Save the Delta Queen: A private initiative to save the steamboat Delta Queen A private initiative to save the steamboat Delta Queen
FAQ | Whitepaper | Contact | Impressum

Delta Queen Whitepaper

Jan 31, 2008



During an election year, we hear a lot from our Presidential candidates about how they will help build a strong economy and how dedicated they are to the American way of life.  It’s time to put their words to work – if they mean what they say and are truly willing to be an agent for change, then they must support our effort to save the Delta Queen and must pressure their colleagues to do something now.

Saving the Delta Queen is a non-partisan issue – she is a U.S. flag vessel, with an all-American crew, she is U.S.-owned and pays U.S. taxes.  Her operating exemption has been granted nine times by both Democrats and Republicans, she was good enough and safe enough to host three presidents and a princess.  She is a registered historic treasure of the Department of the Interior and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She is a National Historic Landmark and also a member of the National Maritime Hall of Fame.  Despite all this, the Chairman of the Senate Commerce and Transportation Committee and the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee won’t even let the Delta Queen extension go to a vote.  However, Congress did find the time to exempt a foreign-owned cruise line, with foreign-built ships, from the coastwise trade laws, passed and enforced since 1886, which protects American maritime jobs.  Due to Congress’ exemption, the United States Coast Guard estimates that 900 – 1,200 foreign workers will be employed by that cruise line in 2008.  In contrast, if nothing is done for the Queen, more than 120 American jobs will be lost on November 1, 2008 (directly and not including the jobs the Queen supports in many small towns in the dozen states she visits). And, we also will lose a little bit of our cultural heritage.


She is known from the Gold Coast of California to the green hills of Tennessee, from the wild rice marshes of Minnesota to the bayous of Louisiana. She is a veteran of World War II and the only steamboat to transit the Panama Canal.  She is the legendary Delta Queen, an American treasure that just celebrated 80 years on America’s rivers, and the last operational steam paddle-wheeler that has overnight accommodations.

The Delta Queen was first launched on the Sacramento River, as one of two steamers commissioned by the California Transportation Co., to offer luxury overnight travel between Sacramento and San Francisco. These “California twins,” the Delta Queen and Delta King, were famous for their fine appointments and their astounding total cost of $1 million each.  The American-built superstructures were crafted from the finest woods available, including oak, teak, and Oregon cedar. The plates for their steel hulls were fabricated in Scotland, and their cranks and shafts at the mighty Krupp Works in Germany, then shipped to California for assembly by American craftsmen.

The Delta Queen worked her Sacramento River shuttle from 1927 to 1940. When the Great Depression brought an end to her trips, the Navy leased the Delta Queen. She served first as a troop barracks; then, painted a dark gray, she carried servicemen to and from ships in San Francisco Bay.

At the war’s end, the Delta Queen was auctioned by the U.S. Maritime Commission to Captain Tom Greene, president of Cincinnati’s Greene Line Steamers. Capt. Greene’s bid of $46,250 was a fraction of the Delta Queen’s original cost.

Capt. Greene then had to figure a way to move the shallow-draft riverboat from California to her new home on America’s inland rivers. With the help of the late Captain Frederick Way, Jr., and other experts, watertight crating was constructed to protect the Delta Queen from the ocean; and arrangements were made for her perilous journey.  Insured by Lloyd’s of London for her historic 5,378-mile voyage, she departed under tow from San Francisco out into the Pacific Ocean; through the Panama Canal; north into the Gulf of Mexico; and finally up the Mississippi River to New Orleans, arriving May 21, 1947. There she was uncrated before setting off under her own steam for Cincinnati, where thousands of well-wishers celebrated her arrival. Her next stop was Pittsburgh’s Dravo Shipyard for a $750,000 “facelift.”

Prior to the Delta Queen’s first trip down the Ohio River in June 1948, Capt. Greene restored the boat’s original charm and reworked the interior layout to accommodate staterooms, baths, dining and service areas. Forward decks were reconfigured to create “promenade” space, and the military gray paint was replaced by the traditional steamboat white that she wears today.

