Mississippi Queen

The Mississippi Queen was built by Jeffboat Inc. in Jeffersonville, Indiana, from 1973 to 1975. Her owner, the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, says, she is “the fulfillment of Mark Twain’s dreams”. The Mississippi Queen was launched on November 30, 1974. Until her christening on April 20, 1975, in Louisville, KY, she was referred as “Hull 2999”. She went into passenger service on July 20, 1976.

The Mississippi Queen is 382 feet long, 68 feet wide and has a height of 71 feet to the top of the twin telescoping stacks. There are 208 staterooms for a total of 422 passengers. The Mississippi Queen has the world’s largest calliope with 44 gold-plated solid-brass pipes, specially built for the Mississippi Queen.

You will find more about the story of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. in the history of the Delta Queen. The Mississippi Queen went out of service in October, 2001, due to the bancruptcy of the parental company of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, the American Classical Voyages. Fortunately, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. finally was bought by Delaware North Companies, Inc. and went back in service on May 7, 2002.

Majestic America Lone took the Mississippi Queen out of service end of 2007, planning to renovate the vessel but stopped this venture early in 2008. End of the 2008 season Majestic America Line decided to discontinue its cruise business. The Mississippi Queen has been sold for scrap and been dismantled in Pierre Part, Louisiana, by the end of 2011/early 2012. The bell of the Mississippi Queen has been saved and transported onboard the American Queen to Jeffersonville to find a new home in the Howard Steamboat Museum.


Whistle of the Mississippi Queen

Mississippi Queen Steam Whistle
Mississippi Queen Steam Whistle

The Mississippi Queen’s original whistle was a three bell whistle built by Art Davis (Davis Calliope Works, Seattle, WA), the same as its calliope. By 1978 it was removed and replaced by the GORDON C. GREENE’s whistle. The Cincinnati brass of the Delta Queen Co. didn’t think that the old Gordon C. Greene’s whistle looked in keeping with their new steamboat, and the original Davis whistle was returned to its perch with one of the bells removed.

The today’s Mississippi Queen whistle is from the Str. MISSOURI and was poured by Lunkenheimer in 1921.


Mississippi Queen, Great Steamboat Race 2006
Mississippi Queen, Great Steamboat Race 2006


Details about the Mississippi Queen’s Calliope

This is the original press release from 1976 about the Mississippi Queen’s calliope, as contributed by Ted Guillaum:


SEATTLE– Art Davis gives a hoot about the Mississippi Queen, The Delta Queen Steamboat Co.’s new sternwheeler. And a whoop and a toot and a tweet, to boot. For Davis is building the new boat’s steam calliope and wedding the ship to one of river travel’s most colorful traditions. His creation will be the finest and fanciest “steam-pianna” ever to float, 44 separate whistles played from a solid state keyboard. But for all its electronic ingenuity, it still will be a genuine “calli-ope” (as river people put it), and that’s the real wonder of his work. Steam calliopes (and paddlewheeled steamboats themselves, for that matter) are hardly ever built nowadays.

Constructing either one is just about a lost art. “People ask me,” Davis says, “where do you get the parts for a calliope?” My answer is, “You don’t.” So last February, Davis visited the Delta Queen in drydock in New Orleans and took measurements of the whistles on her calliope. Returning to his home in Seattle, he started designing the new parts, trying to take advantage of mass-produced brass tubing already available. But each tube had to house three separate brass couplings, and these were custom done at the Ballard Brass Foundry, Seattle, then finished in Davis’ own shop. To make matters more complex, his supply of pre-milled tubing for the 11 largest whistles dried up, unless Davis would order it in special, 1,000 foot long lots at $2 per foot, $11,000 for a few hundred inches of pipe. The Ballard Foundry came to his rescue, rolling the tubes from brass sheet stock and welding them together. Now test models of each whistle have been built, and the first six finished whistles have been completed. Completed, the calliope’s chimes will range from two inches in length and 1-5/8 inches in diameter to 22 inches long and 9-1/4 inches in diameter, arranged in a wide, shallow “U” five feet deep and 27 feet wide across the new boat’s stern. The whistles will be gold-plated to resist tarnishing, and every part not made of brass will be of stainless steel. “People just aren’t building things this solidly anymore,” Davis says. “It will probably outlive me.” But what might be the most remarkable about this revival is that Davis has never built a calliope before and has no strong background in music. A computer programmer at the University of Washington, Davis was drawn into the vanishing craft by a family friend, Donald Isham, a theater organist who once played accompaniment to silent movies. Isham wanted to build a “dream organ” — a pipe organ coupled to an electronic console. He called on Davis, with his electronics expertise, to help him build it. Starting in 1968, Davis worked two-and -a-half years on Isham’s organ before delivering it to his home in Los Angeles. There it was spotted by William Muster, a board member and former president of the steamboat company, who asked Davis to cure the ills of the Delta Queen’s calliope.

