Hall of Fame inductees are the pioneers, explorers and artists in America's river history. They were movers and shakers from the days gone by and the recent past. These men and women made significant contributions related to America’s rivers, which is why we honor them.
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Inducted in 2010
George Byron Merrick was a steamboat pilot, newspaperman, and Civil War veteran who wrote several encyclopedic studies of steamboating on the Mississippi River. A meticulous compiler of riverboat names, pictures, and information, Merrick is best known for his personal narrative of his experiences as a steamboat pilot, “Old Times on the Upper Mississippi” (1909).
For much of his life, Merrick managed to successfully combine his two greatest passions – working on the river and writing. As a young boy in Wisconsin, he worked in the office of the Northwestern Democrat, but soon after shipped as cabin boy aboard the Kate Cassell. The next season, Merrick went on the Fanny Harris as an apprentice engineer and was later promoted to second clerk. The following year, Merrick acted as pilot on the St. Croix River, and from 1859 to 1862, he was either clerk or pilot on the H.S. Allen, Kate Cassell, Enterprise, and Fanny Harris.
During the winters, Merrick honed his writing skills by working in various printing offices. After serving in the Civil War, Merrick worked in New York as a steamship agent until 1876, when he took up editorial work at River Falls, Wisconsin. From that time on, Merrick’s career focused increasingly on his writing skills, but his literary works always returned to his love and passion for steamboating.
In 1913, Merrick launched his famous series, “Steamboats and Steamboatmen of the Upper Mississippi,” which appeared weekly in the Saturday Evening Post of Burlington, Iowa. This series that was expected to run about two years, was published until 1920, representing the culmination of eighteen years of research into the history of steamboat navigation on the upper river from 1823-1913. Among the dates included in the series are the names of fifteen hundred boats, the dates they were built and hull dimensions, operating histories, known officers and their final disposition.
Merrick’s life and work stand as a testament to the thousands of men and women, who built, worked and lived on America’s steamboats. His literary works are some of the best and most detailed records of America’s steamboating history, and his writings, much like those of Mark Twain, captured the flavor and passion of life on America’s rivers.