clipper, type of sailing ship, designed for speed. Long and narrow, the clipper had the greatest beam aft of the center; the bow cleaved the waves; and the ship carried, besides topgallant and royal sails, skysails and moonrakers—a veritable cloud of sails. The type originated in the United States. Baltimore clippers and Atlantic packet ships were the forerunners of the true Yankee clipper, which may be said to have emerged with the Ann McKim, completed in Baltimore in 1833. The Yankee clipper was brought to perfection by Donald McKay of Boston, who built such vessels as the Flying Cloud, the Glory of the Seas, and the Lightning. U.S. and British clippers came to be known as China clippers because they utilized their speed to carry on a flourishing China trade in tea and opium. Clippers sailed from the U.S. Atlantic coast around Cape Horn to California in the days of the gold rush. They steadily reduced the time for their long voyages and held famous races. The clipper came into being only after its finally successful rival, the steamship, was engaging in transoceanic voyages. In the early days the clipper easily outran the plodding steam vessel, but, ironically, the improved steamship began to forge ahead even as some of the fastest and most beautiful clippers were being built. When the Cutty Sark, one of the swiftest and most celebrated British clippers, was completed at Dunbarton, Scotland, in 1869, the era of the commercial sailing ship had nearly come to an end.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.