In 2006, Majestic America Line purchased the Delta Queen from its former owners and made her a part of its seven-ship fleet that plies America’s great waterways.

To this day, the Delta Queen proudly features her original Tiffany-style stained glass windows, rich hardwood paneling, gleaming brass fittings, the only Siamese ironwood floor aboard a steamboat, and the often-photographed Grand Staircase, crowned by a crystal chandelier. Her cabins and staterooms continue the theme of old-fashioned elegance, and each offers a commanding view of the river.


The Delta Queen was built in 1926 and in 1970 was registered as an historic treasure by the Department of Interior and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Although the vessel’s hull is made of steel, its superstructure is constructed of wood. As such, it must have a statutory exemption from the Coast Guard’s fire retardant materials regulations for its operations on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to continue.

In 1966 a law was passed that imposes a general requirement that passenger vessels with a capacity of 50 or more passengers be constructed with fire-retardant materials. However, in 1968 Congress amended the statute to exempt vessels operating within the inland waters before January 1, 1968 from this requirement. At that time, only two vessels qualified for the exemption, the Delta Queen and one other, not now in operation. According to the Senate Committee Report, S. Rpt. 1080:

There are great distinctions in the circumstances under which the Delta Queen operates as compared to the operations of an ocean liner at sea. The Delta Queen is never more than a few hundred yards from shore, and in many places passengers would have no difficulty whatsoever in reaching safety in the event of an emergency.

This statutory exemption was for two years but in 1970 the exemption was extended until 1973. The Conference Report observed that the exemption “will give Congress time to hear and decide how to assist in saving the last symbol (the Delta Queen) of a bygone era.” In 1973 the exemption was extended for an additional five years. The House Report, H. Rpt 289 observed that the original legislation “inadvertently” applied to the Delta Queen and justified the exemption based on several reasons, including:

great historical and cultural value;

termination of the Delta Queen would be a misapplication of current law because the 1966 statute was designed to affect ocean going vessels;

the Delta Queen is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a great asset to tourism and economic development; and

safety improvements have been made to the Delta Queen.

The exemption was further extended to 1983 and several times thereafter, most recently in the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 1996, until November 1, 2008.

Currently there is free-standing legislation proposed by Representative Steve Chabot that seeks to extend the exemption for a further 10 years.  Representatives that have signed on so far include:

Representative Todd Akin, R-MO
Representative Brian Baird, D-WA
Representative Richard Baker, R-LA
Representative Marsh Blackburn, R-TN
Representative Steve Cohen, D-TN
Representative Robert E. (Bud) Cramer, D-AL
Representative David Davis, R-TN
Representative Geoff Davis, R-KY
Representative Brad Ellsworth D-IN
Representative Jo Ann Emerson, R-MO
Representative David Hobson R-OH
Representative Kenny Hulshoff, R-MO
Representative Ron Kind, D-WI
Representative William Lacy Clay, D-MO
Representative Ron Lewis, R-KY
Representative Mike Ross, D-AR
Representative Jean Schmidt, R-OH
Representative John Tanner, D-TN
Representative Michael Turner, R-OH
Representative Zach Wamp, R-TN
Representative Timothy Walz, D-MN
Representative Ed Whitfield, R-KY


Although the Delta Queen has been repeatedly exempted from the Coast Guard’s fire-retardant regulations, it remains subject to many safety-related requirements. Section 3503(b) of title 46, United States Code, sets forth five safety rules for any vessels exempted under section 3503(a), that is, the Delta Queen. The vessel’s owner or managing operator:

is required to “notify prospective passengers that the vessel does not comply with applicable fire safety standards primarily due to the wooden construction of passenger berthing areas” – this is done in our brochures, our passenger contracts and is displayed in its staterooms;

is forbidden from disclaiming “liability to a passenger for death, injury, or any other loss caused by fire due to negligence of the owner or managing operator”; and

is required to “notify” the Coast Guard of structural alterations to the vessel and with regard to those alternations comply with any noncombustible material requirements that the Coast Guard prescribes for public spaces.

