The Builders
DwclintonDe Witt Clinton, born in New York in 1769, played a pivotal role in the development of internal transportation in the United States during the early 1800’s. Clinton was dedicated to the idea of building a canal across New York state which would link the Atlantic Coast with Lake Erie and the Great Lakes, and he became principle sponsor of the Erie Canal.

Elected governor in 1817, Clinton induced the New York State Legislature to authorize the expenditure of $7 million for construction of a 40 foot wide, 4 foot deep, 363 mile long canal.

In October, 1825, “Clinton’s Ditch” was opened to traffic. Overnight, the Erie Canal became the most important trade route with the West, and New York spurted into an era of unparalleled growth – assuring its position as the major East Coast port. The cost of the Erie Canal was recouped in only seven years time, and continued to be an important trade artery for many years. The success of this engineering marvel revolutionized water transportation in the U.S. and provided the spark which set off a nation-wide craze of canal building.

EadsJames Buchanan Eads, one of the most outstanding civil engineers of the 19th century, is most widely known as the builder of the Eads Bridge in St. Louis, Missouri. An innovative inventor, Eads is noted for his development of diving bell techniques to salvage sunken steamboats. During the Civil War, he designed and built a fleet of ironclad gunboats. His most noteworthy achievement was the construction of a jetty system at the South Pass of the mouth of the Mississippi, enabling New Orleans to become a deep water port.

Eads was born near Lawrenceburg, Indiana in 1820. At the age of 18, he secured the position of mud clerk on the steamer Knickerbocker and began his life long involvement with the river.

As a clerk on a Mississippi River steamboat, Eads’ attention was attracted by the numerous losses of boats and cargoes. In 1842 he patented an adaption of the diving bell and engaged in the salvage business. He built the first of a series of “bell boats” bearing the name Submarine and became very successful.

In 1856 he went to Washington where he offered to clear the western rivers of snags for a modest annual sum. The bill passed the House of Representatives, but was defeated in the Senate. Eads was not easily discouraged, however, and formed the Western River Improvement Company. By 1857 there were 10 “submarines” in the company’s fleet.

As the Civil War threatened, he anticipated the strategic importance of the Mississippi and advanced a radical idea – ironclad boats. The U. S. Government was slow to recognize the merits of his proposal, but he eventually secured the contract and built the boats in record time. In February 1862, his novel craft were used to spearhead a Union offensive against Forts Henry and Sonelson, becoming the first ironclads to fight in North America.

In 1865, Congress authorized the construction of a bridge across the Mississippi at St. Louis. The St. Louis and Illinois Bridge Company was formed in 1866, and Eads was named chief engineer even though he had never before constructed a bridge. Eads’ bridge was revolutionary in both design and construction. His blueprints called for a steel arch bridge of three spans, 502, 520, and 502 feet respectively, supported by four piers. These spans would become the longest constructed up to that time.

He pioneered the use of structural steel in bridge building and was the first American to utilize pneumatic caissons in underwater construction. The Eads Bridge, with its record span and novel construction techniques, was recognized as a landmark engineering achievement and officially opened on July 4, 1874. Although Eads only built one bridge, his design and innovative methods of bridge construction were widely emulated.

Government attention to the improvement of navigation at the mouth of the Mississippi had begun as early as 1837, but efforts to deepen the channel had proved ineffective. By the 1870’s, the problem of channel maintenance had become a nightmare. In February 1874, Eads made a formal proposal to open the mouth of the river by opening a channel 28 feet deep between the South-West pass and the Gulf. Despite the wide skepticism, an amended bill was approved, authorizing the construction of a series of jetties at the smaller South pass. By 1879 Eads had successfully altered the sedimental behavior of the river, creating a deepened channel for shipping; for all practical purposes, New Orleans had an unrestricted outlet to the sea.

This achievement placed him in the foremost rank of hydraulic engineers. Eads became a technical advisor on river control, and his advice was sought not only by many municipalities in the U. S., but by other governments as well. Eads basic bridge design and innovative methods of bridge construction would be emulated worldwide. James Eads died on March 8, 1887.

ElletOf all the American engineers in the first half of the 19th century, the most renowned was Charles Ellet, Jr. (1810-1862). Ellet created the first comprehensive approach to river management. He proposed a levee system, the use of natural outlets and reservoirs, and the building of artificial outlets and reservoirs.

At 17, Ellet was on his future path to success working as an assistant canal engineer. His aspirations to become an engineer lead him to teach himself French, save his money, solicit the help of Lafayette, and win admittance to the best engineering school in the world, the Ecole de Ponts et Chaussees in France. In 1829, he returned to the U.S. and promptly built AmericaÕs first successful wire suspension bridge, over PhiladelphiaÕs Schuylkill River. Thereafter, he built the longest suspension bridge in the world, across the Ohio River at Wheeling, West Virginia.

While the Ohio River Bridge was still under construction, Ellet became the first to cross the ravine at Niagara Falls. By hanging from a wire basket from a wire cable, Ellet was able to pull himself across the vast, majestic pass. Next, he built a catwalk of planks (without guardrails) and was the first to cross Niagara Falls, driving a horse and carriage, standing up like a charioteer, and consequently metamorphosing himself into a legend.

In 1835, Ellet teamed with Benjamin Wright to work on the James River and Kanawha Canal in Virginia. Within a year, he was appointed sole Chief Engineer of the project.

Among his numerous accomplishments, Ellet surveyed the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers in 1850 and 1851. These were not simply maps; they were blueprints for development and flood control. Time would prove the Mississippi survey to be a brilliant, intuitive report, which would be vital in the future plans of the Mississippi River Valley. As sensible as his plan sounds today, it was tremendously controversial at the time, and the Corps of Engineers violently rejected his plan for expansion and flood control on the Mississippi River.

Despite the opposition to Ellet’s proposals during his lifetime, time allowed his plans to be not only accepted, but also to be acclaimed and effectively utilized. Virtually all of Ellet’s flood control recommendations are in place today. Ellet was a giant of his century whose vision has been implemented throughout the Mississippi River Valley.

Ellet served in the Civil War as commander of a fleet of Union rams on the Mississippi. Tragically, he was killed in the Battle for Memphis in 1862. Charles Ellet, Jr. was inducted to the National Rivers Hall of Fame at the National Waterways Conference September 29th, 2000. Ellet was nominated by John Barry, author of the best-selling Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America.

Inducted in 2000

FitchJohn Fitch was an inventor and mechanic who pioneered the practicality of steam navigation by building the first serviceable steamboat twenty years before Robert Fulton’s, Clermont. Fitch’s first steamboat was successfully launched and operated on the Delaware River before a group of delegates to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia. Then Fitch launched a 60-foot paddlewheel steamboat and operated a third and larger boat on the Delaware River. Fitch was granted a U. S. patent for the invention of his steamboat in 1791.
FultonRobert Fulton was an artist, inventor and engineer best known for his pioneering development of a practical steamboat. In 1807 Fulton launched his 146-foot steamboat the North River Steamboat of Clermont. By 1810, three of Fulton’s boats were in operation on the Hudson and Rariton Rivers. Fulton designed the New Orleans, the first steamboat to operate on the western rivers. During the War of 1812, he designed the world’s first steam powered warship. Robert Fulton proved the commercial feasibility of steamboats and ushered in a new era in the history of transportation.
William Hopkins grew up and served as an apprentice in the shipyards of Glasgow, Scotland, the birthplace of the iron shipbuilding industry. In the 1860’s, he immigrated to America and built iron clad monitors for the U. S. Navy. Hopkins arrive in Dubuque, Iowa in 1867 as a master mechanic for the Dubuque & Sioux City Railroad.

In 1870, Hopkins revolutionized steamboat building on the western rivers with the construction of the steamer Clyde, the first iron hull steamboat on the Mississippi River. During Hopkins’ thirty year career, the Iowa Iron Works built many noteworthy metal-hulled steamboats, including the Betsy Ann, the railroad transfer ferry Pelican, the towboat Sprague, a pleasure steamer for the King of Siam (Thailand) and an ocean-going torpedo boat for the U. S. Navy.

James Howard and the Howard Family were the most successful steamboat builders in American history, constructing such classic vessels as the John W. Cannon and the J. M. White (Ill.).

