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National Rivers Hall of Fame Inductees

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.


The Builders

James Burns

Inducted in 2008

James Burns was born on January 5, 1863 in County Down, Ireland.  When Burns was twelve, he left Ireland and worked as a cook on a fishing boat.  This excursion eventually lead to his leaving Ireland altogether, traveling first to Scotland, and ultimately immigrating to America in 1882.  Burns is noted as one of the greatest ship-builders for his time.  He was responsible for building the palatial Sacramento River steamers, the DELTA KING and DELTA QUEEN. 

Burns came to America with a mere 4th grade education.  Determined to improve and educate himself, he took International Correspondence School courses in steam and mechanical engineering.  Burns was highly skilled in adjusting steam engines to improve their efficiency.       

Around 1890, the California Navigation & Improvement Co. employed Burns, where he advanced to the 2nd engineer on their boats.  In 1898, Burns joined the gold rush in Alaska.  Burns resided in Alaska for nearly two years, doing more repair on steam engines and pumps, than digging for gold.           

After this experience, Burns returned to the California Navigation & Improvement Co., to a position of Chief Engineer.  During this time, the San Francisco earthquake hit in 1906, and Burns was assigned the job of barging fresh water down to San Francisco. 

In 1907, Burns was appointed Port Engineer for the California Transportation Co.  In this area, James Burns acquired his knowledge of the financial side of the ship-building business.  Burns eventually became an advisor to the office of Port Engineer, Twelfth Naval District.  Then, Burns was assigned as lead inspector of a landing craft being built at Judson Pacific Murphy in Emeryville, California.  In 1947, James Burns was able to visit the DELTA QUEEN one final time in Antioch, California, before his death in 1951.  He was 88 years old.

James Burns is an inspiration in his pursuit of knowledge, and willingness to work hard.  He greatly contributed to the efficiency of steam engines and to the ship-building industry in general.