Steamship John Heckmann’s Steam Whistle

Steamship John Heckmann’s Steam Whistle

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Ships’ steam whistles were powered by steam lines from the boilers. They were used to signal other ships or the shore, to announce a vessel’s presence or its intentions. Whistles were especially useful when approaching or leaving a port or landing, or in foggy or dark waters.
This whistle originally belonged to the 1895 Army Corps of Engineers towboat Gen. H. L. Abbot, built at Jeffersonville, Ind. and named after a famous general in the U. S. Army Corps. In 1906 it was renamed Gen. J. H. Simpson, after another Army Corps staff. The vessel was dismantled in 1919.
The cabin fittings, the ship’s wheel, and the whistle were purchased by Edward Heckmann for his new Missouri River packet boat, the John Heckmann. The Heckmann was 165’ long and 30’-6” in beam but only drew 4’-6” of water. Uniquely, the Heckmann had two independently operated or “split” sternwheels, which provided much greater maneuverability than a single, wide sternwheel could offer. Its boilers came from the hulk of the steamer Majestic, which had wrecked in 1914 at Chain of Rocks, St. Louis. The Heckmann’s engines were acquired from the obsolete Army Corps sternwheel towboats Aux Vasse and Isle de Bois. Employed in the packet trade between St Louis and Jefferson City, the Heckmann lost money because of competition from the railroads.
The John Heckmann was later converted to a Missouri River 1,200-passenger excursion boat by the Heckmann family. Operating on the Missouri as far north as Sioux City, Iowa, its normal summer route was between Kansas City and Omaha, Nebraska. In winter, it resumed packet service on the Cumberland, Tennessee, Illinois, and Ohio Rivers. Wrecked in an ice breakup at its homeport of Hermann, Mo. in 1928, it was dismantled.
Object Name
whistle, steam
date made
purchased whistle
Heckmann, Edward
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
cast iron (overall material)
steel (overall material)
overall: 46 in x 33 in x 5 in; 116.84 cm x 83.82 cm x 12.7 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Gift of Dorothy Heckman Shrader
The Development of the Industrial United States
The Emergence of Modern America
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
Industry & Manufacturing
On the Water exhibit
Energy & Power
On the Water
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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