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Taylor, Jacob N; Crooks, M. O. Sketch Book of St. Louis: Containing a Series of Sketches of the Early Settlement, Public Buildings, Hotels, Railroads, Steamboats, Foundry and Machine Shops, Mercantile Houses, Grocers, Manufacturing Houses, Etc . St. Louis: George Knapp and Co, 1858. [format: book], [genre: guidebook; narrative]. Permission: Tulane University
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Chapter IX. Western River Improvement and Wrecking Company.

There is perhaps no enterprise connected with the city of St. Louis more important in all its various bearings than the one above named. When we consider the magnitude of the trade on the Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, Red, Cumberland, and Tennessee rivers, with their numerous tributaries, — the millions of property which are annually borne upon their bosoms, together with the amount which is lost by the constantly occurring accidents which no care or foresight can prevent, the usefulness and importance of this company is so apparent as to be clear to the most superficial observer.

No streams in the world present greater obstacles to the raising of boats and the recovery of their cargoes, machinery, etc., than do the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Their swift-running currents, surcharged with sand, soon form bars in and around the hulls of the unfortunate boats, which are serious obstructions to the recovery of property. When we consider these facts, it is a pleasing thought to know that many of these difficulties have been overcome by the efforts of Messrs. Eads & Nelson, the originators of the above named company.

The first diving-bell used on the Mississippi, we believe, was

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constructed and used by Mr. — Thomas, formerly proprietor of the Sectional Docks, upon the wreck of a steamboat sunk in the Mississippi river between the cities of St. Louis and Alton, about the year 1838. His efforts were only partially successful, the diving-bell boats used being mere flatboats. The diving-bell of Mr. Thomas, with two or three other temporary contrivances, were all the public had to depend upon until the year 1842, when the Sub-Marine No. 1 was built. She was looked upon as quite a prodigy in her day. This boat was built by Eads & Nelson and Captain Calvin Case, (a gentleman much respected by the citizens of St. Louis for his energy of character, and who lost his life in the unfortunate Gasconade disaster.) She was used only for the purpose of raising the machinery and cargo of sunken boats. In the year 1845 Messrs. Case and Eads retired from the firm, and the business was conducted by Mr. Nelson alone, until the year 1847, when a company was formed composed of Messrs. Wm. S. Nelson, Jas. B. Eads and A. McDowell. Mr. McDowell, however, shortly after retired, and the business was conducted for the ten years ensuing by Messrs. Eads & Nelson. These gentlemen in 1848 built the Sub-Marine No. 2. She was built at Cairo, and was eminently successful in all her operations.

In the year 1849 the Sub-Marine No. 3 was completed, and her first work was clearing our harbor of some of the wrecks of the twenty-eight steamboats, consumed in the great fire of May, 1849. We have in another place spoken of the ravages of that terrible day. The work of removing these obstructions from our harbor required several months. Since that time the company have also removed the wrecks of many other boats burnt, or sunk at the levee.

In 1851 the Sub-Marine No. 4 was built at Paducah, Kentucky, and inaugurated a new era in the business of wrecking

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upon the western rivers. She was provided with powerful steam pumps, patented by Mr. J: Stuart Gwynne, of New York. This pump (Gwynne's patent centrifugal) is probably the most perfect piece of machinery of the kind ever invented. The sole right of using this pump on the Mississippi and its tributaries is possessed by the Western River Improvement and Wrecking Company. The achievements of the Sub-Marine No. 4 at the time were very satisfactory both to the company and the public, as the raising of a steamboat entire on the Mississippi had prior to that time been ranked among the impossibilities — few ever having been entirely raised before she commenced operations. Since 1851 upwards of fifty boats have been raised and set afloat once more by the aid of this company. Many of them too are still running — thus giving to the country a large amount of capital which, but for their efforts, would have been lost to the commerce of the West.

