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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA   :  STERNWHEELERS  : For Sidewheelers, please click here

At first sight, the United States of America would not appear to be a natural territory for the continued existence of paddlers, but the land which is credited with pioneering steam power, when in 1778, John Fitch sailed a small paddle driven boat on the Delaware River and in 1809 when Robert Fulton's "Steam Boat" sailed up the Hudson River to Albany heralding the start of the first commercially successful passenger service, retains a remarkably diverse fleet of vessels.

Steam ships were destined to become important in the westward expansion of the newly independent United States, taking passengers and goods to and from the interior along rivers such as the Hudson and Delaware. Stern-wheel paddlers on the mighty Mississippi River were to become an enduring image of the American Mid-West. The Great Lakes, Hudson River and the east coast estuaries were to see some of the mightiest coastal passenger vessels of their time, mostly owned by so-called "Night Lines" and these ships, offering overnight accommodation, were generally side-wheelers.

Whilst there are a few survivors from the golden age of steam still in operation, the USA has been vigilant in preserving its maritime history and paddlers have been amongst those to benefit. The romance of America's great push westwards in the 19th century has contributed to paddler making a comeback in recent years, with the construction of new tonnage (some genuinely in steam) for tourism on lakes and rivers. In the 1990s, a large number of paddlers were built, albeit for static use as casinos and restaurants, as it was found that in many States, ships were exempted from the strict gambling laws in force in most US states. Numerous so-called "mock" sternwheelers have been built, where diesel screw propulsion vessels have had an ornamental paddle wheel fitted, which turns only in the wake of the vessel. However, there are also numerous genuine modern diesel-powered sternwheelers built in the old style offering cruises at many places throughout the USA.


Excursion ships

natchez new orleans 2002 Justin Watt.jpg

Possibly the USA's most well-known stern wheeled paddle steamer, "Natchez", seen at New Orleans in 2002 in a photo kindly put into the public domain by Justin Watt. Many thanks to Mr Watt.









New Orleans, LA

Built in 1975 by Bergeronmachine Shop at Braithwaite, Louisiana.
Engines second hand, ex - Clairton, a towboat
Sails for the New Orleans Steamboat Company, offering short cruises on the Mississippi primarily from New Orleans. Currently she undertakes scheduled harbour cruises at 11:30 am (Friday to Monday) and 2:30 pm (Daily) with a 7:00 pm Jazz and dinner cruise (Friday-Monday) but is otherwise available for charter. A range of "Special Event" cruises are offered on selected national holiday days.



Belle of Louisville


Louisville, KY

Built in 1914 by J Rees & Sons in Pittsburgh, PA for the West Memphis Steam Packet Company for whom she sailed as "Idlewild". She linked Memphis and West Memphis, across the Mississippi River, primarily as a passenger ferry but she also carried light cargo. In 1927 after a rapid decline of traffic due to a shift to road transport she was sold to Mr C. Maestri from New Orleans who quickly re-sold her to the Greater New Orleans Amusement Company. A further change of ownership early in 1928 saw her sailing as a freighter for the New St Louis & Calhoun Packet Company specialising in the transport of apples! Out of season she offered passenger sailings throughout much of the Mississippi River system. From 1931 she was based on the Ohio River at Louisville (KY) mainly as a passenger ferry. In fact she had a very varied life during World War II - as a tow boat and as a night club for the military!  After the war she became owned by Mr JH Gorsage from Peoria (IL) who renamed her "Avalon". Soon afterwards, however, she was sold once more - to the Steamer Avalon Inc who used her as a passenger "tramp" steamer on the Mississippi and its tributaries. This business came to an unfortunate end after the 1961 season when the company could no longer afford her annual overhaul (not helped by having had to pay out a significant sum to settle legal claims from passengers after she had hit the Emsworth Lock gates on the Ohio River in 1958). She was bought at auction by Jefferson County in which Louisville is situated and the boat was renovated partly with the help of volunteer workers and public donations, re-emerging under her current name, "Belle of Louisville". She has received continuous maintenance since then despite a setback in 1997 when she sank at her moorings in an act of sabotage by a disgruntled ex-employee. She was back in service in 1998. In 1989 she was declared a National Historic Landmark.


Wikipedia article 

Julia Belle Swain


Lacrosse, WI

Built in 1971 by the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works at Dubuque, Iowa
Engine second hand ex - City of Baton Rouge (1915 by Gillett and Eaton, Lake City, Minnesota)
Owned by the Great River Steamboat Company and based at Lacrosse, Wisconsin.





Lake George, NY




Chautauqua Belle


Chautauqua Lake, NY




Shawnee Princess


Grand Rapids, OH






Lambertville, NJ

Small stern-wheeler offering two-hour educational trips covering a wide range of subjects from may to October and based at Lambertville NJ on the Delaware River. Originally she was "Shawnee Princess" based as Dearborn MI. 65 ft long.





