Nineteen years after establishing the William M. Bird Company in Charleston, SC, Mr. Bird saw an opportunity to expand well beyond the city limits. The store on East Bay Street was located just one block away from the Cooper River, an important commercial waterway for trade up and down the Atlantic seaboard. Having sailed this route during the war, Mr. Bird was well aware of Northern ports of call and the business opportunities that awaited there.
In 1884, Mr. Bird had the Schooner “William M. Bird” built as a freight vessel for the company. The schooner was used to haul cement, lumber, naval stores (pine rosin and turpentine) and other building supplies from Savannah and Charleston to Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
Built in Camden, New Jersey by S.W. Tilton, it was a four masted schooner measuring 172 feet in length with a breadth of 36 feet, 6 inches and a depth of 19 feet. Its substantial 768 net tonnage capacity enabled it to transport a large variety of building materials. Capt. John T. Barrett commanded the ship and its crew of eleven men.
Sadly, the schooner was wrecked on a return voyage on October, 30, 1899 off the coast of North Carolina at Frying Pan Shoals. Capt. Barrett and nine men perished. Two survivors, Mate G.W. Loud and one seaman were rescued on November 3, 1899 by Schooner Samuel T. Beacham from Jacksonville. The men were landed at Salisbury, Maryland and relayed that disaster struck only 12 miles off shore.
On December 13, 1899, the schooner was discovered bottom up in Bulls Bay, South Carolina not far from it’s home port in Charleston. This tragic event was devastating to Mr. Bird and his staff. The schooner was not replaced.
Although the golden whale is an iconic symbol of William M. Bird, the schooner is often used to symbolize and honor the place in history it holds for the company. A schooner logo was used when a paint division of the company was spun off into its own company, Lord & Evans. A different variation on the schooner was used as a logo for William M. Bird’s holding company, Southern Diversified Distributors established in 2003.