In 1855 the five snag boats built by the United States Government, at a cost of $185,000, were offered for sale, and were purchased by Messrs. Eads & Nelson, and now form a part of the fleet used and owned by the present company. The copper plate engraving of one of them (the A. H. Sevier) is a correct picture of this boat about to raise a snag. (See engraving.) The smallest one, the Terror, built for the Arkansas river, was converted into the Sub-Marine No. 8. In 1856 or 1857 the Sub-Marine No. 7 was built. (See accompanying engraving, which is an accurate picture of this boat.) She cost $80,000, and is beyond a doubt the most complete boat of her kind in the world, being capable of raising the largest steamers. She is furnished with two of Gwynne's centrifugal pumps, capable of discharging two thousand barrels of water per minute. Her first feat was the raising of the steamer Switzerland. This boat was sunk near Natchez, with a

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cargo of 900 tons on board. The water was 14 feet deep on her deck. The sand and mud had settled in a few days to the depth of eighteen inches in many places on her, but the Sub-Marine No. 7 raised her — cargo, mud and sand — bodily, and set her afloat. The Switzerland is now engaged in the Cincinnati and New Orleans trade.

Since this boat has been out she has been kept steadily engaged, and has performed many feats which a few years ago all boatmen and experienced river men would have considered impossible.

The company have just completed, at New Albany, Indiana, two very superior boats, called Sub-Marines No. 11 and 12.

The field of labor of this company is a large one, and must ultimately command the extension of its capital to the utmost limit allowed by the charter, in order that it may keep pace with the necessities of the rapidly growing trade of the Mississippi valley.

After the purchase of the United States snag-boats above spoken of, the idea was conceived by the founders of the present company of converting their great facilities for recovering wrecked property into the means of preventing the enormous losses of life and vessels constantly occurring on the Missistippi and its tributaries, by removing the channel obstructions which cause them. To this end a proposition was made to the General Government by Messrs. Eads & Nelson, in 1856, to clear out the snags, stumps, sunken logs, wrecks and rocks which infest the navigation, for a fixed sum per annum, for a term of five years. It is needless to say that, through the opposition of the late President (Gen Pierce,) to all internal improvements, this most praiseworthy object failed of success.

With a view of achieving this end — the improvement of our noble rivers — through the means above mentioned, and to

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concentrate capital, skill and personal influence with direct reference to attaining it, a liberal charter was obtained from the Legislature of Missouri, in 1857, incorporating the present association under tlje name and style of the "Western River Improvement and Wrecking Company." It has a capital of; two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and the right to increase the same to five hundred thousand dollars. The stock was readily taken, and is now held by some seventy or eighty stockholders, embracing many of our most prominent business men.

The affairs of the company are conducted by seven directors, chosen annually, together with a president, vice president, superintendent, secretary, and treasurer, whose names we insert for the benefit of our readers:


Officers of the Company.
JAMES B. EADS, President,
S. H. LAFLIN, Vice President,
WM. S. NELSON, Superintendent,
WM. C. BUCHANAN, Secretary,

For the above hasty and imperfect sketch of the operations of this company and its predecessors, from the commencement up to the present time, we have had to depend upon very insufficient data, but, as limited as it is, we feel confident that it demonstrates the usefulness and efficiency of such an association. The charter of the company does not confine it to the Mississippi in its operations, but permits it to recover wrecked property in any part of the world, and to own and manage such steam vessels and dry docks as may be deemed proper.

We look upon the Western River Improvement and Wrecking

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Company as a standing rebuke to the Government of the United States. Instead of removing those obstructions, which offer constant peril to the entire commerce of the west, the Government leaves for private enterprise to do that which justice and right clearly point out as its duty. While millions upon millions of acres of land are donated for the building of railroads, which, in the end, mainly benefit a few speculators in lands and railroad stocks, not a dollar can be appropriated for the benefit of the thousands and hundreds of thousands who are compelled to use the western waters as a highway upon which to convey their products to market. In consequence of this injustice on the part of the Government, we are continually meeting with losses that annually amount to a sum that would more than clear the river of all obstructions. In addition to this, in consequence of the obstructions not being removed, we are subjected to enormous taxes, in the shape of insurance, upon whatever we may choose to ship and trust to the dangerous navigation of the rivers of the West.

This is done, too, while millions of dollars are annually appropriated for the improvement of eastern harbors, thus virtually giving assistance to a great number of foreign vessels which navigate those waters in connection with American ships, while western steamers and property are left to provide for themselves.