Portland, OR

Former Portland harbour tug, built 1947 and operational until 1981. Restored at the Oregon Maritime Museum and is available for passenger service.



Liberty Belle


Lake Buena Vista, FL

At Walt Disney World



Mark Twain


Anaheim, CA

At Disneyland



Queen of Seattle


Seattle, WA

A modern ship but incorporating an engine originally dating from 1884, this 121 ft long paddler now sailing out of central Seattle offering sightseeing and themed cruises. From 2007 she sailed for Alaska Travel Adventures our of Ketchikan AL as "Alaska Queen", after having been purchased from capital City Cruises of Sacramento, California, where she sailed on the Sacramento River as "Elizabeth Louise". Before her arrival at Alaska she received an extensive overhaul from the Foss Maritime Company on the Lake Washington Ship Canal near Seattle. Two stern outboard motors and a bow thruster assist her manoevrability.
Currently (Dec 13) available for sale at USD 895k



Graceful Ghost


Lake Caddo, TX

Small modern replica wood-burning stern-wheeler offering 1 1/2 hour trips. Trips start from Shady Glade marina, near the city of Uncertain, TX from end March to November, but she can be chartered during the winter.




Cruise ship with overnight accommodation

American Queen.jpg

American Queen - the largest and most modern of USA Mississippi-style paddlers seen in a photo kindly made available by "thegreenj" under Creative Commons licence.
The photo was taken in 2008 in St Louis, Missouri







American Queen



Built in 1994-5. by McDermott Shipyard
Dimensions : 418 ft x 89 ft
Accommodation : 222 staterooms, 10 public rooms. Accommodated passenger capacity : 436. Crew : 160
Power : Steam and auxiliary diesel
Steam engines second hand  ex-steam dredge "Kennedy"
Has two auxiliary propellors for additional power / maneovrability
Laid up at the MARAD facility at Beaumont (Texas) in 2008 after the demise of  Majestic America Lines
A new Memphis-based company the "Great American Steamboat Company" bought her in 2011 and moved her to Sulphur, Louisiana, for refurbishment and she returned to service in April 2012
From July 1st 2012, her operators assumed the new name of the American Queen Steamboat Company



Static Preservation - Surviving historical paddle steamers in commercial or museum use - open to public

Excursions ships, Towboats and Snagboats









Fairbanks, AK

Passenger/freighter (1933-58) now a National Historical Landmark at the Pioneer Park at Fairbanks, Alaska, one of her original regular ports of call


National Parks Service

WT Preston


Anarcortes, WA

ex-snagboat, (ie river debris remover) preserved out of the water at Anacortes City Museum



Geo M. Verity


Keokuk, Iowa

Former towboat built at Dubuque (Iowa) length 130 ft. Now a dry-land exhibit at the Keokuk River Museum





Pickensville, AL

178 ft long, built at Charleston, South Carolina, primarily as a snagboat. Now a floating museum exhibit at the Tom Bevill Visitor Centre, Pickensville, she was designated as a US National Historic Landmark in 1989 after serving on a number of rivers in the southern US, clearing floating debris, until 1982. Two years later the US Army Corps  of Engineers began her restoration and a further renovation was undertaken in 2003 when she was lifted out of the water to a new dry berth in the hope that she would be more protected from deterioration


US Army Corps of Engineers

W P Snyder Jr


Marietta, OH

Built by James Rees & Sons at Pittsburgh as "WH Clingerman" for the Carnegie Steel Company, this 152 ft long towboat is a museum ship at the Ohio River Museum where she has been since 1955, almost two years after being withdrawn from service. Much work was done on her hull in a restoration completed in 2010 and work is now takingplace on her superstructure, to be completed in early 2013.
She was renamed "JL Perry" in 1938 before getting her current name in 1945 when re-sold for moving coal for the Crucible Fuel Company



Cruise ships with overnight accommodation

Delta Queen 2003 jeremy Atherton.jpg

Delta Queen Seen at Memphis TN in May 2003 in a photo by Jeremy Atheron kindly made available for reproduction under Creative Commons licence Share Alike Generic 2.5 which must be adhered to for any use of this image. Click below for details of the licence 







Delta King


Sacramento, CA

Hull and Engines built 1924 by Wm Denny & Sons, Dumbarton.
Dimensions : 285 ft x 58 ft
Final assembly and addirionof superstructure at Stockton, California
Entered service on 1/6/1927 between san Francisco and Sacramento, CA.
Now moored in Sacramento, California as a floating hotel with 44 cabins in use
Engines removed