James Howard built his first hull at the age of 19 and established his boatyard in Jeffersonville, Indiana in 1834. He and his brother Daniel began building complete boats in the 1850’s, supplying boats for all aspects of the burgeoning steamboat age. Their fame became legendary, and by 1890, half of the steamboats on the western rivers were built by the Howards.

The Howard boatyard operated until 1940, when it was taken over by the U. S. Navy, and later became Jeffboat. From the Hyperion in 1834 to the Frank Costanzo in 1940, 550 Howard vessels were launched onto the inland waters of America, and the name of James Howard was forever etched into American river history.

James Rees was born in 1821. He worked in the Western Pennsylvania shops and foundries which built steamboat machinery, and he later worked for noted steamboat engine builder, Andrew Hartupee. In 1854, he established his own operation in Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River building steamboat engines, machinery and boilers. Later, he also built complete steamboats.

In the late 19th century, Rees constructed metal-hulled western river type steamboats for export around the world. These boats were fabricated, then disassembled and shipped abroad with a crew who then reassembled the vessel and taught its purchasers how to operate the boat. Rees’ boats plied the Volga, Nile, Magdalena, Yukon, Columbia, Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers, to name only a handful.

Modern river transportation came to many hinterlands of the world via Rees steamboats, and their heartiness and quality became legendary. The company’s Idlewild, built in 1914, continues operating today as the Belle of Louisville.

JroeblingWroeblingJohn A. Roebling and Washington Roebling were not only father and son, respectively, they were also master bridge builders whose engineering marvels still exist today. John A. Roebling was the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge and is considered one of the greatest bridge builders of all times. He was a pioneer in the use of wire rope in bridge work.

Roebling began his career building suspension aquaducts for canals. By the mid-19th century, he was well established as the world’s leading builder of suspension bridges. In the 1850’s and 1860’s, Roebling and his son, Washington – a brilliant engineer in his own right – built bridges across the Monongahela and Allegheny at Pittsburgh. They spanned the Niagara Falls and crossed the Ohio River at Cincinnati, the longest bridge in the world when completed in 1866.

Following John Roebling’s death in 1869, Washington built the Brooklyn Bridge according to his father’s designs. Hailed as a marvel of engineering, the “great bridge” opened in 1883 and remains a monument to the vision and engineering skills of the Roeblings.

James Rumsey unveiled his revolutionary “jet” propelled steamboat in 1787, 20 years before Fulton’s Clermont. Rumsey successfully demonstrated his 48-foot steamboat on the Potomac River before George Washington and a crowd of hundreds, just months after rival John Fitch demonstrated his own paddle steamboat.

In Rumsey’s unique design, water was taken in through the bow, heated, and then ejected under pressure at the stern – a technique still in use today in ferry boats, high speed patrol craft and many other vessels.

Rumsey also invented the water-tube boiler, which increased steam efficiency and reduced the size and fuel demand. Again, this technology is one commonly found today in modern steam vessels and nuclear-powered ships. Rumsey was an inventor, engineer and builder whose visionary genius created inventions that were far ahead of their time.

Henry Miller Shreve, the master of the Mississippi and Superintendent of Western River Improvement from 1827-1841, was responsible for a long list of notable accomplishments including the first steamboat to travel down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans and back. He successfully broke the hold of the Fulton-Livingston claim to exclusive navigation on the Western rivers, and he brought the first keelboat from the Ohio to St. Louis and north up the Mississippi all the way to the Fever River. He pioneered a number of technical innovations on early steamboats, including horizontal cylinders, multiple separate boilers, machinery to allow the steamboat’s paddlewheels to work independently, multiple decks and the prototype for showboats.

Henry M. Shreve was born October 21, 1785 in New Jersey, the son of Mary Cokely Shreve and Israel Shreve, a farmer and colonel in the Revolutionary War. In 1807, when Shreve was twenty-two, he took his first keelboat from Pennsylvania to St. Louis to trade with Auguste Chouteau. In 1814 he used his profits to build his first steamboat, the Enterprise, which he used to make the first trip to New Orleans and back to Louisville, thus demonstrating the effectiveness of steam power in navigating against the strong current of the Mississippi.

In New Orleans, Shreve had to deal with Fulton-Livingston steamboat interests who held monopolies on steamboat travel given them by the state of New York and the Territory of Louisiana. Shreve used a combination of legal maneuvers and bail money to keep his boat free from the sheriff and was able to return back upstream to the accolades of many rivermen.

Shreve’s next steamboat, built in 1816, contained several highly creative innovations. He installed the first successful high pressure engine and positioned the cylinder horizontally, greatly increasing the efficiency of the engine and reducing the weight of the machinery by almost ninety percent. He then put the machinery on the first deck of a flat hollow hull, built a second deck for passengers, and used separate engines for each side of the boat, each with its own set of boilers and smokestack to make the first practical sidewheeler.

Having steamed once more to New Orleans, Shreve again had to deal with the Livingston monopoly. However, due to Shreve’s persistence, Livingston’s case was dismissed in 1817 opening the way to free trade on the Mississippi. This case was instrumental in establishing a precedent for unfettered interstate commerce which was finally confirmed in 1823 by the famous U. S. Supreme Court case, Gibbons v. Ogdens.

In 1826 Shreve accepted the post of Superintendent of Western River Improvements. He began by designing a double hulled boat with steam power operating a windlass to yank snags from the river. The first snag boat, the Heliopolis, was an immediate success, and in 1832, Shreve was ordered by the Secretary of War to clear the “Great Raft” of rotten logs, trees, and debris estimated to be 150 miles long, out of the Red River. Shreve had to battle short funds but by 1839 the Red was clear and Shreve’s fame was insured.

Henry M. Shreve remains a giant among America’s rivermen. More than any other individual, he changed inland river travel in the first half of the nineteenth century. Shreve installed a number of major technological innovations while developing the first steamboat to successfully ascend the Mississippi River, all the way to the Ohio, and thus proving the feasibility of reliable steamboat navigation on the western rivers. He then broke the Fulton-Livingston monopoly thus removing the legal barriers to commerce. In the 1820’s Shreve developed the first successful snagboat which cleared the rivers of natural barriers to navigation. These achievements place Shreve in the front ranks of American’s rivermen

Peter Sprague was one of the most prolific boat builders of the 19th century. William Peter Sprague (1828-1900) was a boat builder, as was his father and family before him. He spent his early years around Elizabeth and Shousetown, Pennsylvania, practicing his trade.

Sprague built so many steamboats that he became known for having built or repaired one for every year of his life. Towards the end of the 19th century, Sprague could look from one end of Pittsburgh Harbor to the other and note that he had built, designed, repaired, or rebuilt nearly every boat.

Peter Sprague was a perfectionist. It was said that he made his own drawings and never allowed a piece of lumber to go into a boat he was building without his inspection. The boats commonly attributed to him include Joseph B. Williams, 1876; Russell Lord, 1892; James Moren, 1896; and Sprague, 1902, the worldÕs largest steam towboat ever.

He was associated with the Grand Lake Coal Co. and was an accomplished boat builder and repairman. He was known to have done repair work on the John A. Wood and the Jim Wood. He clearly knew all aspects of steamboat construction. In October 1899, the 90+ independent coal operators of Pittsburgh were consolidated into the largest river operation of all time. This created a fleet of over 100 steam towboats and the company needed a man to oversee their maintenance. Sprague undertook this new job with enormous responsibility at the age of 71. When the towboat Smoky City went up in flames at Pittsburgh on October 24, 1900, there was a desperate need for a replacement to bring up empty coal boats from New Orleans to Louisville. Plans were then set to construct the Sprague. This was Peter SpragueÕs crowning achievement. With his final and finest design, the sternwheel steamboat had reached its pinnacle. The steamer Sprague went on to set innumerable records in its illustrious career.

Captain Peter Sprague was said to be “the patriarch among the boat builders of the west” by the Dubuque Sunday Globe-Journal. The boat that he manifested, the boat that carried his name, was perhaps the most famous towboat of the 20th century. Peter Sprague was inducted to the National Rivers Hall of Fame September 29, 2000. Jack Custer, editor of the Egregious Steamboat Journal, nominated him.