This neglect had become so severe an evil, that the organization of an association like the Western River Improvement and Wrecking Company was imperatively demanded. It stands forth now a tower of strength, an evidence of western energy, and an honor to the city from which it hails. Officered as the company is by men of great experience in the business which they have undertaken, and rendered successful by the energy they

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have displayed in its management, this company is probably far more efficient than would be a Government fleet of the same character, managed, as it undoubtedly would be, by some eastern engineer or western political mountebank. The only regret is, that the cost of all this neglect on the part of the Government falls upon the wrong shoulders.

The company is a great savings institution to the public in another respect — to the insured and insurance offices in particular — since it saves yearly vast amounts of property for the underwriters, and thus enables them to insure most descriptions of goods at a lower rate of per centage than could be done under the old regime, when no such company was in existence. We much regret that we have neither time nor space to enter into this subject more fully. It is a matter of vital interest to western commerce and navigation. It is one that affects not only the steamboat interest, but the farmer and the mechanic, and indeed all who may have occasion to transport their products or handiwork on our rivers, and who may have to call to their assistance the skill and aid of this company. We trust to have occasion hereafter to give a more full statement of the company's achievements, and thus do it that justice which it so fully merits.

The Western River Improvement and Wrecking Company has a standing salvage contract with nearly all the prominent Insurance Companies throughout the Union, by which it is empowered to save at once any property insured by them which may chance to be lost on the Mississippi river or on its tributaries, when sunk beyond the power of the master of the boat to recover with the means under his control. By this means no time is lost in making special contracts for each case — such delays being likely to cause a loss of the whole property by its being covered by sand, mud, &c. The peculiar nature of the Mississippi

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and Missouri rivers is such that, when a steamboat sinks, but a few days elapse (often but a few hours) before the shifting sands are washed from under some part of the hull, and it becomes so twisted, bent or broken, that it is impossible to raise the boat. By this contract all unnecessary delay is avoided, and the rate of salvage is settled by the value of the property saved.

The following is a copy of the advertisement of the Insurance Companies who are parties to this contract:

"TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN. — We the undersigned Insurance Companies, parties to a general salvage contract with the Western River Improvement and Wrecking Company of St. Louis, Mo., have appointed that company our general agents, with full authority to act for us in recovering any property insured by us, which may be lost in the Mississippi river and its tributaries, except on the Ohio above the Falls. And in the event of the sinking of any boat insured by either of us, it is particularly requested of the master to communicate with the Western River Improvement and Wrecking Company with all dispatch, and not to proceed to remove the engines, boilers, fixtures, &c., or in any manner injure the boat, or make any contract with any other parties for wrecking boat or cargo, before the agent of said Western River Improvement and Wrecking Company shall have visited the wreck.

Union Insurance Company, St. Louis, by F. L. RIDGELY, President.
Marine Insurance Company, St. Louis, by D. HOUGH, President.
Citizens' Insurance Company, St. Louis, by W. D. WOOD, Secretary.
St Louis Floating Dock and Insurance Co., St. Louis, by W. J. FETTER, Secretary.

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Lumbermen and Mechanics' Insurance Co., St. Louis, by J. N. PRITCHARD, Secretary.
Atlantic Mutual Insurance Co., St. Louis, by C. C. FERGUSON, Secretary.
Millers' and Manufacturers' Insurance Co., St. Louis,by J. A. BROWNLEE, President.
Merchants' Mutual Insurance Company, St. Louis, by S. H. LOWRY, Secretary.
St. Louis Insurance Co., of St. Louis, by GEO. K. McGUNNEGLE, President.
American Insurance Co., St. Louis, by S. R. CLARKE, Secretary.
Delaware M. S. Insurance Company, Philadelphia, by EDWRAD BROOKS, Agent.
Commercial Insurance Co., Louisville, by P. B. ATWOOD, Secretary.
Louisville Insurance Co., Louisville, by WM. PRATHER, Secretary.
Franklin Insurance Co., Louisville, by ABRAHAM HITE, Secretary.
People's Insurance Co., Louisville, by J. L. DANFORTH, Secretary.
Washington Insurance Co., Louisville,by W. Ross, Secretary.
Jefferson Insurance Co., Louisville, by JOHN MUIR, President.
Louisville M. & F. Insurance Company, Louisville,by WM. SINTON, Secretary.

