Flying Cloud ship model
In 1851 the Flying Cloud, true to its name, carried mail and passengers from New York to San Francisco in a record-breaking eighty-nine days, twenty-one hours. The Wells Fargo Bank, History Department, San Francisco, California, originally commissioned this model for its museum. The museum donated the model to the National Postal Museum in 1993.
For a period in the 1840s and 1850s, the postal service used clipper ships to reach the small but growing populations on the west coast of the United States. For most of that period, there were no direct overland mail routes. Transporting mail by ship at the time meant a journey that could stretch to an approximately 16,000 miles, which could take months. The ships traveled south from New York to South America, around Cape Horn, and back up the west coast to California.
At first the term 'clipper' was used to describe any swift sailing ship. By 1845, the term also came to describe the cargo carried or area served by such a fast vessel. The swiftest clipper ships could reach averages of 18-20 knots (approximately 1.5 miles per hour) at a time when 7-9 knots was considered a good speed. Clippers provided the fastest passage from the east coast to the west coast at the time.