Alfred “Centennial” Johnson


Place: Europe

First Name: Alfred

Last Name: Johnson

Birth/Death: b. December 4, 1846, d. 1927

In 1876, in honor of America’s first centennial, Alfred “Centennial” Johnson was the first to single-handedly cross the Atlantic west-to-east.

Alfred “Centennial” Johnson (1846–1927) was a Danish-born fisherman from Gloucester, Massachusetts. In 1876, in a 20-foot (6.1 m) sailing dory, he made the first recorded single-handed crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, landing at Abercastle in west Wales as a celebration of the first centennial of the United States.

He sailed on the crossing on June 15, 1876. He stopped briefly in Nova Scotia to make some adjustments to his ballast, then set off into the open ocean around June 25. He was sighted by several ships along the way, most of which attempted to rescue him, only to be astonished when he refused. At one time, he received a gift of two bottles of rum from a passing ship.

Johnson managed an average pace of about 70 miles (110 km) a day, quite respectable for such a small boat in the open sea, and survived a major gale which capsized the boat. Against the odds, he finally made landfall at Abercastle, a small port in Wales, on Saturday, August 12. After two days’ rest, he finished his voyage by sailing into Liverpool on August 21, 1876, to an enthusiastic reception.

Johnson received some attention for his feat, and his boat was exhibited in Liverpool for several months; he was thereafter known as Alfred “Centennial” Johnson. When asked late in life why he had done it, he said “I made that trip because I was a damned fool, just as they said I was.”

Johnson’s voyage was the first recorded single-handed crossing of the Atlantic, and perhaps the first major single-handed passage carried out in the spirit of adventure.

Origin: Kingdom of Denmark

Alfred "Centennial" Johnson