In October of 1811 the first Steamboat started down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh. Called the New Orleans it was captained by Nicholas J. Roosevelt the brother of Theodore Roosevelt's great grandfather. It made it to New Orleans but it's draft proved to be too deep for the Ohio River. (The Mississippi was deep enough for it to operate there). The New Orleans sank in July of 1814 when it struck a submerged tree snag.
New Orleans replica
The non-postcard image above shows a replica of the
New Orleans that was built in 1911 for the centennial celebration of the momentous
In 1816 Captain Henry M. Shreve piloted the first mechanically successful steamboat down the Ohio by placing the engines on deck. This permitted the George Washington to take the minimum draft necessary to clear the bottom of the Ohio River. It was capable of carrying 200 tons of cargo.
There are those who claim Captain Shreve was the person who cut his cabin up into small rooms and hit upon the idea of naming them after the states in the union, hence the name they are now called around the world, staterooms. Another version states that Nicholas Roosevelt built the luxurious steamboat George Washington in the 1830s. This steamer contained 26 rooms and since there were 26 states in the union at that time each room was given the name of a state. All rooms are numbered now but are still called staterooms.
In 1841 the cost to build a steamboat was an average of $35,000, with a daily running expense of about $200.00. A trip from Cincinnati to New Orleans and back took about 20 days. Very large cargoes were taken down river by steamboats towing the dismantled hulls of old boats. Thus the beginnings of the "tow" of today. By the way a barge is never towed it is pushed so it should be called a push boat, but of course it never will. Sternwheelers were better barge pushers and displaced the side-wheelers.
The majority of boats you see here are what were called packet boats. These were Steamboats that ferried passengers to specific destinations and returned. Their departure and arrival times were so accurate that they were contracted to carry the mail, thus the term mail boat was used interchangeably with packet boat. Packet boats were of two general styles. There were large side-wheel packets that were prized for their speed, maneuverability, ability to haul large numbers of people and cargo, and were preferred for the longer, regularly scheduled daily runs. The other style were the smaller side or stern wheel packets that were used for the shorter routes. They also ran the longer routes when the river level was too low for the larger packets to operate.
Some steamboat disasters, a list of some of the packet lines plus a more complete history of events on the Ohio will be found on page five.
The non-postcard drawing above shows what some of the parts of a steamboat are called.
In 1901 Albert Otto Kraemer started what would become the most prolific postcard business in this part of the country, Kraemer Postcards. He is shown on the right in one of his postcards called "Good by" Off for a trip on the Ohio.
The Delta Queen and her identical sister ship the Delta King - nicknamed the million dollar boats - were fabricated from 1924 to 1927 on the River Clyde at the Isherwood Yard in Glasgow, Scotland and assembled at Banner Island shipyard in Stockton, California. Their nickname was not far off the mark as each boat cost $850,000 after the cost of furnishings were added to the actual construction costs. This is compared to the average cost of $75,000 for other boats being built on the Ohio River. The boats were completed on May 20, 1927.
Construction of the Delta Queen
Both boats ran between San Francisco and Sacramento on the so called "Delta Route", the Sacramento - San Joaquin River Delta, which gave them their names. Both boats ran their last runs on the last day of the Golden Gate International Exposition or World Fair on Treasure Island, September 29, 1940. The Delta King (right) and the Delta Queen (left) are pictured below docked at the Stockton (California) channel, ready to take their places from their predecessors, the Fort Sutter and the Capital City, in the overnight passenger service between Sacramento and San Francisco. (not a postcard)
They ferried troops from San Francisco to troop ships until the fall of 1941 when they were returned to Stockton and were sold to the Isbrandsten Steamship Co. of New York. Both boats were to be towed to the East Coast via the Panama Canal and used as excursion boats on the Hudson River. World War II put an end to that idea. The Navy rushed both boats back into service as emergency hospital transports. Their classification was Yard House Boats, the King was YHB-6 and the Queen as YHB-7. On July 5, 1944 they were reclassified as Yard Ferry Boats, the King was YFB-55 and the Queen was YFB-56. Below you can see the battleship gray YFB-56 ferrying troops.
From April 25 to June 26, 1945 the Delta Queen took the delegates of the 51 countries that were present for the founding conference of the United Nations on sightseeing trips around San Francisco Bay. Both boats went into the "mothball fleet" in 1946. The King was removed from the Navy records on April 17, 1946, the Queen was removed on August 28.
The Delta Queen was Purchased by Tom Greene in 1946 and was towed thru the Panama Canal to Cincinnati, (The Queen was the only paddle wheeler to traverse the Panama Canal). The famous Captain Frederick Way Jr. was in charge of bringing the Delta Queen back to Cincinnati. After the paddle wheel had been removed a cover was built over the housing. Way had painted Delta Queen of Cincinnati on the cover but had to paint over the word Cincinnati. due to some maritime law.
