineas, and this is the reason why I ask you first if you will give so much for it, if you like it, I’ll take care it shall be made soon, and send it over directly.”
To Benjamin Franklin from François Willem de Monchy, 15 May 1767
Agreeable to your desire I have send you two drawings of an Ice-boat. That without the mast is in the proportion of an Inch to a foot, and that with the mast but the half of that proportion otherwise we could not have brought it within the compass of the paper. You would have had it much sooner, had not the death of my deaer Mother prevented me from fininching my part of the drawing. The model without the mast was done by the ship-builder of the Admiralty, the other by my self under his direction. I shipped it yesterday on board the King George sloop, Capt. Harper, who lives in Queen’s Court St. Katherines and promised to take great care of them.
*Footnote: Ben Franklin appears to have asked Monchy for scale drawings of an iceboat of the type used on the Dutch canals. Although Monchy here uses both the words “drawing” and “model,” it seems probable that he was using them interchangeably, not that he was sending both pictorial representations on paper and three-dimensional scaled constructions of wood or other material. The scale drawings he did send are reproduced here, though necessarily much reduced from the scale mentioned in the letter.
John Adams to Richard Cranch The Hague April 3. 1784
He wrote about having to go “to Holland in one of the worst Seasons ever known, and I underwent Such severe hardships in Packet Boats, Boors-waggons and Iceboats as again endangered my Health and my Life.”