Conflagration of the Steam Boat New Jersey on the Delaware River Opposite Philadelphia, March 15, 1856, in Which 50 Persons Lost Their Lives


George G. Heiss was a mid-19th century Philadelphia lithographer, who specialized in views of fire-fighting equipment. This lithograph shows, in the distance under the winter night sky, clouds of smoke rising from the Philadelphia and Camden Ferry Company steamboat New Jersey as rowboats race to the wreck. In the right of the image, a partial view of the ferry Dido traveling to the rescue is visible. The New Jersey caught fire as the result of defective boilers while in mid-voyage to Camden from Philadelphia via an alternate elongated route necessitated by heavy ice. With the fire spreading rapidly, Captain Ebenezer Corson retreated to Arch Street Wharf in Philadelphia. He came within ten meters of the pier when the pilot house collapsed, leaving the boat impossible to control. Corson survived by leaping ashore before the ship drifted back out on the river, but 50 people died. Heiss, whose studio was located near this event, rushed this lithograph into print. Heiss was born in Philadelphia in 1823. He exhibited at the Artists' Fund Society 1840−43 and was also known as a portrait painter. He worked closely with Thomas Wagner and James McGuigan’s lithography studio from 1847 to 1855, when he opened his own establishment at 213 North Second Street. From then until the early 1860s, he mainly lithographed and published views of fire-fighting engines for local volunteer companies. Heiss published The Illustrated National Alphabet illustrated with lithographs in 1865. He left lithography in 1868 and established an artists’ materials emporium at 25 North 11th Street, which he operated until about 1885.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

George G. Heiss, Philadelphia


Title in Original Language

Conflagration of the steam boat New Jersey on the Delaware River opposite Philada. March 15 1856 in which 50 persons lost their lives.

Type of Item

Physical Description

1 print : lithograph, tinted with one stone and hand-colored ; 14 x 21 centimeters


  • Digital catalog number: POS 155


  1. Heiss, George G., Philadelphia on Stone Biographical Dictionary, Library Company of Philadelphia,
  2. Piola, Erika, “Gory and Graphic: The Production and Consumption of Nineteenth -Century Disaster Lithographs in Philadelphia,”

Last updated: September 2, 2015