The law requires any Coast Guard requirements be “consistent with the preservation of the historic integrity of the vessel in areas carrying or accessible to passengers or generally visible to the public. Violations of these requirements result in civil penalties and the potential in rem sale of the vessel for such infractions.

As part of this effort to renew the exemptions, a number of further safety improvements were made:

*    Areas of the wooden superstructure have been replaced with fire-retardant or resistant materials, including numerous wooden overhead beams with steel and the roof of the vessel using fire-retardant material.

*    A high-volume sprinkler system meeting National Fire Protection Association Code requirements (NFPA-13) has been installed throughout the vessel and staterooms, public places, storage areas and mechanical areas have been equipped with advanced smoke and heat detection systems.

*    All Coast Guard lifesaving requirements have been implemented, including providing floating safety refuge for all passengers and crew.

*    Creation of two Emergency Squad response teams to serve as first responders in the event of an emergency such as a fire.

As a result of these measures, there has never been a fatality on board the Delta Queen. Over its 80-year history of operation, there has only been one fire-related incident. In 2003, fuel from a sterno can being used to heat a chafing dish setup spilled onto a nearby textile, causing a fire, which a crewmember extinguished in a matter of seconds. Subsequently, sterno cans were replaced with electric chafing dishes.

The USCG has not supported the exemption, but the USCG has said it would not support any exemption that seeks to avoid safety measures and further it is not their role to legislate such matters.


Save American jobs, save America’s cultural heritage – SAVE THE DELTA QUEEN.  Perhaps the National Trust for Historic Preservation said it best:

The Delta Queen is the last survivor of a once thriving fleet of steam paddleboats plying the inland waters of the United States, and deserves to, indeed, must survive as a living reminder of an important era of America history. . . . The loss of the Delta Queen as an operating vessel carrying overnight passengers on the Mississippi and its tributaries would be an irreplaceable one and would remove the last remaining link with the steam-boating tradition of nineteenth and early twentieth century America.


For more information, please link to the following articles:

New York Times:



16 Responses to “Delta Queen Whitepaper”

  1. Jim Herron Says:

    What a great boost to our campaign!

    Thank you Mr. Uberroth for listening and recognizing the work we’ve been doing. I’m sure we all look forward to joining your efforts to keep the Delta Queen steaming!

    -Jim Herron
    DQ passenger and supporter

  2. BrunoKrause Says:

    Thank you Mr Uberroth!

    I now feel that we truly have ALL the right players supporting the cause to save the “Legendary One”.

    My hopes are now a little higher that my wife and I can enjoy the Delta Queen, our second home, for more than the 22 times we have cruised on her historic decks.

    Bruno Krause
    DQ passenger and supporter

  3. Captain Harold Schultz Says:

    Thank you Mr. Uberroth for this great response to saving a very safe and fine Lady like the Delta Queen. I have been blessed in my lifetime to have served aboard this steamboat as Pilot and Master. I have taken my wife aboard and there is no other vessel that can take you back in time like the Delta Queen. I thank you again, when other Companies are taking our jobs overseas you are trying to keep “Americans” employed. I pledge my full support to you in your efforts in saving the Delta Queen.
    Your Truly
    Captain Harold Schultz

  4. karen neel Says:

    I am trying to figure out why our representatives would not back the vote on saving the Delta Queen. If she’s good enough for Presidents and a Princess to ride on then she is good enough to save.
    I have not ridden on the Queen but I plan to take a trip on the Mississippi on the Queen some time in the future. Please vote to save her!!!! She is worth saving.

  5. Pam Says:

    Save a piece of history. So many historical sites, homes and now the Queen are in danger of becoming just a memory. Let’s work together and save our Queen.

