Why are ship compartments called “staterooms”?

March 26, 2017 | Author: | Posted in General Knowledge

According to a popular story, stateroom as applied to the compartments containing the berths on a steamship originated as follows: In 1815 Captain Henry Miller Shreve, after whom Shreveport, Louisiana, was named, made the first steamboat voyage up the Mississippi and Ohio as far as Louisiana. For many years Captain Shreve had charge of the improvement of western rivers. About 1844, it is said he had cabins built on his steamboat and named them after the states bordering on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Hence the cabins came to be called at first the States and finally State rooms.

A year later—the year Texas was admitted into the Union—the pilothouse was built on the hurricane or third deck of the vessel. This was facetiously called The Texas, because it was “annexed to the States.” From this circumstance, according to the story, the third deck of a Mississippi steamboat received the name Texas.

This story, however, is open to etymological criticism. In the first place, stateroom was applied to steamship compartments before that time. For instance, Harriet Martineau uses the term in its modern sense in Retrospect of Western Travel, published in 1838. In the second place, it is probable that Captain Shreve’s scheme of naming his cabins was suggested by the word stateroom.

As early as the seventeenth century English writers applied state to a raised platform or dais containing a chair or throne covered with a canopy. This state was the chief seat of honor. The original state room was a room in a palace, executive mansion or hotel, splendidly decorated and furnished and used only on state or ceremonial occasions.

Stateroom in connection with ships originated in the British Navy. Under date of April 14, 166o, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary: “Very pleasant we were on board the London, which hath a stateroom much bigger than the Nazeby, but not so rich.” In 1694 the London Gazette reported: “The yacht having lost in this encounter but three men, who were killed by one great shot in the state-room.”

Tobias Smollet, Scottish novelist and surgeon, wrote in Roderick Random in 1748: “A cabin was made for him contiguous to the state-room where Whiffle slept.” In other words, the original stateroom on a British warship was the cabin or quarters of a superior officer.

In time the term was extended to merchant ships. Sir Walter Scott, in Cruise of the Midge, wrote: “The cabin had two state-rooms, as they are called in the Mer­chantmen, opening off it.”

In the United States this term was narrowed to signify first a private cabin on a ship and then to a sleeping compartment on a train. This usage was probably influenced by the fact that in the early days of passenger steamships ordinary people slept in bunks in two large rooms, one for men and one for women, but wealthy and distinguished persons were given private rooms and they were said to travel in style or in state. In the sense of an apartment of state in a palace or great house the term is generally written state room, not stateroom as it is in the sense of a steamship or railway train compartment.

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