Built in 1995, at Amelia, LA. by Mc Dermott ship yards, the Str. American Queen is the largest overnight passenger carrying vessel ever to work the Mississippi River and it's tributaries. She is the first vessel of her type to grace the inland waters as she is powered not only by a steam powered sternwheel, but a set of "Z"drives. These "Z" drive units are essentially large-scaled outboard motors, diesel powered. They are designed to replace the steam power plant when necessary and supplement it under normal conditions.
The American Queen is one of the famed three vessels of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. The Delta Queen Steamboat Company traces it's roots to 1890, when founded by Capt. Gordon C. Greene as Greene Line Steamers.
Greene Line Steamers changed it's name to Delta Queen Steamboat Company in 1973, due to the product recognition of it's last surviving vessel, the Str. Delta Queen. Due to the popularity of the Str. Delta Queen and to satisfy the need of the 1966 Safety at Sea Laws, the Str. Mississippi Queen was built. As the company continued to grow, so did the need for a third vessel. The product of this need is this months "Steamboat of the Month", the Str. American Queen.
The design of American Queen was a product of the design studios of Rodney E. Ley Maritime Architechs in 1992. The original name of the vessel was to be "Belle of America". The name American Queen came from a contest held by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company in 1994. The construction of the vessel began in 1993 and concluded in May of 1995, when the vessel made its first trip from the shipyard to it's new homeport of New Orleans, LA.
Because of the size of the vessel, it was necessary to take the vessel thru the Gulf of Mexico for a few miles, as she would not fit through the locks of the Intracoastal Waterway, where she was built. She did this with her "Z" drives and not with the paddlewheel.
As she came up the Mississippi River the first time the paddlewheel was reassembled and the calliope installed for a proper arrival at her homeport for the first time. Within minutes of hewr arrival at New Orleans, a rain storm commenced to drop rain at a voratious rate, over 10 inches of rain in just a few hours. This damaged some of the carpeting and wooden flooring of the boat and put "getting the final touches" done into a frenzy!
The event that gave the boat have instant recognition was a fluke during the trip to her Maiden Voyage. To take advantage of a photo opportunity, she was accidentally grounded on a sand bar on the Ohio River at Troy, Indiana. She was on every news station around the globe as she was stuck for over 2 days.
After she was freed form the earthen obstruction, she continued to Pittsburgh, PA where she started the Maiden Voyage to New Orleans, LA, tracing the voyage of the first steamboat, the Str. New Orleans in 1811. Her maiden voyage was attended by the luminary who christened her, Angel Harvey, wife of the famed radio host Paul Harvey who accompanied his wife through the process.
Since the Maiden Voyage the American Queen has a few unique situations to herself, as she is the largest steamboat to ever travel the waters. A week after her maiden voyage it was discovered her paddlewheel shaft was cracked. She finished her first season running on the "Z" drives, as a new paddlewheel was constructed. She has encountered a bridge or two in her day and her stacks are now shorter and much more attractive. As well, the "Crows Nest" on the stern of the vessel has dissappeared.
Not all has been bad news for this monarch of the rivers, not indeed. She carried the Olympic Torch along a portion of the Mississippi River in 1996. She has participated in 2 of the "Tall Stacks" celebrations at Cincinnati, OH.
The original steam whistle of the American Queen was a loaner from Madison Coal and Supply Company of Port Amhearst, WV. the whistle came from their last steam powered boat, the Str. Herbert Jones. This vessel was originally built as the Str. Jason, from which the design of the engines on-board Str. Mississippi Queen, the American Queen's sister ship came.
The whistle was returned in the winter of 1998 and a new whistle was installed aboard the boat. The new whistle has some controversy surroounding it. It is said the whistle came from the stock of the Walt Disney World theme park in Florida. The whistle is strikingly similar to those used aboard the boats of the Disney parks. However, the Disney boats whistles all came from the same supplier, Khalenberg of Wisconsin. This whistle is also very similar to a steam whistle Khalenberg makes for retail sale as a replica of the Mississippi River Steamboat style of steam whistle. Either way, it is an attractive looking whistle on the boat.
The boat operated as a very popular tourist boat on the inland rivers until October, 18, 2001. Then the whole story changed.
The owner and operator, Delta Queen Steamboat Company was then a part of a rather large conglomeration of cruise companies known as American Classic Voyages. American Classic was under a rather ambitious plan to grow to be America's Cruise Line by dominating all cruise markets with in the country and it's coastal waterways. As well, they had a stronghold on the Hawaii market.
Over a 5 year period they doubled the size of their fleet of boats with the construction of the Str. American Queen, the M/V Cape Cod Light and Cape May Light for Delta Queen Coastal Cruises and the acquisition of the M/V Patriot from Holland America Line for American Hawaii service.
The pinnacle of this growth came in July of 2001 when American Classic began construction oof the 2 largest cruise ships built on American soil, the "Project America" ships. All this construction, combined with a severe drop in sales after September , 11, 2001 and a set of mortgages that would scare a Rockefeller conspired to bankrupt American Classic Voyages.
American Classic succumbed to bankruptcy on October, 18, 2001. The American Queen was withdrawn from service the folowing week and located at the Delta Queen Steamboat Company wharf terminal in New Orleans, LA. Because her mortgage was financed by the Maritime Administration (known as MARAD) the vessel was sequestered by the government from the floundering company.
Although she was stored on their property, she became government property. Delta Queen Steamboat Company owned but 2 of it's vessels, the Str. Delta Queen and Str. Mississippi Queen. In an attempt to reorganize, an announcement was made indicationg the Delta and Mississippi Queen were to return to the rivers in spring of 2002. But, no mention of the American Queen, as she was not their property.
A dedicated group of steamboat fans headed by Phyllis Dale, a long-time entertainer aboard the Str. Delta Queen came forth and supported the resurgance of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company so strongly the company became very attractive and the former owners offered it for sale to liquidate what they could for the bankruptcy proceedings.
An auction was held and in a surprize move that no one could have expected the Delaware North Companies, owners of the Boston Bruins ball team bought not only the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, it's vessels and it's assets......but, the Str. American Queen as well.
The American Queen is set to return to her reign on America's rivers in January of 2003. We all have anxiously awaited the return of steamboating to the rivers and in January, once again the legacy os steamboating will be intact! All hail to the Monarch of the Inland Rivers, the American Queen!
Stats on the Str. American Queen
Built: Amelia, LA, 1995
Height: 100 ft. water line to top of stacks
Steam: 750 per engine, 2 total engines, one Port, one Stb'd combined they power one stern mounted paddlewheel of 44 tons, dual wheel-single shaft design.
Diesel: 3000 hp total "Z" drives combined
Draft: 10 ft
Owner/Operator: Delaware North Companies of Buffalo New York/Delta Queen Steamboat Company of New Orleans, Louisiana
Home Port: New Orleans, LA
For Cruise Information contact:
Delta Queen Steamboat Company
#30 Robin St. Wharf
New Orleans, LA 70130
1 800 543 1949
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©October 5, 2002