Samuel Plimsoll (1824 – 1898)
The English coal merchant, shipping expert and politician Samuel Plimsoll was often referred to as “the sailor’s friend”. He made an effort for better social conditions and for more safety aboard ships.
Ship owners at the time consistently overloaded their old vessels and sent them to sea, well insured but manned with poor sailors recruited from the pubs. If the vessel reached her port of destination, the owner cashed more freight then he should have if loaded correctly. If the vessel went down due to her unseaworthy and overloaded condition, it was well ensured and the owner cashed anyhow.
Who cared about a few poor sailors?
Well, Samuel Plimsoll did! In 1873 he published Our Seamen, a book that used shocking case studies and government statistics to demonstrate that overloading and unseaworthiness were primary causes of England’s shipwrecks.
It forced Parliament in 1875 to pass the Unseaworthy Ships Bill containing a mandatory load line painted on the ship’s side indicating the maximum safe loading depth.
By the 1930s most nations had adopted it and gradually the “Plimsoll mark” became a household word in the maritime industry and a symbol for security, reliability, stability and social advancement.