  6. Sue Cram Says:

    Rather than spending lots of time writing about how much we love the DQ, spend that time writing your congress people, candidates, newspapers, talk show hosts, TV personalities and radio stations about how important this issue is. If she is going to be saved, we’ve got to generate some “bit time” national attention, and we’ve got to do it soon!

  7. Dick Weber Says:

    Since the Delta Queen plies the shorlines of American rivers and is only moments away from discharging passengers and crew to land, it makes sense to continue the exemption that she deserves. This historic floating landmark is an economic boost to the area it serves and enables passengers to experience steam power at its finest. The Queen has had a remarkable safety record and with a dedicated crew it will continue that credability. The Queen should be allowed to continue serving those who understand the safety issues yet still desire to experience historic steam powered river transportation.

  8. Joseph Baldwin Says:

    Thank goodness! Owner-operator is finally taking public stance: “DON’T GIVE UP THE SHIP!”

  9. Elaine Santangelo Says:

    Thank you!

    Please understand that there are so many who love the Delta Queen. Personally, I think that love contributes to her outstanding safety record. She is so cherished.

    Also, American jobs- we need them. I considered working on the Delta Queen the best job I ever had even if it was also the worst in some ways. And I have had more jobs than most people.

    Thank you for support-Vote to Save the Delta Queen.

    Elaine Santangelo

  10. Mrs. Bettie Russo Says:

    Thank you Mr Uberroth; I have spent the last 9 hours on the computer contacting politians and forwarding your letter. As a past passenger and a Southern lady, I will not stop fighting to preserve my American Heritage in the beloved Delta Queen! May Almighty God have mercy on us and send legions of angles to protect her.

    With devotion, Mrs. Russo

  11. Bob Kyle Says:

    Though I now live in Florida, miles away from the Ohio River I recall with very fond memories my childhood in St Marys, WV and seeing the DQ many times. Having a cousin that worked on the DQ afforded me the chance to make many rides. I can still close my eyes and hear the beautiful whistle as it would blow and echo off the hills. It would truly be a shame to lose this true gem of yesteryear. My best wishes are with the crew, passengers, and her many friends.

  12. Bob Wisner Says:

    How can ANYONE read this White Paper and remain in favor of putting the DQ out of commission? My only thought is that such a person either cannot read or cannot think or cannot empathize.

  13. Captain Michael D. Henson Sr. Says:

    Let politicians get involved and man there goes to the neighbor hood. I was a SIU union member for more than 19 years, and they do have influence in the congress and senate.
    Being a riverboat captain for more than 29 years that vessel is as save as any home or building standing. What are they going to do next tear down the white house because it is old as well shame on us let’s stand together on this one, we do not want a piece of our river history go down the drain?

  14. Frederick M Miller Says:


    The Delta Queen could be another extension(floating)of the Jefferson National Park Extension with trips up and down the Mississippi, the Illinois, the Ohio and the Missouri.

    The labor issue can therefore be resolved by employing the crew as National Park employees. The wooden issue can stand on it’s own safety record. The profit issue can be resolved by the public(taxpayers).


    Frederick M Miller
    Menlo Park California

  15. Sago Says:

    I get pleasure from your writing style genuinely enjoying this web page.

  16. Tony Seibert Says:

    The Western River System needs The Delta Queen out on the great liquid highway. I have worked on the river longer than I want to admit, and I miss seeing her. We need to see that This Queen stays here instead of the West Coast. And yes, make her part of Cincinnati’s history. In the mid 40’s Green Line Steamers went to great lenghts to bring her from California to Cincy. I believe it was some time in the 60’s (don’t hold me to this date) the public landing under went major changes. The Delta Queen was to be included and have a new home but it never happened. New Orleans became her new home port. It was a great loss for The Queen City. Please do what ever it takes to get her cruising and once again make her home port Cincinnati, Ohio.