The History of the Motor Vessel MISSISSIPPI

Published July 17, 2013

MV MISSISSIPPIToday’s Motor Vessel MISSISSIPPI is the fifth U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' vessel to bear that proud name.  All of the MISSISSIPPIs have been intimately associated with the protection and development of the Lower Mississippi Valley.  They have seen the valley change from a largely undeveloped and flood-ravaged wilderness to one of the world’s leading agricultural and industrial areas.

The first Motor Vessel MISSISSIPPI was a steamer built for the Mississippi River Commission in St. Louis in 1882.  She was used by the Commission for its spring and fall inspection trips from St. Louis to New Orleans.  President Theodore Roosevelt made a trip from Cairo, Ill., to New Orleans in 1907.  Two years later, President William Howard Taft made a similar trip.  In 1919, she was transferred to what is now the Memphis District and renamed the PIOMINGO.  She continued in service for many more years as a towboat.

The second MISSISSIPPI began her life on the river as the Steamer LEOTA.  Built in 1899 as a dredge tender, she was noted for her trim lines and great speed.  She was selected as the new inspection vessel for the MRC in 1920.  She was stripped two years later.  Her hull and machinery were sent to New Orleans, where new boilers and a new cabin were installed.  She was then re-designated as the MISSISSIPPI.

In 1926, authorities determined that the hull and machinery of the second vessel to bear the name MISSISSIPPI were no longer serviceable.  A new hull was constructed at Jeffersonville, Ind., and new boilers and propelling engines were installed.  The cabin of the second MISSISSIPPI was still in excellent condition and, in 1927, it was placed on the new hull at Paducah, Ky.

Public interest in the third vessel named MISSISSIPPI stemmed largely from the fact that she was the last of the Texas-deck sternwheelers.  She helped sustain the colorful traditions and background of the “Golden Age” of steam boating, when packet boats dominated the western and southern rivers of America.

At various times, the third MISSISSIPPI was home-ported in Vicksburg, New Orleans and Memphis districts.  Improvements and additions were made over the years, making her the most powerful government-owned towboat in the valley.  She continued in service until April 1961, when she was decommissioned by the Corps at Memphis, Tenn.  She now serves as the showboat Becky Thatcher in Marietta, Ohio.

The fourth Motor Vessel MISSISSIPPI was the first diesel-powered “motor vessel” to carry that name for the Corps.  She was built with an all-steel superstructure and powered by two 8-cylinder engines, each producing 1,860 horse-power.

Unique controllable pitch propellers allowed the fourth MISSISSIPPI to develop a reverse thrust of over 70 percent of that in the forward direction, greatly improving its maneuverability in treacherous river currents.  Complete engine controls were located in both the pilot house and engine room.  The superstructure consisted of a main deck house, second deck house, Texas deck house and pilot house.  This vessel served the Mississippi River Commission as an inspection vessel and a working towboat until her decommissioning in 1993.

The current Motor Vessel MISSISSIPPI, like her predecessors, serves as an inspection vessel for the MRC and working towboat during the revetment season.  Each spring, during traditional high water, and late summer, during traditional lower water, the Commission conducts a series of public meetings aboard the vessel at various river communities.  These gatherings enable local interests and the public to bring their views and concerns before the MRC and engage in dialogues with its members.

More than 90 percent of the vessel’s time is spent as a working towboat for the Corps’ Memphis District.  Its main role is moving barges, equipment and supplies on the Mississippi River in support of the mat sinking operations.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Motor Vessel MISSISSIPPI served as the Operations Center until land-based offices became available.  She is equipped with a state-of-the-art communications center and was vital to the Corps efforts immediately after the storm made landfall.

The MRC was created by an Act of Congress June 28, 1879.  Representative (later president) James A. Garfield summed up the consensus of the Congress when he said the Mississippi River is “one of the grandest of our material national interests in the largest sense of the word and too vast for any authority less than the Nation’s to handle.”

The Commission is composed of seven people nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate.  Three members are officers of the Corps of Engineers, one of whom is president; and three are civilians, two of whom are civil engineers.

The Mississippi River Commission serves as an advisory and consulting body of the Chief, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Vessel Specifications

Length: 241 feet
Beam:  58 feet
Height from water line to pilot house:  52 feet
Mean draft (operating) 8 feet
Horsepower: 6,300