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Alaska Mail Service:
the Mail Steamer Elsie

    The Elsie was a propeller steam launch, built in San Francisco in 1889. She was 77 feet long, with a 20 foot beam and 8 foot hold. Gross tonnage was 65.73. She was powered by an 80 HP engine.

    In 1891, the North American Commercial Company was awarded an important Alaska mail service contract, and chose the Elsie to service it. In 1892, in command of Captain W. Thomas, she was running passengers from Sitka to Cook Inlet, and excursions for up to 24 people as well as the mail contract. The articles below are copied from The Alaskan newspaper.

The Alaskan

Sitka, Alaska
Saturday, June 20, 1891

    The North American Commercial Company has a big job on hand in its recently acquired mail contract for Alaska service. Route No. 78,099 is from Sitka via Yakutat, Nutchek, Kodiak, Unga, Humbolt Harbor and Belkofsky to Unalaska. The distance is 1250 miles, and the service will be monthly for seven months, between April 1st and October 31st of each year.
    Heretofore mail has been taken to Unalaska by way of San Francisco. Therefore when the Collector of Customs wished to communicate with his deputy at Unalaska he was obliged to send his letter by mail to San Francisco, and from there by supply ship to its destination. This gives a slight idea of the immensity of our northern possessions - Tacoma Ledger

The Alaskan

Sitka, Alaska
Saturday, July 11, 1891

    The arrival of the steam schooner Elsie inaugurated a new era in the meagre history of the Alaska mail service. This vessel is the pioneer under the contract made by the Postoffice Department to carry the United States mail from Sitka to Unalaska monthly. Some idea of the enormous magnitude of our coast line may be realized by the fact that this vesselís most westerly destination by the route which she is to traverse, is over 1,000 miles, making her round trip aggregate a total of 3,200 miles.
    The importance of the service to be rendered under this contract can hardly be overestimated. It opens up at least a monthly means of communication with the great and growing industries of the western coast and the inhabited islands of Alaska. The vessel, though a small one, appears to be staunch and seaworthy. She is officered as follows: Captain, J. E. Lennan, who is well known here as an excellent seaman and a genial, courteous man; H. Moos, first officer; W. F. Donnelly, chief engineer; George Drennon, first assistant, and a crew of five sailors.
    A good deal of surprise and chagrin were expressed by everyone in Sitka at the smallness of the schooner and her lack of passenger accommodations. There were at least a dozen people awaiting this vesselís arrival at Sitka for the purpose of securing transportation to various western points, and their disappointment at not being able to obtain passage was manifest. THE ALASKAN had hoped that the letting of this mail contract would tend to open up some of the dormant resources which are known to exist at the westward, and it believed and still believes that with adequate carrying facilities a large business could be created in the transportation of passengers and freight at reasonable rates. The policy of simply distributing mail bags at western post-offices in the Territory and virtually debarring people from visiting their correspondents for either business or pleasure, savors very much of a desire to perpetuate those monopolies with large capital which have so long controlled the commerce of that section of Alaska, to the exclusion of that very desirable class of determined and energetic pioneers who have in all our history been the heralds announcing the growth of virgin territory into wealthy and populous communities.

Sitka from the steamer landing, 1889. Photo by I. W. Taber. The steam launch is thought to be the Elsie.
The historic Alaska mail steamer 'Elsie' in Sitka in 1891

Northern Philately & Postal Service