Inducted in 2000

Ward and the Ward Engineering Company are the progenitors of the modern diesel propeller towboat. They did more with propellers and tunnel sterns than any other inland boat builder.

Charles Ward was born in Southam, England in 1841. He was employed by the Leamington Gas Company and the Liverpool Gas Company and became the manager of a large metal works at Liverpool.

Ward migrated to Charleston, West Virginia in 1871. Ward helped to establish Charleston’s first gas works and founded the Charles Ward Engineering Works, one of the leading enterprises in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia that operated until 1931. The firm became a leading proponent and producer of water tube boilers and, in 1903, built the first twin-screw tunnel stern towboat in America, the steam-powered James Rumsey. Later the firm built a number of landmark vessels, including the first suction dredge with diesel-powered pumps, the C.B. Harris, and the first diesel-powered twin-screw towboat, the George T. Price.

Ward introduced the European water-tube boiler, which delivered higher steam pressures than the Scotch boiler, then commonly used on the rivers of the United States. Ward became one of the nation’s leading manufacturers of the new boilers.

Another of Ward’s accomplishments was successfully building river vessels, including the Mascot, an inspection boat for the United States Engineering Corps. He also built the James Rumsey, a prototype for boats still used today, in addition to dredges, car ferries, and other inland river craft. Ward also contributed to a limited number of ocean craft. His boats and boilers were widely used on American rivers, in both government and private sectors.

Inducted in 2007

Inducted in 2008
The River People
Betty Blake was a woman of extraordinary energy and dedication who almost single-handedly lifted the Delta Queen Steamboat Company to profitability and preservation. Betty Blake began in promotion work in Cincinnati, worked on the steamer Avalon, now the Belle of Louisville, and then joined the Delta Queen Steamboat Company as its first public relations director, eventually rising to company president.

Blake led the fight in the 1970’s to get the Delta Queen exempted from the Federal Safety at Sea Law which would have forced the vessel’s retirement. Then she, as one admirer put it, “pleaded, argued, charmed, fought for, and schemed the Mississippi Queen into existence.” This $24 million paddlewheeler provided for 385 passengers, more than double the Delta Queen’s capacity. Blake promoted the company, promoted the big race between the Delta Queen and the Belle of Louisville, and promoted the river excursion businesses. Her energy and enthusiasm was responsible for preserving an important part of America’s riverboat history.

John W. Cannon was owner and captain of the Rob’t E. Lee which beat the Natchez from New Orleans to St. Louis in 1870 in the most famous steamboat race of all time. Cannon was born in Kentucky and learned piloting on the Ouachita River. He narrowly escaped death when his first steamboat, the Louisiana, blew up spectacularly killing 86 people at New Orleans in 1849. He was ambitious but a quiet man, and determined to out-class all competition with his fleet of elegant steamboats on the lower Mississippi.

Following the Civil War, Cannon built a packet for the lower river cotton trade, shrewdly naming her the Rob’t E. Lee. Irate Yankees forced the removal of the boat from Indiana to Kentucky when they spied the lettering being applied.

Other Cannon boats included the John W. Cannon and the J. M. White (Ill).

GREENEMany steamboats, from the Effie Afton to the Betsy Ann, have been named for women, but few have ever been piloted by women. One of the handful of exceptional women to hold the wheel was Captain Mary Becker Greene.

Mary Becker married Captain Gordon C. Greene in 1890 and set up housekeeping on his Cincinnati packet boat, the H. K. Bedford. Standing watch with her husband in the pilot house, she learned the details of steamboat operation and piloting. Greene was granted her pilot’s license in 1896 and took command of the Argand which operated at a good profit. At the time, packet boats were losing business to the expanding railroads, but the Greene Lines were able to show a profit because customers liked the “lady captain’s” dependability and refinement.

Although packet boats were losing business to the railroads, the Greene Lines were able to increase the number and service of their boats because, between stints in the kitchen and the pilothouse, Captain Mary also increased the size of her family. She had three sons which she reared aboard the boats. Her son Tom was born on the sidewheeler Greenland while it was stuck in an ice jam. The Greenland, built in Marietta, Ohio in 1903 for the Pittsburgh-Charleston trade, made four trips from Pittsburgh to the St. Louis Fair under Greene’s command.

At its height, the Greene Line operated twelve packets carrying freight and passengers on the Ohio and its tributaries. Following Gordon Greene’s sudden death in 1927, sons Tom and Chris joined their mother in operating the increasingly competitive business.

Freight transport remained profitable through the war years but the cruise business became the true moneymaker. The Gordon C. Greene, with the gingerbread decor of an old-time packet, took sell-out crowds on trips on the Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Mississippi Rivers. As hostess and master-pilot, Captain Mary was as much of a draw as the scenery and the food.

In 1946, Captain Tom Greene, who had been on steamboats since his birth, decided to invest the profits in a second passenger vessel. In California, he saved from the shipbreakers the luxurious pride of the Sacramento River, the Delta Queen.

When Captain Tom had the Delta Queen boarded up and towed through the Panama Canal, newspapers from all over the world provided daily updates of the journey. Incredibly, at the end of a month-long journey, the Delta Queen was delivered safely to New Orleans. Extensive renovation and refitting followed, and on June 30, 1948, the new flagship of the Greene Lines and her lady captain were ready to welcome the public.

Captain Mary lived aboard the Queen in Cabin G which was specially fitted to meet her needs. In 1949, however, Captain Mary died in her cabin after almost sixty years as master and pilot of some of the finest steamboats on the inland river system.

Captain Tom Greene died the following year while at the wheel of the Delta Queen. His widow, Letha Greene, took up the flag and kept it flying over the sternwheeler against all odds. She faced down marine disasters, financial trouble and even the Congress of the United States.

The story of Captain Mary Greene and her family is historic and colorful, and their legacy of the Delta Queen is a unique testament to their love of America’s rivers.

Captain Daniel Smith Harris’colorful career as a master boat builder and captain on the Upper Mississippi River earned him his induction into the National Rivers Hall of Fame. Captain Harris began as a cub pilot in 1829. He built, piloted and captained nearly a score of vessels including the Grey Eagle (I) and (II) and the War Eagle (III), the pride of the upper river during the golden era of steamboating.

Daniel Smith Harris achieved the most brilliant exploit of his career in 1858 when his Grey Eagle, carrying news of the successful laying of the Atlantic cable, beat the Itasca in a 290 mile race to St. Paul, Minnesota, at an average speed of 16 1/2 mph. Captain Harris long held the record for the first spring arrival at St. Paul which was set March 25, 1858, and not broken until 1947.

LEATHERSCaptain Thomas P. Leathers, a native of Kentucky, began his river career on the Yazoo river in 1836. He had great financial success in the lower river cotton trade and built many steamboats, among them seven named Natchez. The Natchez (VI) made 401 trips without accident in the New Orleans to Vicksburg trade route – an great accomplishment in an era with little or no safety regulations.

In 1870 as owner of the Natchez, Captain Leathers participated in what was to become the most legendary steamboat race in history, pitting his Natchez against Captain Cannon and the Rob’t. E. Lee.

A shrewd, conservative businessman, Captain Leathers was known for his flamboyant appearance and personality. He was a staunch supporter of the Confederacy and is said to have defiantly flown the “Stars and Bars” on his boats for many years after the Civil War.

Captain Leathers died in New Orleans at the age of 80 after tragically having been run over by a bicyclist, thus ending one of the most successful careers in steamboat history.

BlackhawkThe Sauk Indian, Maktaimeshekiakiah, otherwise known as Black Hawk, was born at the mouth of the Rock River where it flows into the Mississippi. He became chief of the Sauk tribe in 1788, at the age of 21, and guided the life of the tribe along the river for the next 44 years.

In 1804, United States agents used alcohol to trick Sauk and Mesquakie representatives into signing away their lands east of the Mississippi River. In 1832, however, Black Hawk boldly led his people back across the Mississippi to reclaim their homeland. When Black Hawk’s peace emmisaries were shot down, he fought back, and then followed the river north. At a place called Bad Ax, on the Mississippi River, Black Hawk was stopped by militia on board Captain Joseph Throckmorton’s steamer Warrior. The soldiers ignored Black Hawk’s white flag of truce and fired upon the tribe, killing several men, women and children.