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Delaware Mutual Insurance Company, Philadelphia, by J. E. TYLER, Agent,
Cincinnati Insurance Co., Cincinnati, by G. W. WILLIAMS, Secretary.
City Insurance Co., Cincinnati, by N. GREGORY, Secretary.
National Insurance Co., Cincinnati, by H. C. URNOR, Secretary.
Washington Insurance Co., Cincinnati, by WM. GOODMAN, President.
Firemen's Insurance Co., Cincinnati, by H. E. SPENCER, President.
Eagle Insurance Co., Cincinnati, by J. B. STOCKTON, Secretary.
Merchants' and Manufacturer's Insurance Co., Cincinnati, by A. M. SEARLES, President.
Queen City Insurance Co., Cincinnati, by W. H. McKINNEY, Secretary.
Howard F. & M. Insurance Company, Philadelphia, Merchants' Insurance Co., Philadelphia; Exchange Insurance Co., Philadelphia; Atlantic F. & M. Insurance Co., Providence, R. I., by TAYLOR & ANTHONY, Agents, Cincinnati.
Pennsylvania Insurance Company, Pittsburgh, Pa., by A. A. CARRIER, Secretary.
Pittsburgh Life, Fire and Marine Insur. Co., Pittsburgh, by R. GALWAY, President.
Western Insurance Co., Pittsbugh, by F. M. GORDON, Secretary.

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Monongahela Insurance Co., Pittsburgh, by JAS. A. HUTCHISON, President.
Great Western Insurance Company, Philadelphia, Merchants' Insurance Co., Philadelphia, by R. W. POINDEXTER, Agent, Pittsburgh.
Delaware Mutual Insurance Co., Philadelphia, by P. A. MADEIRA, Agent, Pittsburgh.
Protection Insurance Co., Nashville, by SAMUEL SEAY, President.
Nashville Commercial Insurance Co., Nashville, Tenn., by ALEX FALL, President.
Tennessee M. & F. Insurance Co., Nashville, Tenn., by JOSEPH VAULX, President.
Sun Mutual Insurance Co., New Orleans, by THOMAS SLOO, President.
Eureka Insurance Company, of Pittsburgh, by R. FINNEY, Secretary.
Home Mutual Insurance Company of New Orleans, by A. BROTHER, President.
Crescent Mutual Insurance Company of New Orleans, by THOS. A. ADAMS, President.
Citizens' Mutual Insurance Company of New Orleans, by O. GAINARD, President.
Louisiana Mutual Insurance Company of New Orleans, by CHAS. BRIGGS, President.
Star Insurance Company of New Orleans, by PLACIDE FORSTALL, President.
Atlantic Mutual Insurance Company, New York, by J. D. JONES, President.

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Union Mutual Insurance Co., New York, by F. STAGG, Secretary.
Manufacturers' Ins. Co. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, by A. S. LIPPINCOTT, President.
Merchants' and Mechanics' Insurance Co., Philadelphia, by E. R. HELMBOLD, Secretary,
Commonwealth Insurance Company, Harrisburgh, by S. S. CARRIER, Secretary.
State Mutual F. & M. Insurance Co., Harrisburgh, by S. WARD, Secretary.
Madison Insurance Co., Madison, Ind., by S. POLLEMS, Secretary.
Mercantile, Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Covington, Ky., by E. HENRY CARTER, President.
Nebraska City Insurance Company, Nebraska City, by CHAS. F. HOLLY, President.
Office of the Western River Improvement and Wrecking Company, Nos. 47 and 252 North Main street, St. Louis. JAMES B. EADS, President."

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Taylor, Jacob N; Crooks, M. O. Sketch Book of St. Louis: Containing a Series of Sketches of the Early Settlement, Public Buildings, Hotels, Railroads, Steamboats, Foundry and Machine Shops, Mercantile Houses, Grocers, Manufacturing Houses, Etc . St. Louis: George Knapp and Co, 1858. [format: book], [genre: guidebook; narrative]. Permission: Tulane University
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