San Francisco expands trade

Even while business in San Francisco was in the throes of a depression, efforts were made to reach out for more trade. Commodore Perry signed a treaty with Japan on March 31, 1854 that for the first time in history opened up that Asian nation to commerce with the United States. Shortly thereafter several ships sailed from San Francisco to Japan and later returned with full cargoes of Japanese goods.

Commodore Perry’s second fleet

Efforts were undertaken to set up a line of steamships operating between the city and China but this proved unsuccessful. It wasn’t until January of 1866 that the Ajax made the first steamship voyage to the Hawaiian Islands. Then, on January 1, 1867, the steamship Colorado finally sailed for China.

Steamship Ajax in San Francisco

As early as 1854, with occasional trips for several years before, steamships worked along the west coast and, in addition to the trade in the south, regular trips were now made to Vancouver Island. Around this time a company began to send coal down from Bellingham Bay on Puget Sound. In this same year the Russian-American Commercial Company brought in its first shipload of ice from Sitka, Alaska.

Ice first appears to have been imported in 1851 by Ferdinand Vassault and others. Five hundred tons of ice and eleven hundred barrels of apples were loaded onto the Lucas in Boston and sent around the horn to California. Only two hundred and twelve tons of ice was left on arrival at San Francisco. It brought in an average of twelve and a half cents a ton while the apples sold for thirty-five dollars a barrel. The venture then netted a total of forty thousand dollars.

Castle Hill in Sitka, Alaska 1827

Due to this success the Lucas was sent to Sitka in 1852 for another cargo of ice closer to the city, but when it was found that the Russians there wanted seventy-five dollars a ton to load the cargo the Lucas returned empty. But after the Russian-American Company was organized, and an agreement with the Russian government was realized in St. Petersburg, a cargo of ice from Sitka was brought to San Francisco and this began a period of extensive trade where large amounts of money were realized.


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