Black Hawk was taken prisoner and brought to Jefferson Barracks in chains aboard the steamer Winnebago, causing sensations in Galena and St. Louis. His transport to Washington, D. C. the following spring brought huge crowds of onlookers to the cities of Louisville, Cincinnati and Wheeling. Chief Black Hawk died on a reservation in Iowa five years later, but his desire to retain his tribal homeland along the river remains an inspiring episode in the saga of Native American river life.

Mary Miller was born in 1846 and died in 1894. Before women had the vote, and before they could own property in some states, Mary Miller was a licensed steamboat master on the western rivers of America. That was unheard of in an era when the river “belonged” to men.

Mary Miller was born in Louisville, Kentucky, one of the great river ports, in 1846. She married George Miller in 1865, and together they operated the steamboat Saline in the southern river trade. They ran on the Red River, the Quachita, the bayous, and the Mississippi, moving cotton and other crops and seed in and out of New Orleans. They operated the supply boats for many small bayou towns.

The competing Banks Line wanted to put the Millers out of business and charged that Mary Miller was operating illegally by acting as both pilot and master of a vessel.

Out of economic necessity, Mary applied for a master’s license, the first woman ever to apply in this country. That threw Washington into a tissy. The steamboat inspection officer in New Orleans had never had such a request so he wrote to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury in Washington for a decision. Finally, the first woman’s masters license was issued in February of 1884, qualifying Mary Miller to work the river from Louisville south on the Ohio and Mississippi and on all southern rivers. It was a major breakthrough for women.

Miller was much respected by other pilots and was master for seven years.

In 1891, Mary Miller became ill while journeying to New Orleans to interview with the Governor for a lighthouse keeper’s job. She died three years later, ending a remarkable life that opened the way for thousands of women who came after her in the river industry.

Captain Grant Marsh’s fame came to him when his steamer Far West brought the wounded soldiers from the Little Big Horn River with the news of General Custer’s bloody defeat. His reputation came from a lifetime of unequaled skill as a steamboat pilot. Marsh served as mate on steamboats in the Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessee and lower Missouri River trade and witnessed the great St. Louis “ice gorge” of 1856. In 1866, he received his first command on the Luella, a legendary upper Missouri boat.

Marsh surveyed the Yellowstone River for the Army in 1874. Two years later he steamed and warped up the uncharted Big Horn River to re-supply and rescue the survivors of the battle of the Little Big Horn. From 1882 to 1901, Grant Marsh worked the lower Mississippi, before returning to the upper Missouri as pilot for the Benton Packet Company in 1902. Grant Marsh served on more than 22 vessels in his long and illustrious career.

Inducted in 1997.

Diamond Jo Reynolds, founder of the famed Diamond Jo Steamboat Line, was one of the most colorful rivermen on the Mississippi River.

Characterized by his contemporaries as a “born trader”, Jo Reynolds entered the Steam boat trade with one boat, the Lansing, in 1862. Recognizing the potential for the bulk shipment of grain, Reynolds became the leading grain shipper on the Upper Mississippi, and by 1873 his fleet consisted of five boats and twenty barges.

Diamond Jo Reynolds turned to the passenger and freight business in the 1880’s and within a decade came to dominate the packet trade between St. Louis and St. Paul. Diamond Jo Line Steamers such as the Mary Morton, Dubuque (IV), St. Paul, and Quincy plied the Upper Mississippi until 1911, surviving cut-throat competition from other lines and opposition from the railroads to become the last regular operating packet line between St. Louis and St. Paul.

Nicholas J. Roosevelt built and captained the first steamboat to travel the Ohio and Mississippi and devoted his life to steamboat engineering and construction. Roosevelt’s side paddlewheel design was used by Fulton and Livingston on the Clermont in 1807. In 1811, Roosevelt built the first boat for the Mississippi, the New Orleans, and overcame the Ohio River falls at Louisville, the New Madrid earthquake, major floods, and attacks by native tribes. Roosevelt brought the steamboat to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and laid the groundwork for a century of steamboat commerce and transportation.
Captain Isaiah Sellers was a steamboat pilot who logged over one million miles at the wheel during his illustrious thirty-five year career. Sellers was said to remember every changing towhead, channel and settlement. He introduced the tap of the bell as a signal to heave the lead when taking a sounding. In 1857, while piloting the Aleck Scott, he introduced the signal for the passing whistle, which was made into law by Congress, and with modifications, is still in use today. His record time of 3 days, 23 hours, 9 minutes on the J. M. White for the New Orleans to St. Louis route in 1844 stood for 26 years until broken by the Natchez in 1870.

Sellers was the first to use the sounding call “mark twain” as a pen name, and Samuel Clemens’ first writing efforts about the river was a parody of Captain Sellers’ “Mark Twain” column which appeared regularly in the New Orleans Picayune. Seller’s tombstone in St. Louis is a life-size statue showing him at the pilot’s wheel.

StreckfusThe river excursion business was brought to its ultimate perfection by Captain John Streckfus of Rock Island, Illinois. Streckfus began with the Freddie about 1891, operating her in the Davenport, Iowa, area. The steamers Verne Swain and the W. W. followed.

In 1901 Captain Streckfus commissioned the J. S. from the Howard Shipyard, Jeffersonville, Indiana, to operate as the morning packet between Davenport and Clinton, Iowa, and to also run “moonlights.” However, the J. S. was too heavy to run the rapids every day, and she became exclusively an excursion boat.

In 1911 Captain Streckfus acquired the Diamond Jo Lines’ boats and, after operating them awhile in the packet and overnight passenger trade, he turned them into excursion boats. There were no bars on the early Streckfus boats, but many performers became famous while playing for passengers.

John Streckfus operated the largest fleet of excursion boats on the western rivers at the time: the second J. S., the Capitol, the Washington, and the Saint Paul. Later came the President and the streamlined Admiral.

Captain Ernie Wagner was one of the last of the old time roof captains, and he played a monumental role in the survival and future of steamboating in America. Born in 1910, Wagner hopped a freight train at the age of nineteen bound for Dayton, but ended up in Cincinnati working on the Island Maid and then the Island Queen. He served as a coal passer, ice cream vendor, deck hand, watchman and, by the time he was 25, master. In 1947 when the Island Queen exploded and burned, Wagner heroically pulled Captain Jim Baker out of bed and threw him overboard and helped others to safety before a second explosion hurtled him into the flaming oil slick, severely burning his back, hands and arms. Wagner was mate on the excursion steamer Avalon, and then commanded the Delta Queen, which was then the sole surviving tourist steamboat in the country. He helped refit the Delta Queen to ensure her survival and then was the first master of the Mississippi Queen. During his 49 year career, Captain Wagner trained and mentored Captain Doc Hawley, Roddy Hammet, Jim Blum and a score of the modern day pilots, establishing what Captain Fred Way called “the Ernie Wagner school of steamboating.”

Inducted in 2003

The most renowned mountain boat pilot on the upper Missouri River. At age 16 he began as a fur trader and quickly became steamboat clerk and then apprentice pilot. LaBarge obtained his master’s license at age 25, serving as a charter captain and piloting, among others, the John James Audubon expedition in 1843. He remained active as a pilot until the age of 70, never losing or badly damaging a boat. Few pilots had the intuitive feel and navigational skills necessary to skipper the constantly changing channels of the Missouri.
Inducted in 2002
The first government-licensed free-floating raft pilot on the Rock Island Rapids between Le Claire and Davenport. Consequently, he was responsible for safe passage over a very dangerous stretch of the Mississippi River. Suiter was the first to hold the prestigious title of “Rapids Pilot.” Under his temporary command, rafts and boats were safely delivered over the treacherous waters of the Rock Island Rapids. Gordon Kilgore, President, National Rivers Hall of Fame, commented “Philip Suiter was one of the true pioneers of America’s rivers. When the young Lt. Robert E. Lee came to survey the Rock Island rapids in 1837, it was Philip Suiter who he turned to tell him where every channel and turn could be found.”