Wikipedia article

Shawn Dake's article on Maritime Matters website 

Delta Queen



Dimensions : 280 ft x 60 ft.
Accommodation : 88 state rooms, 5 public rooms. Accommodated passenger capacity : 174. Crew 60.
Built in 1926 but facing her final season in 2008 (ending on 31/10/08) after the failure of the vessel to be granted her usual exemption from certain safety legislation by the US Coastguard Service. The new "SOLAS" regulations applicable from 2010 relate to fire safety in sea-going vessels providing overnight accommodation and require amongst other things the removal of inflammable material from the vessel. Wooden-bodied and with large amounts of decorative wood embellishments, Delta Queen could not be made compliant. A massive campaign was instituted to lobby the US Congress on this issue on the basis that Delta Queen had been granted exemptions from earlier SOLAS regulations, had an exemplary past record and most importantly, was never more than a short distance from a riverbank at any time .
The hull and engines of Delta Queen were built in Scotland by Wm Denny of Dumbarton and reassembled at Stockton, California, where the wooden superstructure was added.
Delta Queen and sister Delta King sailed between Sacramento and San Francisco. Both were sold by the U.S. Navy in December 1946 after wartime service. The Queen was bought by the Greene family and towed to the Mississippi via the Panama Canal in a 27-day voyage. Based in Cincinnati, the Green Line became the Delta Queen Steamhip Company and over the years has had many owners. Joined by two new and larger steamers, Mississippi Queen in 1976 and American Queen in 1995, the business almost folded in 2001 until bought at auction by Delaware North Companies Ltd. The vessels, now being based in New Orleans were badly affected by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 and ownership passed to Ambassadors International who formed a new company Majestic America Line who were, from December 2006, titular owners.  Delta Queen was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989. Delta Queen was leased to a businessman who opened her as a hotel at Coolidge Park landing in Chattanooga after she was withdrawn from service and served in this role from 2009 until 2014.

On Feb 17th 2015 Delta Queen was reported to have been sold by owners TAC Cruise LLC to the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. The new company intends to refurbish the ship and return her to her original cruising role. However, the necessary congressional approvals have yet to be obtained regarding her exemption from SOLAS regulations.


National Parks Service

Wikipedia article 

Campaigners' Website
"Save the Delta Queen"

Delta Queen Preservation Foundation website 


Vessel recently scrapped


Built by Howard Shipyard, Jeffersonville, Indiana. Length 213 ft. and used originally as a survey boat by the US Army Corps of Engineers until 1961. In 1963 Mark Twain Enterprises took her over and she operated as a restaurant and museum at Hannibal MO. In the late 60s she was extensively renovated and renamed "Becky Thatcher". In 1975 she went to Marietta under the ownership of a citizens'group and was used as a floating theatre. She sank in 1984 but was raised and repaired. She was sold to entrepreneur Jeffrey Nevin in 2005 but was in poor state of repair and no use was found for her and she closed. She was moved to a new berth alongside Neville Island PA in October 2009.
On February 24rh 2010 she half-sank at her moorings and was later dismantled in situ


Mississippi Queen (with Delta Queen alongside) seen at Cincinnati in October 2003 in a photo kindly made available by Steve through Wikipedia Commons and shown here unde the Creative Commons licence which must be adhered to whenever this image is used

Dimensions : 382 ft x 68 ft

Accommodation : 208 staterooms. Accommocated passenger capacity : 422

Built 1973-75 by Jeffboat Inc, Jefferson, Indiana. Launched on 30th November 1974. Entered service on 20th July 1976

Laid up in 2006 pending refurbishment - but project failed to progress and ship laid up partially gutted at New Orleans
Towed from New Orleans on May 11th 2010 and laid-up on the Harvey Canal

Arrived at Morgan City for scrapping in March 2011


This database does not include stern-wheel paddle ships built with diesel rather than steam machinery, but some have been built in authentic style and offer a genuine paddle-wheel excursion experience. 

One such is the 1983-built Creole Queen at New Orleans : see website ;


Museum of paddle steamer interest

Arabia : Missouri River sidewheeler snagged and sunk in 1856, now excavated from a field, with some ship's fabric but a lot of cargo and personal possessions recovered and at Kansas City

Public Preservation Programs (National Parks Service : Maritime Heritage Program) Website

National Parks Service : Maritime Heritage Program
list of large vessels designated for preservation
National Parks Service : Paddle Steamers
Vessel Pages  - Delta Queen  - President  -  Belle of Louisville  - Nenana :
Ticonderoga, St Claire, Columbia and Milwaukee Clipper are also designated vessels

Private Preservation Campaigns

Delta Queen : Threatened with withdrawal in 2008 unless US Congress renews sppecial sailing exemption for this wooden-bodied paddle steamer which otherwise does not meet legal safety requirements

Private Sites of Paddle Steamer Interest - Franz Neumeier and Carmen Winkler's site -  the most comprehensive guide to US paddlers on the net. Developers of the Save the Delta Queen site including links page to all the "steamers" in the 50 US States

Operational Paddle Steamers
Paddle Steamer Reactivation Projects
Laid up Steamers
Statically Preserved Paddle Steamers

Paddle Steamers Under Construction
Lost Paddle Steamers
Paddle Steamers of the past
Paddle Steamer Engines
Clyde Steamers
British Paddle Steamer Index
Paddle Tugs