The National Achievement Award is the highest honor presented by the National Rivers Hall of Fame to those people who are making significant contributions to America’s waterways. The National Rivers Hall of Fame with members in 36 states is the only national museum telling the stories of the people of America’s rivers.
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Honored in 1986
Dr. William J. Petersen, Steamboat Bill, was born on the banks of the Mississippi at Dubuque in 1901. His father sailed around the world three times in a German merchant ship and came to America in 1872, settling in Dubuque where the Diamond Jo boat Line employed him from 1873 to 1911.
Dr. Petersen graduated from the University of Dubuque and received his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Iowa. The classic book Steamboating on the Mississippi was his doctoral dissertation. During his research, he hitch-hiked 20,000 miles, 3,000 aboard Federal Barge Line boats and 17,000 by auto. He visited river towns, large and small, interviewed old rivermen, poured through old newspaper files, and collected steamboat photos, bills of lading, and anything relating to steamboating.
“Steamboat Bill,” as he is known by friends throughout the country, has written extensively on all phases of Mississippi steamboating. He contributed twenty articles to the Dictionary of American History, has written several encyclopedias and 300 articles in the Iowa State Historical Society’s Palimpsest.
He authored: True Tales of Iowa; Two Hundred Topics in Iowa History; Steamboating on the Upper Mississippi, Iowa; The Rivers of Her Valleys; Looking Backward on Hawkeyeland; Iowa History Reference Guide; The Story of Iowa; The Pageant of the Press; The Annals of Iowa; Mississippi River Panorama; and Towboating on the Mississippi.