Steamboat People: Fred Way



Fredrick Way Jr. (February 17, 1901 - October 3, 1992) was the youngest steamboat captain on the Ohio River and Mississippi River. He was the author of books on the boats that ply the inland waterways. He captained the flat-bottom, stern paddlewheeler, the Delta Queen, from San Francisco, down the Pacific coast, through the Panama Canal, across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to Pittsburgh in 1946

He was born on February 17, 1901. Little is known of his youth. He apparently gravitated to a life on the river early, as he obtained his pilot's license in 1923 at the age of 22 and purchased his first steamboat, the Betsy Ann, in 1925, at the age of 24. He married Grace Morrison and they resided in Sewickley, Pennsylvania.

Using the iron-hulled Betsy Ann, Way ran a packet boat between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh for a number of years. Prior to Way's purchase of the Betsy Ann, she had held the packet boat speed record on the Mississippi River since the 1900s, winning and retaining a set of gold-tipped elk horns. In August 1928, Way and the Betsy Ann lost the elk horns to Captain Christopher Becker Greene of the steamboat Chris Greene, in a race from Cincinnati to New Richmond.

In 1933 Way wrote a book of his experiences as a river packet boat captain called The Log of the Betsy Ann. The book was moderately successful, allowing Way to form the Steamboat Photo Company (SPC) in 1939. SPC gathered the largest collection of steamboat photos then known, and became the impetus for the publication of Way's Steamboat Directory in 1944 and the formation of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Rivermen (SDPR), of which Way was a founding member and later a president. SDPR became the driving force behind the formation of the Ohio River Museum in Marietta, Ohio.

In 1948, at the request of his friend Tom Greene, Way captained the 21-year-old Delta Queen from San Francisco to Pittsburgh. He wrote about the adventure of piloting the paddle wheeler down the west coast, through the Panama Canal, across the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River to Pittsburgh in The Saga of the Delta Queen.

Way continued to be an active writer, collector of steamboat and packet ship photographs, and preserver of the history of boats on inland waterways. He started publishing the quarterly journal The S&D Reflector for the SDPR organization in March 1964.

He died on October 3, 1992 in Marietta, Ohio. His cremains were taken to Sewickley for burial next to his beloved Grace by the Str. Delta Queen.

· The Log of the Betsy Ann; Robert McBride Co, New York, 1933
· Pilotin' Comes Natural; Robert McBride Co, New York, 1943
· The Allegheny; Farrar & Rinehart, New York, 1942 (Rivers of America Series)
· The Ships & Sailing Albums Number 1, Mississippi Stern-Wheelers, Kalmbach Publishing, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 1947
· The Saga of the Delta Queen; Young and Klein, Inc, Cincinnati, Ohio 1951
· She Takes the Horns: Steamboat Racing on the Western Waters; The Picture Marine Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1953
· Way's Packet Directory, 1848-1983: Passenger Steamboats of the Mississippi River System since the Advent of Photography in Mid-Continent America; Ohio University Press, 1983


Lady Grace

May 9, 1959.

On June 20, 1963 the new U.S. Mail Packet boat Lady Grace will leave Wheeling that evening to re-enact a historic but commonplace event which occurred 100 years ago when West Virginia became the 35th state.

A formal contract has been entered into between the U.S. Post Office Dept. and Walter McCoy, President of the newly organized Wheeling, Sistersville & Charleston Packetboat Co., of Sistersville, W. Va. to carry U.S. Mail between Wheeling and Charleston by way of the various cities along the West Virginia shore of the Ohio River.

The Lady Grace is owned and operated by Capt. F. Way, Jr. who is well known in Marietta and who is the famous river pilot, author, historian as well as "Mr. Ohio River".

The Lady Grace is an authentic miniature replica of the old-time 1863 sternwheel packet boat which operated on the inland rivers a century ago.

Capt. Way will be assisted by Capt. Walter McCoy of Sistersville and President of the newly organized Packet boat company.

Bob Henderson, Postmaster of Sistersville will act as "Route Agent" for the U.S. Post Office Dept.

The new packet boat company has prepared an attractive cover to be used on this trip and the cachet will combine the West Virginia statehood theme with the river packetboat motif.

In addition to the printed cachet each cover carried will be endorsed with a rubber stamp indicating it was carried by riverboat.

The postage on all covers will be paid by using the West Virginia Statehood U.S. Postage stamp and the mail taken on at Wheeling will bear the "First Day" of issue cancellation.

The Lady Grace will stay at Wheeling all day to receive mail and will leave late evening on Thursday, June 20, 1963 and will make stops at Moundsville, New Martinsville, Paden City and Sistersville on Thursday, June 21st.

On Friday, June 22nd stops will be made at St. Marys, Williamstown and Parkersburg.

On June 23rd stops will be made at Ravenswood and Pt. Pleasant and the final destination of Charleston up the Kanawha River will be reached June 24th.

All mail picked up at the ten post offices on this route will be "back stamped" at Charleston upon arrival and will then be forwarded to the proper destination.

For "First Day Cover" collectors and philatelists this event should be unique and of unusual interest.

The last "packet boat" mail issue was provided in October 1929 during the celebration of the complete canalization of the Ohio River.

People interested can purchase First Day Covers at .50 and the complete set of ten Covers including Wheeling at $3.50.

This is what is known as a Full Service package offer.


Photo taken by "Round and Round's" sharp-eyed camera on special invitation at the opening of the river celebration of the Pittsburgh Bicentennial, Saturday, May 9, 1959.

Capt. John W. Zenn is casting a wreath in the Allegheny River from the Lady Grace; Sea Scout David Woodford is watching.

Capt. Frederick Way, Jr. is in the pilothouse and the Sprague, the largest towboat ever built on the Inland Rivers, is in the background.

The Sprague was on a temporary loan for the Bicentennial from the city of Vicksburg, Miss.

The Sprague's steam whistles are housed in Campus Martius Museum here in Marietta.



Steamboat Race on the Ohio River, July 1929

Video on YouTube of race 'twixt Way's BETSY ANN and the Green family's TOM GREENE.

The quality of this film could probably be restored considerably if it was entrusted to a film lab that possessed state of the art digital technology.

Steamboat Race on the Ohio River, July 1929
Speed Graphic Film and Video
Published on May 27, 2018

In the 1920's, traffic on the Ohio River looked much as it did in the 19th century--flat-bottomed paddlewheel steamboats, ideal for working a shallow waterway. Frederick Way Jr. loved the river and the boats, and in 1925 persuaded his father to help him get into the steamboat business. He operated the BETSY ANN until 1932, when the Great Depression and competition from trucking forced him to sell it. In 1928 and again in 1929, he raced the BETSY ANN against boats of the rival Greene Line, and in the process, garnered a good deal of publicity for the river trade. The press saw it as a revival of the great steamboat races of the 19th century. In truth, it was a last flourish before the end. According to contemporary accounts, the race started in Cincinnati and went upstream for about 20 miles to New Richmond.


With the exception of images credited to public institutions,
everything on this page is from a private collection.
Please contact for permission for commercial use.*

All captions provided by Dave Thomson, primary contributor and historian.