The Queen in 1960 received its calliope from Commander E. J. “Jay” Quimby, then the boat’s chairman, who found an instrument salvaged fro the sunken showboat Water Queens in the Kanawha River in West Virginia. The rescued calliope had passed from “Crazy Ray” Choisier, who played it in carnivals until his death, to the King Bros. Circus, to the collection of Ellsworth W. “Slim” Somers of Waterbury, Conn. and finally Quimby. Quimby, an inventor in his own right, installed it on the Delta Queen as the first calliope with a remote keyboard located a safe distance from the whistles. But in 1971, the electric switches connecting keys to the calliope had deteriorated, resulting in an instrument which wouldn’t play or, worse yet, wouldn’t stop. Muster shipped the console to Davis in Seattle, who supplied it with solid-state relays and gave it an organ-like keyboard touch. “This type of keyboard is probably what landed me the job of the new calliope,” Davis says. When Davis got the $35,436 contract for the new riverboat’s steam-throated songstress, he formed the Davis Calliope Works & Custom Systems solely for the project and proceeded to add some improvements to the art on his own. “I just haven’t been afraid to tackle anything, I guess,” he says of his 44-whistle creation, the largest in existence (a 44-whistle calliope aboard the City of Pittsburgh riverboat was destroyed when the boat burned in 1902), a full octave deeper than the Delta Queen’s cally-ope. In addition, the new calliope will have two keyboards, one near the instrument at the stern, one in the purser’s office, protected from inclement whether. [That keyboard never came to pass. Ted] And, in a first-of-its-kind feature, Davis’ electronic outlay will enable him to record the keyboard signals on a digital cassette tape and them to play them back to the calliope, completely eliminating the need for a musician. “No one’s ever done this quite this way before,” Davis says. “This is going to be quite a unique thing.”

The first western riverboat to have a calliope was the Excelsior, sailing the upper Mississippi between St. Louis and St. Paul. But the attraction was soon discontinues after noise gave the Excelsior’s captain (plus some passengers) a headache. But on the Sacramento River trade between Sacramento and San Francisco, calliopes became the craze, later a supernatural legend. Prof. Abe Harcourt, maestro aboard the Steamer Amador, died of a heart attack at his keyboard mid-concert, and tales soon spread about a ghostly calliope serenading the fog-shrouded shores of the river. On the lower Mississippi, the showboat Floating Palace, sailed by the Spaulding & Rogers North American Circus, was the first to use the calliope to summon crowds to the riverbank (the instrument was doubly valuable–it drowned out the bands of competing boats). The Civil War silenced the calliopes on the Mississippi during the fighting. Not until 1877 did one appear on the showboat New Sensation. But the “steam-piana” had captured America’s imagination and, simultaneously raised the ire of musical purists. And there always has been disagreement over what to call the phenomenon–Calliope (mother of Orpheus and chief of the muses) or cally-ope. An nineteenth century magazine, Reedy’s Mirror, settled the dispute, at least for river people, with this rhyme:

Proud folk stare after me,
Call me Calliope;
Tooting joy, tooting hope,
I am the calliope.

How the Mississippi Queen got her name

This is the original press release from 1976 about the naming of the Mississippi Queen, as contributed by Ted Guillaum:


CINCINNATI- Mississippi Queen is the name of America’s newest paddlewheel steamboat. Six and one half decks high, she is the first overnight passenger steamboat to be built since her sister-ship the Delta Queen in 1926. She will make her maiden voyage from Cincinnati in 1976. Congresswoman Leonore K. Sullivan (D-MO), Chairman of the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, christened the new sternwheeler April 30 at the Louisville Public Wharf.