Boarded up for trip Delta Queen in the Panama Canal May 10, 1947
The Greene Lines ran the Queen until 1969 when it
was sold to American Classic Voyages. In 2006 the Queen was sold to Ambassadors
International Inc. based in Newport Beach California. The Delta Queen called
Cincinnati its home port until 1985 at which time it was moved to New Orleans. Since 1946
some of the more than half a million vacation passengers are 3 Presidents; Jimmy
Carter, Herbert Hoover, and Harry Truman: Supreme Court Justices Earl Warren and
William O. Douglas; Princess Margaret; Hollywood's Marilyn Monroe, Helen Hayes
and Errol Flynn. The Queen was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.
In 1970 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Some minor notes: the Queen was the first steamboat to have air conditioning. She is 285' long and 60' wide and weighs 3,360 tons. Her paddlewheel is 19' wide and 28' in diameter. The 2000 horsepower motor propels the boat about 10 mph. She carries 174 passengers with a crew of 80. The first two images are not postcards.
Going thru Ohio River Lock Tied up along the
Grand Staircase Mark Twain Lounge Forward Cabin Lounge
Observation Lounge Gift Shop
Dining Room Buffet
Stateroom 1974 Layout off cabin decks Deck Layout 1988 Room Layouts
Some calliope information: You can play a calliope using either steam or compressed air; there is an average of 32 whistles on a calliope, the worlds biggest is on The Mississippi Queen with 42; at one time, there were 9,000 calliopes on the Ohio and Mississippi River systems. The Delta Queens whistles were made by Thomas Nichol of Cincinnati in 1897 for the Water Princess, which sank in 1930. The whistles were salvaged and installed on the Delta Queen. The calliope is named after the Greek muse of eloquence. The second card shows Commander E. J. Quimby playing. Commander Quimby designed and built the Delta Queens Calliope.
Vic Tooker was the Delta Queen's banjoist and steamboat interlocutor. He is shown here with his vaudevillian parents Guy and Alice Tooker who had worked showboats and steamboats all their lives. This card is signed by Vic and his mother.
Every Kentucky Derby festival would feature The Delta Queen and the Belle of Louisville in a race for the symbolic "gilded antler" trophy. Started in 1963 the race is from Louisville, KY. to Jeffersonville, Indiana. In 2009 after the Queen was retired the Belle of Cincinnati took her place. In 2012 the American Queen joined the other two.
Cover of 1st. Cruise 11/5/71 First Mail Run 9/27/71
The 2nd cover above is for the Delta Queen's first
run delivering mail. Initially U.S. Mail contracts were awarded only to the
fastest and safest steamboats. The first steamboat to carry the mail was the
"Orleans" in 1813. The cost was 6 cents from New Orleans to Natchez.
It was reduced to 3 cents in 1815.
Steamboats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, in the 1860's, were paid a "Way" or "Steam" fee of 2 cents per letter which was added to the regular postage.
Obviously the appointment of the Delta Queen to carry the mail was done for nostalgia purposes. It represented a step backward in the amount of time the letter or postcard would be delivered. Air mail traveled around 600 mph, while the Delta Queen traveled at a leisurely pace of 4 mph against the current.
The Sister-boat to the Delta Queen is the Mississippi Queen which was built in 1976.
Unfortunately the Delta Queen has
been docked because Congress has refused to grant another exemption from a
federal law that bans more than 50 overnight passengers on boats that are
largely made of wood. The exemption expired on Oct. 31, 2008. The owners,
Majestic America, say the boat, which can carry 176 overnight passengers, can't
survive financially if it can carry only 50 passengers. Complicating the issue
is the fact that the owners are facing a financial crises. The Delta Queens
sister boat Mississippi Queen is being dismantled and the third boat in the
fleet, American Queen, have cancelled all 2009 cruises. Majestic America and her
only competition, River Barge Excursion Lines, which operated the River Explorer,
who has also cancelled the 2009 season, have both turned their boats over to the
Maritime Administration, which holds the bonds. The economy, increased fuel
costs, competition from ocean cruises - all worked against keeping the overnight
cruises on the river viable. So right now the fate of the 82 year old Delta
Queen is not known. If she is not maintained her wood structure will start to
rot. Let's keep our fingers crossed.
The latest news states that the Delta Queen is going to be moved from New Orleans to Chattanooga on Feb. 4, 2009. It is going to be a temporary floating hotel on the north shore of the Tennessee River by Chattanooga's Coolidge Park. The hotel will be able to accommodate 176 guests. The grand opening is expected to be in April. The lease states that the steam system must be maintained and that the priceless wooden and brass interior must be left intact until a buyer can be found. It will remain a hotel until then. The asking price is $10,000,000.
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