Making Tracks
June 2024

Steam and Train
Board of Steam Officers - 1890-1

Birth of Virginia Beach - Part 11
By Historian Warren Leister

Starting at an early age, Marshall Jr. became intimately involved with steamboats as was his father from whom he, no doubt, learned a great deal about them. This ultimately led to Marshall Jr’s only public job as a Supervising Inspector of Steamboats in a large district during the first term of President Grover Cleveland from 1885 to 1889. Ten years before that from the New York Times is a story that relates to steamboats, and to a lesser degree railroad locomotive, inspections dated August 25, 1875 in a column labeled “Local Miscellany” with sub headlines “A Convention of Steam-Boat Men,” “The coming annual meeting of the national board - 600 million dollars of invested capital represented – What is to be Done.” 

“A special meeting of the National Board of Steam Navigation was held yesterday afternoon at the office of the board … to make arrangements for the forthcoming fourth annual meeting of the association ... The association is composed of steamboat and steamship owners in all parts of the United States … It … consists of a National Board and local boards in all principle lake and seaports of the Union.” In this section of the article, Marshall Jr. is listed as being a member of the national Executive Committee.

The article continues “The principal matter that will come before the board will be the proposed repeal of the Steamboat act of Congress (aka the original “Steamboat Inspection Bill”) of Feb. 28, 1871, which steam vessel owners have been fighting since its passage to over throw. They claim that by its provisions all sorts of useless patents have been foisted upon them, involving them in an immense expense. They instance {cite as an example} the mud drum attachment to steam boilers. Boats plying on some of the Western rivers are bothered by deposit of mud on the bottoms of their boilers, which retained the heat so as to burn out the bottom and render the boiler liable to burst. This was seized upon as a pretext under the law to compel owners of steam vessels everywhere to purchase mud drums, at a cost of $400 apiece. Instead of relieving the boilers the drums increased the deposit of mud, and this fact being brought to the notice of the Supervising Inspectors, the order was abrogated, but not until $80,000 had found their way into the pockets of the patentee {in other words the holder or holders of the patent}. One of the inspectors was subsequently discovered to be interested in the patent {in other words, was related or connected to the patent in a business way leading to a substantial conflict of interest for someone who is an inspector}, and was discharged from the service {of being an inspector}. Another example given is the patent steam gauge, whose use was discontinued after large sums had been spent on it by steamboat owners and it had proved to be utterly worthless to record the steam pressure. There was a bell attachment to these gauges, which rung whenever the pressure reached a certain point, and a notice being conspicuously posted that this indicated danger, although it did not, a panic was several times created among the passengers on board of various boats. Still another example given is the safety valve locks, which cost the steamboat owner $5 apiece, and whose use is still obligatory. The boatman is obligated to make a requisition for them on the Treasury Department, which forwards the order to the Seal Lock Company, who transmit the locks ordered to the Supervising Inspectors, accompanied by an invoice, a duplicate invoice being sent to the Treasury Department. The inspectors send the locks to the boatman, who pays for them at the local Custom house, and the Collector forwards the money to the Treasury Department, through which channel it finally reaches the Seal Lock Company. The same locks are sold to the railroad companies at $1.50 each, and a much better lock is in existence which sell at twenty-five cents.”

“The steamboat men have another cause of complaint in the fact that railroads are allowed to carry hay and cotton uncovered, while the law requires them to cover each bale. A similar discrimination in regard to petroleum and other ignitable substances is made by the law in favor of the railway companies. But the more fertile source of dissatisfaction is the liability clause. If a man owns $5,000 in a steamboat, and through the carelessness of its Captain a collision should take place involving $100,000 damages, his private property is liable to his proportionate share of the damages over and above his interests in the boat, and to the entire amount if the co-partners have not the wherewithal to bear their proportion. Many boats in the West are now, on this account, run by limited liability stock companies incorporated under State laws, but if they happen to get caught outside of their State the law becomes operative on their property and person. …”

From the Virginian-Pilot dated September 2, 1880 titled “Internal Commerce – The National Board of Steam Navigation,” “The National Board of Steam Navigation began its ninth annual session at the Atlantic Hotel, in this city {Norfolk, Va}, yesterday morning, with about forty officers and delegates present … sub title: ‘The Parks System,’ ‘Commodore Marshall Parks has introduced to public notice a cheap method of furnishing light by use of compressed gas. Without a doubt an economical and convenient light may thus be furnished in certain localities. Modern science and skill have been apt and energetic in advancing improvements in lens and in the illuminating or candle power of light. The administration of the light-house system of the United States compares favorably with that of England, where no expense or pains has been spared to attain efficiency.”

“General Negley stated that the report had only briefly mentioned Commodore Parks’ system as a matter of delicacy, that gentleman being a member of the committee, but he hoped it would be fully discussed during the session.”  {What this is touching on is that despite the fact that Marshall Jr. is a member of the committee and the mentioning of his invention at this meeting could be construed as a conflict of interest, that despite all that the invention’s importance to navigation is such that it compels a brief mention upfront that will be followed on by a full discussion of the invention and its potential benefits to navigation across the U. S.}

At the turn of the century, the Steamboat Inspection Service was transferred to the Federal Department of Commerce and Labor where in 1932 it was merged with the Bureau of Navigation, which had been established in 1844 to oversee the regulation of merchant seamen. In 1936, this combined Bureau of Steamboat Inspection and Navigation was reorganized to form the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation. On Feb. 28, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt, as a wartime measure, signed Executive Order 9083, which transferred the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation temporarily to the control of the U. S. Coast Guard. This transfer was made permanent by Reorganization Plan Number 3 on July 16, 1946, and the marine safety mission has resided in the U. S. Coast Guard ever since.
The U. S. Coast Guard maintains a large presence in the Hampton Roads region at Yorktown, Va., Cape Charles, Va., Portsmouth, Va, along with extensive U. S. Coast Guard facilities at Elizabeth City, Nc.

The National Board of Steam Navigation celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1921 and was still going in the early 1930’s, but then disappeared around the time the bureaus of Inspection and Navigation merged in 1932.

In addition, the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors was created in 1919 to promote a greater safety of life and property through uniformity in the construction, installation, repair, maintenance and inspection of pressure equipment. This organization is still in existence today.
End of Part 11

This concludes “Birth of Virginia Beach Part 11” the next installment, Part 12, will be published in July, 2024.


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