Suiter, recognized as an expert in piloting the rapids was called on to testify in Hurd v. Rock Island Bridge Company in which the steamboat Effie Afton struck a pier, the Rock Island bridge, the first bridge to cross the Mississippi. Suiter testified on behalf of the railroad company. Suiter testified that the bridge was no obstruction to a good pilot, winning the case for the railroad company and their lawyer, Abraham Lincoln.

During the dry season of 1864, the Mississippi was at the lowest known level. Suiter made a mark in a ledge of rock near his home on the bank of the river. That mark became the standard gauge for low water mark and was adopted by the government.

Inducted in 2005

The Ingram Family began in the 19th century lumber trade and continues today as the largest domestic marine carrier in the country. Orrin Ingram, born in 1830 in New York, invented the gang edger, which allowed boards to be squared off at both ends at the same time. Soon every saw mill in the country ordered this revolutionary new invention. In 1857, Orrin began the Dole, Ingram and Kennedy Lumber Company in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, relying on huge log rafts floated down the Mississippi and Chippewa Rivers. The company became the Empire and Standard Lumber Company.

Orrin’s son, Erskine Ingram, diversified the family business, and grandson O. H. Ingram moved his family to Nashville, Tennessee, forming Ingram Spinning Company, Tennessee Tufting Company, Wood River Oil and Refining Company, and Ingram Barge Company. The family business continued under the inspired leadership of Bronson, his wife Martha, and Fritz, as well as the fifth generation including Orrin, John, David, and Robin. The Ingram Marine Group today operates more than 140 towboats and 4,000 barges and carries more tons than any other domestic marine carrier in the nation.

Inducted in 2004

Inducted in 2007
The Pathfinders
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the west’s greatest explorers and scouts – Jim Bridger.

When Bridger was 8 years old, he and his family went down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi to St. Louis. Bridger was soon orphaned and supported himself by running a ferry across the Mississippi. At the age of 18, Bridger poled a keelboat up the Missouri under Mike Fink as part of Ashley and Henry’s famed expedition. Bridger was the first trapper to see the Great Salt Lake and the only person known to run the treacherous Bad Pass of the Big Horn River.

Bridger was the pilot for scores of fur trapping brigades to nearly all the beaver-rich streams of the west, including the Green, Yellowstone, Three Forks, Snake, and Missouri Rivers. He commanded Kit Carson, founded Fort Bridger, and interpreted at the Fort Laramie 1851 Indian Peace Council. He advised Mormon visionary Brigham Young on his trek to Salt Lake, helped select the route of the transcontinental railroad, and guided survey crews.

He was guide to a scientific expedition for the Smithsonian on the Yellowstone and was the Army’s most valued scout during the Indian Wars of the 1860s. An illiterate mountain man, Jim Bridger was a walking atlas of the west with an unerring ability to pilot his way along wilderness, rivers and streams.

Inducted in 2004

Zadok Cramer was a Pittsburgh printer and bookbinder who in 1801 began publishing the best known of the early river guides, The Navigator. He originally intended it as a handbook for western immigrants, but it became the bible for early flatboatmen and keelboatmen, many of whom went on to become steamboat pilots.

The Navigator was a compilation of travelers’ journals and reports which gave “directions for navigating the Monongahela, Alleghany, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers” with descriptions of villages, settlements, harbors, and distances between points. Beginning with the fifth edition in 1806, this important river guide contained woodcut river charts showing islands, channels, and obstructions to navigation. In all, twelve editions were published between 1801 and 1824, and the works were followed by many imitators who openly plagarized or leaned heavily on his book for information.

The Navigator proved to be extremely useful to settlers and river traders alike, and it greatly influenced western migration. Today, the different editions are a goldmine of information for historians as they span such developments as the invention of the steamboat and the discoveries of Lewis and Clark.

Louis Jolliet was born at Beauport, near Quebec in 1645. Louis’ father died when he was five years old, and at age nine, he attended the Jesuit College at Quebec and received minor orders when he was sixteen. Five years later, Jolliet left the seminary, travelled to France for a year and then returned to New France.

Jacques Marquette was born at Laon, France on June 1, 1637, one of six children. He entered the Catholic Society of Jesus noviciate at Nancy in 1654 where he studied at the seminary and taught. At the age of twenty-eight, after having taught for seven years, Marquette’s application for a position with the foreign mission was granted. He arrived in New France and came to Quebec in 1666, the same year he was ordained to the priesthood. Marquette served as missionary in New France for the next six years.

In 1672, Jolliet was commissioned to explore the river known to the Indians as the Messi-Sipi, or the great river. The Mississippi River had already been discovered by the Native Americans and again by De Soto in 1541, but the French knew little about the true path of the river.

Jolliet’s expedition was to explore the great river, and Jolliet was granted a “conge” or trading license, which allowed him to trade with Indians to defray his costs. The purpose of the expedition was to find if the great river in the west flowed into the Gulf of California, which would have enabled the French to reach the Pacific and the far east. Jolliet received the official appointment and was charged to report on the findings. Marquette was appointed chaplain, and his duties were to look after the spiritual needs of the men and to expose native tribes to Catholicism.

In 1672, Jolliet entered into contract with seven men to finance the trading mission with the Indians, and five of the seven agreed to make the voyage as paddlers. In 1673, Jolliet and his men came to Michilimackinac to meet Fr. Marquette and begin their journey.

The expedition took their two birchbark canoes along the coast of Lake Michigan, up the Fox River, and then portaged to the Wisconsin River. From the Wisconsin, they entered the Mississippi and for seven days, they paddled the great river without seeing another human soul. On the eighth day, they saw human footprints in the sand along the western shore of what is now Iowa. Jolliet and Marquette followed the trail into the trees, leaving the other voyageurs with the canoes and supplies. The two explorers encountered members of the Peorias (Illinois) tribe and offered signs of friendship. The two Frenchmen were welcomed into the villages and feasted with roasted buffalo, but they refused the offerings of freshly killed dog meat.

Leaving the Peoria Indians, the expedition continued downriver. On the voyage, they encountered “monstrous fish,” one of which struck the canoe so hard that Marquette felt the canoe might be broken by the blows. They noted the giant herds of buffalo along the river banks. Once they were awakened by a thunderous roar which turned out to be a great vortex where the Missouri River entered the Mississippi.

Below the mouth of the Arkansas River, the expedition met with Indians who informed them that the river flowed south into the sea. These Indians had cloth, glass, guns, and hatchets which indicated that they had obtained these through trade with Europeans, presumably the Spanish. Having thus determined the flow of the river and fearing the Spanish, Marquette and Jolliet decided to return home.

They reached the French Jesuit Mission of De Pere, Wisconsin in September, 1673, but Marquette was ill from the Voyage and could not leave until October, 1674, when he returned to Illinois to found a new mission. He passed the winter with two servants on the Chicago River and died near Ludington, Michigan in 1675 while journeying back to St. Ignace at the Mackinac Straits.

Jolliet wintered at De Pere, and returned home in the spring of 1674. His canoe was upset at the Lachine rapids at Sault St. Louis, the last rapid above Montreal. The canoe capsized, killing three companions. Jolliet was unconscious and was retrieved after four hours in the water, only to discover that he had lost all his papers including his journal and his map of the river. He redrew the map from memory and tried to reconstruct his notes. He later wrote that he passed forty-two rapids only to have his canoe capsize at the entrance of the first house he left two years ago.

He made explorations to Hudson Bay in 1679 and in 1680 was granted the Island of Anticosti as reward for his explorations of the Illinois county and the Hudson Bay region. Jolliet then made two voyages to Labrador and charted the Labrador coast and prepared a map of the St. Lawrence. He was appointed hydrographer of Quebec on April 30, 1697 – a position he held until his death three years later.

Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette discovered and explored the Mississippi River, opening up a century and a half of French exploration and commerce and another century and a half of American settlement and growth. The expedition confirmed rumors of the Great River and provided a description of the Father of Waters, its tributaries, and its final destination into the Gulf of Mexico.

LasalleRene Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle led the first expedition down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico in 1682, establishing France’s claim to the River Valley.