Mississippi Queen was chosen from over 220 different name suggestions including such colorful and nostalgic appellations as Creole Belle, Magnolia Maid, Southern Cross, Jasmine Jewel, Eagle Star, Natchez, Robert E. Lee, River Queen, and Dixie King. The selection process whittled the final choices to three names: Delta Grande, Grand Republic, and Mississippi Queen. Mississippi Queen was chosen for a list of reasons almost as long as the word Mississippi itself. For starter, this is the name most frequently suggested by those who wrote to the steamboat company. And, Captain Fred Way, river historian and dean of river pilots says, “There has never been a riverboat with the name Mississippi Queen.” He adds that he thinks “Mississippi” is a good luck word. The words Mississippi Queen also succinctly describes the new sternwheeler and the geography of her operation. Like the Delta Queen, she will cruise the Mississippi River system which is made up of the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Illinois, the Arkansas, and the Cumberland Rivers. And, Mississippi is an internationally-known word which automatically suggests America’s paddlewheelers throughout the world. Queen recalls the grandeur of the nineteenth century when steamboats ruled the transportation industry. And, finally, Queen serves as a reminder that the Mississippi Queen and the Delta Queen are sister-ships.

Delta Queen II was frequently suggested as a name for the new sternwheeler. Betty Blake, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, says that the name was rejected for two reasons: “First, the new boat is not a duplicate of the Delta Queen. Second, we feared it might cause people to believe we were retiring the Delta Queen. This is absolutely not true. We intend to continue operating the Delta Queen for as long as Congress grants us exemption from the Safety at Sea Law.”

In October 1973, The Delta Queen Steamboat Company announced a National Election to help choose a name for the new steamboat. Mr. J. Robert Kirby, Detroit, most accurately predicted the actual returns. He will receive a free cruise for two aboard the Mississippi Queen.

Building the Steam Engines of the Mississippi Queen

This is the original press release from 1976 about the Mississippi Queen’s steam engines, as contributed by Ted Guillaum:


(Brunswick, Maine) That 2,000 hp steam engine that will power the Mississippi Queen, The Delta Queen Steamboat Co.’s new sternwheeler, had its beginning as pine trees. And, it’s more than a coincidence that the name of the company building the engine is Pine Tree Engineering, a subsidiary of Rice-Barton Corp. Pine trees, the great natural resource of this area, are fundamental to the building of the engine because each of the 556 castings in the engine is made from patterns that first were carved from wood, the wood of the pine trees. Original designs for the engine were found at the Point Pleasant manufacturing Co., Point Pleasant, W. Va. The company built the engines for the towboats Jason and Alexander MacKenzie. At the time, that company was known as the Marietta Manufacturing Co. And, while the engine of the boat is a replica of those in the Jason and Alexander MacKenzie built in the 1930’s, the patterns, unfortunately, were burned as firewood. Patterns for the engine for the Delta Queen’s sistership were cut by Paul Berry and Blair Bailey who operate their own pattern shop in Brunswick, Maine.

As an example of the differences in size and shapes of the 556 patterns, consider that the largest casting, the low pressure cylinder, weighs six tons and the smallest, a link, weighs but eight ounces. After each engine part is first cut into a wood pattern, the pattern is placed into wet sand to form an impression. Then, molten iron or steel is poured into the impression to form a casting.

What the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. needed for its new sistership was an engine powerful enough to drive the paddlewheel of a steamboat 387 feet long with a breadth of 67 feet and a net weight of 3,500 tons. The tandem compound engine has two pistons and cylinders in line of a single shaft. The steam goes first into the smaller, high-pressure cylinder and is exhausted into the larger, low-pressure cylinder. The Delta Queen’s engine consists of a high-pressure cylinder with a 26 inch bore by 10 foot stroke and a low-pressure cylinder of a 52 inch bore by 10 foot stroke. The bore of the high-pressure cylinder of the new boat is 32 inches while the bore of the high-pressure cylinder is 16 inches. The stroke is 10 feet. The steam pressure acting on the pistons produces the fore and aft motion of the engine shaft. This notion is transmitted through 45 foot pitman arms to the cranks on each side of the paddlewheel. The narrower cylinders mean more steam pressure on the new boat engine. And, that’s the power that will turn the paddlewheel of the Delta Queen’s sistership at speeds up to 12 miles per hour when she goes into service in 1976. Total weight of the engine is 82,152 pounds, which indicates that those pine trees have come a long way from the woods of Maine.