William M. Black

The dredge William M. Black, now permanently moored in the Ice Harbor, is one of the last steamboats built with the advance technology of the 1930s, the last era before diesel power replaced steam. A side-wheeler steamboat, the Black is similar in form and style to the great steam boats of the 19th century and thus constitutes a link with the most colorful period of river transportation.

This vessel, which is 277 feet long and 85 feet wide, was built in 1934 by the Marietta Manufacturing Company in Point Pleasant, West Virginia for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Black’s metal hull and main deck have superstructures of the same material while the upper deck and pilot house are constructed entirely of wood. The main deck contains a machine shop, two boilers that boast large metal smokestacks bearing Corps of Engineers insignia, two paddle wheel areas, and the dredge pump engine.

The paddle wheels are 25 feet in diameter, weigh 32 tons each, and are powered by 600 horsepower reciprocating steam engines. The dredge pump has a 1,300 horsepower triple expansion steam engine.

In addition, there are several living quarters for the crew, storerooms, a drying room, a food preparation area and separate crew and officer’s mess, and fourteen staterooms including captain’s and engineer’s quarters.
William M Black Steamboat
Location: Ice Harbor: National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium
Year Constructed: 1934
Builder: Marietta Manufacturing Company, Point Pleasant, West Virginia
Style: Side-Wheel Dredge
Date listed on National Register of Historic Places: April 12, 1982
Date listed as a National Historic Landmark: April 27, 1992
The dredge William M. Black is an important link in the chain of work performed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Mississippi, Missouri, and other western rivers. Since the 1850s, the Corp has been dredging, removing snags, and making and maintaining river channels for navigation. The importance of this continuing program is manifested by the fact that in 1979 alone over 15 million tons of grain, petroleum, steel, and fertilizer passed through lock and dam 11 at Dubuque alone.

The Black was one of the last steam powered vessels used by the Corps of Engineers in its vital river work and thus constitutes a final chapter in the history of a colorful era in river traffic. The Corps utilized this boat from 1934 to 1973 and used it to open navigation channels, excavate pilot channels and boat harbors, and to pump earth fills. Burning up to 7,000 gallons of oil daily, the Black was capable of dredging 80,000 cubic yards of material per day. When operating at full capacity, this steamboat carried a crew of 49 but had sleeping accommodations for up to 63 persons.