The son of a wealthy French merchant, La Salle sailed to Canada in 1666, where he heard stories of the two great rivers, the Ohio and the Mississippi. Inspired by Jolliet and Marquette’s travels, La Salle explored the Mississippi with a team of 22 men. He reached the Gulf of Mexico on April 17, 1682, claiming the entire Mississippi River basin for the King of France.

La Salle was one of North America’s foremost explorers who built fur trade outposts and promoted the use of sailing vessels on the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. His vision of a New France stretching from Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico anticipated the future greatness of the Mississippi Valley.

William ClarkMeriwether Lewis & William Clark lead the epic two year expedition which explored the vast territory of the Louisiana Purchase. The expedition started up the Missouri River travelling by keelboat and pirogue and ascended to the head of the Missouri. Crossing overland through the Rocky Mountains, they built canoes and conducted the first exploration of the Columbia River Valley, reaching the Pacific Ocean in the fall of 1805. The Lewis and Clark expedition navigated thousands of miles of uncharted water and prepared the first maps of this unknown area.Lewis(2)
LONG(1)An engineer of rare talent, Stephen H. Long made substantial contributions to the improvement of river navigation, the design of bridges and steamboat engines, and the development of improved river craft. A New Hampshire native, Long began his career in the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1814. He explored western rivers in 1819 and 1820 with the Western Engineer. Long examined the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri River and reported on navigation conditions and obstructions. In 1824, he constructed the first federal dam on the Ohio River.

Long patented a novel method of bracing and counterbracing wooden bridges in 1836. From 1842 to 1856, Long headed up the Corps Office of Western River Improvements. Following the enactment of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1852, he started an intensive program for improving the waterways under his authority. Stephen Long was appointed Chief of Engineers in 1861, a position he held until his retirement.

Inducted in 1996.

Mackenzie2Alexander Mackenzie was an explorer and fur trader whose explorations of the rivers of North America brought him lasting fame. He was the first Euro-American to successfully cross the northern part of North America to the Pacific, preceding Lewis and Clark by more than a decade.

Born in Scotland, Mackenzie was brought to New York by his father in 1774. During the Revolutionary War, he was sent to Mohawk Valley and eventually to Montreal for schooling. Mackenzie joined a fur trading firm and became a trader for the firm at Detroit. He eventually became a partner operating out of Grand Portage and subsequently Saskatchewan.

Through the latter 1780’s Mackenzie searched for a “Great River” that flowed west, but was disappointed to find that the river flowed into the Arctic Ocean. This river, the Mackenzie, was named for him.

Mackenzie resumed his search for a water route to the Pacific in 1792, setting out with 6 French voyageurs, 1 Scotsman, 2 Indians, and a dog, along with 3,000 pounds of baggage in a 25 foot birchbark canoe. Mackenzie quelled thoughts of desertion by leading a herculean portage around a great defile, journeying overland by Indian trails, and crossing the Rocky Mountains and the 6,000 foot pass which would be named for him. They finally reached the Pacific in 1793. Mackenzie published his expedition journals in 1801, bringing him great notoriety and earning him knighthood from King George III.

Inducted in 1998.

Powell1John Wesley Powell was drawn to the river throughout his life, and at an early age he often made long trips alone in his boat on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. He lost an arm at the battle of Shiloh during the Civil War, but this did little to impede his vigorous travels on America’s western rivers. Powell conducted pioneering surveys on the Green and Colorado rivers, and he survived a hazardous passage by boat through the Grand Canyon in 1869 and again in 1871.

Powell’s classic 1875 Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and Its Tributaries vividly describes the Colorado River’s natural features and points out that the formation of canyons is due to the corrosive action of rivers. From 1871 to 1879 Powell surveyed western lands in the public domain and later served as director of the U.S. Geological Survey, mapping water resources. Powell’s proposals for laws protecting the arid deserts of the west are recognized as masterpieces of government. His views on America’s use of its natural resources have influenced conservationists through today.

SacajweaFew Native American are as well-remembered and honored in American history as Sacajawea, the young Shoshoni woman who joined Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery on their epic trek up the Missouri River, across the Rocky Mountains, and onto the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Stolen as a young child from her native land west of the Rockies and sold to a French fur trapper, Sacajawea returned to her homeland when her husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, was hired at Fort Mandan in 1804 as interpreter for the expedition.

Sacajawea, even while caring for her new-born child, was of invaluable service to the expedition, finding roots and berries for the hungry group, acting as ambassador to other native tribes, helping to guide the team through the Three Forks of the Missouri, and even saving valuable supplies when one of the boats capsized. Sacajawea wintered with the expedition near the mouth of the Columbia River, then returned to Fort Mandan in 1806. She played a pivotal role in this epic exploration and earned her place in the annals of western river lore.

After the expedition returned to St. Louis, Captain William Clark concluded that she “[h]as borne with a patience truly admirable the fatigues of so long a route, incumbered with the charge of an infant who is even now only 19 months old.”

SchoolcraftHenry Rowe Schoolcraft, an explorer and ethnologist, is most noted for his discovery of the source of the Mississippi River and for his writings on Indians of the North American Plain. In the early 19th century, Schoolcraft led an expedition through present day Missouri and the Ozark Mountains. He later served as a topographer on an expedition to the Lake Superior region and the Upper Mississippi, publishing a journal of his travels in 1821.

In 1832, Schoolcraft again explored the upper reaches of the Mississippi River, discovering and naming Lake Itasca as the river’s true source. The name “Itasca” came from Schoolcraft’s combining the words “veritas” and “caput” which translate to mean “true head.” His Narrative of an Expedition…To Itasca Lake, the account of the journey to the great river’s source, was printed in 1834.

Zebulon Pike was the leader of the first American expedition into the Upper Mississippi wilderness. In 1805 while Lewis and Clark were “battling their way up Jefferson Fork of the Missouri,” Pike was leading a small force of soldiers up the Mississippi in a 70 foot long keelboat, exploring the river, selecting sites for military posts, making peace with the Sioux and Ojibway, discovering the extent of British and French Canadian fur trade competition, and searching for the source of the Mississippi. He acquired 100,000 acres of land at the confluence of the Minnesota and the Mississippi which became the site of Fort Snelling, and then traveled as far north as Leech Lake which he believed was the source of the Mississippi. In 1806 Pike led the first official American expedition up the Osage, Arkansas and Rio Grand Rivers, reporting Grand Peak, which is now known the world over as Pike’s Peak. As Brigadier General, Pike commanded the American army during the Battle of York (now Toronto), the first major American victory in the War of 1812. He was mortally wounded and died the next year, ending a career which may have included additional exploration, military leadership, or even the presidency.

Inducted in 2003.

The Artists, Writers, and Musicians
louisarmstrongLouis Armstrong, nicknamed “Satchmo” (short for satchelmouth), was one of the most influential 20th Century jazz musicians. Along with his many musical accomplishments, he is also credited with spreading and popularizing riverboat jazz throughout the world.

Armstrong was born in New Orleans around 1898. He grew up in extreme poverty, but prevailed despite his difficult circumstances. His musical career started at a young age when he was given a cornet during a stay at the Home for Colored Waifs. Over the next few years, he developed a local reputation as the hottest young trumpeter in the Crescent City. In 1918, Fate Marable, a bandleader for the Streckfus Steamboat Line, hired Armstrong. Marable had a reputation of being a stern taskmaster, and took a challenge with the rough, untutored Armstrong. Though he spent only five years on the boats, this was a pivotal period for Armstrong’s musical development and accordingly, for all of jazz.

Under Marable’s direction, Armstrong developed tremendously as a musician. He learned to read music and started to be featured as a solo performer. His popularity on the Streckfus Line helped him mature from a talented but raw musician into a focused and versatile professional. He left the boats in 1922 to pursue his aspirations of international fame.

Armstrong’s significance to jazz is incalculable. His role in spreading the regional jazz music of the river community to the entire world was only one of many achievements. Armstrong died in 1971, but will forever be remembered as introducing this uniquely American art form to America and the world.

Inducted in 1999

John James Audubon is hailed as the father of American ornithology, and he left a legacy of science and beauty recognized throughout the world. Audubon traveled virtually all of the major rivers of eastern North America, painting birds, collecting specimens and taking copious notes on flora and fauna. His Birds of America is one of the crowning achievements of 19th-century art and natural history. Likewise, his Ornithological Biographies shows Audubon’s enormous talent as an observer of nature.

Audubon was also a highly-skilled frontiersman, equally at home among native tribes, keelboaters and trappers alike. He chronicled the early navigation of the Mississippi, the frontier lore of hunting and fishing, and the bird life if the Mississippi, Ohio, Red, St. John’s and numerous other rivers. His last field trip was an expedition up the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers in 1843. John Audubon’s legacy includes one of the most powerful conservation movements in history – The National Audubon Society.

Richard Bissell, perhaps more than any other writer, captured life on the river in the 20th century. His novels, including A Stretch on the River (“Steamboating is an incurable disease”), High Water, Goodbye Ava, The Monongahela (for the Rivers of America series), and My Life on the Mississippi or Why I am Not Mark Twain brought the rivers to countless readers and earned him the title, “Modern Day Mark Twain.”

A graduate of Harvard University, Bissell also wrote 7 1/2 Cents (about a pajama factory strike in the river town of Dubuque) which became the Broadway and film hit, The Pajama Game. He held the pilot’s license for steam and the mate’s license, and he also worked on several towboats for the Federal Barge Line and Centennial Barge. He lived for several years in a houseboat on the Mississippi, and he built and operated the first switch boat at Dubuque. Bissell’s accurate depiction of life on 20th-century towboats has earned him a place in both river and literary history.

Karl Bodmer is credited as being the greatest nineteenth century painter of American rivers. At the age of 23, Bodmer came to the United States from Switzerland in the summer of 1832 with German Prince Alexander Phillip Maximilian of Wied Neuwied to explore the American frontier. He was a young, self-taught engraver and painter. As Bodmer and the Prince trekked across the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to St. Louis, America’s rivers and the boats that overlaid them fascinated Bodmer.

Bodmer’s fascination with steamboat culture compelled him to document life along the rivers and the steamboats themselves. These works included the steamboats Napoleon, Delphine, Homer, and Lionesse.

His significance is evident as no artist had ever painted the Upper Missouri beyond its great bend before. Bodmer’s paintings will remain timeless classics, preserving the essence of life along the river. Although the wild days along America’s longest river may be gone now, Bodmer’s beautiful and sensitive paintings document the natural landscape and the lives of the Native peoples. Bodmer passed away in 1893, but his paintings of America’s rivers are unforgettable. His frontier scenes, Indian portraits, and steamboat sketches will forever preserve the American landscape and culture of the early 1800’s.

Inducted in 1999.

Bosse Henry Bosse was a German born draftsman who came to America in 1865. After a stint as a stationer in Chicago, Bosse came to work for the Chicago office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, transferring to St. Paul, MN and finally Rock Island, IL.

Congress had authorized a 4.5 foot channel from St. Paul to St. Louis. The Corps of Engineers was reshaping the 700 mile stretch of the river with wing dams, walls of rock on either side of the river that pushed the river to the center, quickening the current and allowing the main flow to scour its own channel.

Throughout the 1880’s and 1890’s, Bosse captured this dramatic transformation of the river on glass plate negatives, printing his pictures as blue cyanotypes in oversized albums. These photographs, numbering over 300, showed the islands and banks, wing dam construction, knobs and bluffs, vegetation, fields, and bridges along the Upper Mississippi.

Bosse also produced bridge drawings, worksite sketches, riverboat plans, and maps, including the “Map of the Mississippi River from the falls of St. Anthony to the junction of the Illinois River.” But Bosse’s historic photographs of the transformation of the Upper Mississippi are certainly his most lasting contribution. Henry Bosse was a virtual unknown before the 1990 auction of an album of blue cyanotype prints of historic river views. But after the sale, Sotheby’s of New York noted that the “sumptuous blue studies awed everyone…(and) sparked a wave of Bosse interest, not only among the bidders at the auction, but across the United States.”

Inducted in 1998.

During the 1860’s, J. P. Doremus was a successful commercial and portrait photographer with two photo galleries in Patterson, New Jersey. In the spring of 1874, Doremus conceived of the novel idea of building a photo gallery which would float down the Mississippi River. Putting his sons in charge of his New Jersey galleries, Doremus headed for St. Paul, Minnesota. There, below St. Anthony’s Falls, he contracted with a boatyard to build a floating photo gallery which he aptly named Success.

Doremus’ plan was to spend 4 years going from St. Paul to the Gulf of Mexico photographing steamboats, waterfronts, bridges, lumberyards, log rafts, and river towns. Doremus would then convert these images to stereo card views which he described in a short work entitled “Floating Down the Mississippi” (1877). The 4,000 images that Doremus made remain today as some of the best visual documentation of the river and the lifestyles it supported during the 19th century.

Stephen Collins Foster is considered the first truly American composer and his nostalgic melodies written during the pre-Civil War period have come to symbolize the golden age of steamboating. His minstrel songs, including the Glendy Burk, were influenced by the black roustabouts he heard on the Ohio River while working as a clerk for a Cincinnati steamboat agent.

My Old Kentucky Home, one of Foster’s most famous plantation airs, was composed after he and his wife took a month long trip to New Orleans on board a steamboat captained by his brother. Although Stephen Foster did not achieve recognition during his life time, his works such as Old Folks at Home, also known as Swanee River, and Oh! Susannah have influenced generations of composers and have become an intricate part of American heritage.

GouldMost river aficionados recognize E. W. Gould as a 19th century river historian, but few realize that he had an active river career as well. In 1848 Gould was one of the five organizers of the Naples Packet Co., and he supervised the Post Boyís construction in 1859. In 1853 he advocated iron hulls for boats, preceding both William Hopkins and James Eads.

Captain Gould became a president of the Atlantic and Mississippi Steamship Company in its latter days and later was president of the Western River Improvement and Wrecking Co., an operation formerly owned by Eads and Nelson. During 1865-66 he was president of the St. Louis and Miami Packet Company.

Gould astutely realized the potential of towboating and urged its use throughout the 1870s and 1880s. He pushed for moving grain south from St. Louis to New Orleans with towboats and model barges in the 1880s which gradually became a thriving trade. He urged the use of barges on the Missouri and then, in 1886, became president of the Missouri River Packet Co.

Gould waged a one-man battle against various city officials who charged excessive, unfair, and unnecessary wharfage fees, writing letters to newspapers and relentlessly promoting river improvements. He was one of the first members of the National Board of Steam Navigation when it was formed in 1871, and he continually fought for equal recognition of the inland rivers.

E.W. Gouldís Fifty Years on the Mississippi, published in 1889, was a monumental study. Captain Gould had seen the Robert E. Lee, Natchez (VI), J.M. White, Ed. Richardson, John W. Cannon, and the Natchez (VII), and he recognized the steamboat’s singular role in our countryís development. Gould gave river history its metaphysics and caused it to evolve from poorly kept chronologies to legitimate history. He wrote to numerous aging river men to obtain biographies and memories and compiled extensive lists of 19th century steamboats. Gouldís History has not yet been equalled by any other historian, and it forms a sound historical foundation to which any subsequent river and steamboat historian must inevitably first turn.

Inducted in 1997.

The idea of telling the saga of American history through its rivers originated with Constance Lindsay Skinner. In 1935, Farrar and Rhinehart initiated the Rivers of America series with Constance Lindsay Skinner as general editor. The Kennebec: Cradle of Americans, the first in a projected series of 24 volumes, appeared in 1937. At the time of her death in 1939, six of the seven volumes she edited had been published. Skinner had planned to write the Missouri River volume, but she died before she could complete it.

In successive years, the Rivers of America series has been greatly expanded and has proven to be a commercial and popular success with approximately 50 volumes published to date. Henry Steele Commager wrote that Constance Skinner’s dedicated work for the Rivers of America series was “inspired by a lyric affection for the land and its people.”

TwainNo engineer, author, pilot, poet, inventor or artist can claim a greater role than Mark Twain in making the Mississippi River known and loved throughout the world. Twain brought America’s greatest writing genius to America’s most picturesque era – steamboating on the river.

Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens at Florida, Missouri in 1835, grew up along the banks of the Mississippi at Hannibal. His formal schooling ended with the death of his father; at age 12 he apprenticed to a printer for board and clothing.

At 21 Twain took passage aboard the Paul Jones from Cincinnati to New Orleans, enacting his boyhood dream. “When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboat man.” Twain persuaded Horace Bixby to teach him piloting, a 17 month apprenticeship. During this time, he saw his brother Henry die from the boiler explosion on the Pennsylvania, a boat he had piloted the previous trip. Twain continued his apprenticeship and piloted cargo boats on the Missouri as well. He received his license in 1859 and served as a respected pilot for the next two years.

When the Civil War interrupted commercial traffic along the Mississippi, Twain served a two week stint as a confederate soldier, then went west where he worked for the Virginia City, Nevada Enterprise. Here Clemens adopted the pseudonym Mark Twain, the sounding call for two fathoms or 12 feet of depth. Twain falsely asserted that Captain Isaiah Sellers had first used the name, which the public already believed, proving his lament that nothing he had written in truth was believed and nothing had written in jest was doubted.

Twain’s experiences in Hannibal and on the Mississippi were used in his writings: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Twain once recalled,”[I] got to telling…about the old Mississippi days of steamboating glory and grandeur as I saw them from the pilot house.” This became “Old Times on the Mississippi,” running from January through August, 1876 in the Atlantic magazine and later became the basis for Life on the Mississippi. He observed, “Mississippi steamboating was born about 1812. At the end of 30 years, it had grown to mighty proportions, then in less than another 30 years it was dead.”

Twain’s writing also include The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The Tragedy of Pudd’n Head Wilson, and The Gilded Age, among others, and he was one of the most popular lecturers of his day as well. He was a master of regional dialect and humor. Ernest Hemingway called The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the greatest American novel. William Dean Howells called Twain “the Lincoln of our literature,” a title he deserves for his outstanding contribution not only to American literature but to American life. Twain left this world as he came in, with Haley’s comet in 1910.

Mark Twain was an author, steamboat pilot, newspaper reporter, publisher, humorist, philosopher and lecturer, and is best known for his association with steamboating on the Mississippi. No other man in the world is so universally identified with riverboating; Twain made the Mississippi known to the world and his inspired genius put the Father of Waters in the center of American lore. Because of him, the Mississippi is recognized as the symbol of America’s vigorous spirit and individualism. Mark Twain did more to make America’s rivers famous than any other individual, and he richly deserves the fame he holds as America’s greatest riverman.

Captain Frederick Way, Jr. began his career as a mud clerk, then became a mate, a master, and finally in 1923, received his pilot’s license. In 1925, Captain Way bought his first packet, and he put his experience hauling people and produce into his first book, The Log of the Betsy Ann (1933). In 1939, Way began the Steamboat Photo Company and gathered the largest collection of steamboat photos then known. Way joined with others to form the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen, laying the foundation for the Ohio River Museum in Marietta.

Among Fred Way’s contributions to river history are The Allegheny as part of The Rivers of America series, the Inland River Record, the S & D Reflector and Way’s Packet Directory. Captain Fred Way made a lasting and important contribution to America’s river life by using his knowledge, energy and perseverance to publicize and preserve the heritage of America’s rivers.

The author of twenty-two books including several about the Mississippi. His Steamboat ‘Round the Bend was a well-loved book which was brought to the silver screen with an Oscar winning performance by Will Rogers.

Burman was born in Covington, Kentucky, on the banks of the Ohio River. He was a cub pilot on the Tennessee Belle. He graduated from Harvard and worked for the Boston Herald, Cincinnati Times Star, the New York Sunday World and the Newspaper Enterprise Association. Burman was severely wounded while serving in Field Artillery in France in World War I, and he served as war correspondent in the Middle East and Africa during World War II.

Burman wrote over twenty-five memorable stories whose characters and story telling style have been compared to Mark Twain’s works. He aroused an interest in river life and preserved unique tales of a lost era making them known to adults and children alike.

Inducted in 2001.

Was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and he initially studied law, but later abandoned it for painting. Though he had virtually no formal training, his skill as a portrait artist was evident.

Catlin decided to dedicate his life to portraying American Indians, what he called the “vanishing race,” after he saw a group of visiting chieftains at the Charles Wilson Peale Museum of Natural History in Philadelphia in the 1820s. Catlin later wrote, “In silent and stoic dignity, these lords of the forest strutted about the city for a few days, wrapped in their painted robes, with their brows plumed with the quills of the war eagle, attracting the gaze of all who beheld them.” And so Catlin was inspired to paint and record the lifestyles of this race of people “rapidly passing away from the face of the earth.” By 1840, he had visited 48 different tribes, painted 310 portraits, and 200 other paintings.

Catlin, in 1832, was the first artist to paint the Missouri River as far as Fort Union at the junction of the Yellowstone and the Missouri. His paintings of the Missouri were often great panorama views that included Indian and animal life along the river. With his famous Indian Gallery, he also put the Missouri River and its vast surroundings on view for the first time in England and France where many people had never seen a steamboat, keelboat or piroque.

Inducted in 2001.

Born in 1890 in Paducah, KY and died in 1947 in St. Louis, MO. From 1907 on, Fate worked continuously on the Mississippi riverboats, performing and forming jazz bands for these excursions and for various nightclub appearances. In the period between the two World Wars, some of America’s finest jazzmen worked in his bands. Stars such as Pops Foster, Emmanuel Perez, Al Morgan, Louis Armstrong, and a host of others got their start with Fate’s orchestras. A noted pianist, Fate also played the Steam Caliope, an instrument that got so hot he actually had to wear gloves when performing.
Inducted in 2002.
George Caleb Bingham was a frontier river artist noted for his landscapes and scenes of life on the Mississippi River. Bingham had a technical facility for painting that he developed over a remarkably short space of time. After only a few months of training at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, he traveled to Europe and around the United States before settling in Missouri.

In the 1830’s Bingham was producing rather wooden portraits but, by 1845, his style had developed to such an extent that his work was unrecognizable. Raftsmen Playing Cards is typical of the dreamy lyricism of Bingham’s mature work. With these paintings of North American frontier life, often of views of the Missouri River, Bingham focuses on everyday scenes.

In an age when the camera was not widely available, Bingham provides an interesting insight into his fellow citizens in Missouri and their way of life. In 1856 he followed in the footsteps of a number of other American artists choosing Düsseldorf as a place to study.

Bingham’s paintings not only preserve a legacy of America’s rivers before the steamboat era, but evoked a spirit of river life rarely captured in art.

Inducted in 2005.
Petersen loved to write, and his most famous work is the epic Steamboating on the Mississippi. Petersen was born on the banks of the Mississippi at Dubuque, Iowa, where his father worked for the Diamond Jo Steamboat Line.

During his graduate research, Petersen hitch-hiked 20,000 miles, including 3,000 miles aboard Federal Barge Line boats. He visited river towns, large and small, interviewing river people, pouring through old newspaper files, and collecting steamboat photographs, bills of lading, and anything relating to steamboating. The resulting Steamboating on the Upper Mississippi is considered by many to be the most readable steamboat history ever written.

“Steamboat Bill” also wrote: True Tales of Iowa; Two Hundred Topics in Iowa History; Towboating on the Mississippi; Mississippi River Panorama; Iowa: The Rivers of Her Valleys; Looking Backward on Iowa. He contributed twenty articles to the Dictionary of American History, wrote for several encyclopedias, and penned 300 articles in the Iowa State Historical Society Palimpsest.

Inducted in 2006.

Edna Ferber, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II and Paul Robeson, the creators of Showboat and Ol’ Man River. Edna Ferber wrote the epic novel Showboat, inspired by the floating theaters of the rivers. That book was the basis for what is now considered the first American musical, also named Showboat, created by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein.

The most moving piece of that musical, and perhaps the most moving musical piece about rivers of all time, was Ol’ Man River. It has brought tears to the eyes of its listeners perhaps more than any other song in America. Of all the singers who performed Ol’ Man River, the most memorable was Paul Robeson. He starred in 350 performances of Showboat and was also in the 1936 film production of Showboat.

Showboat was a national phenomenon and a vehicle for one of America’s best loved songs. The artists who brought us this classic song and musical are legendary, not only in river history, but in American history.

Inducted in 2006.