A Tribute To A Dynasty

The Black Ball Line and The Pacific Northwest


Regular monthly boat service from U.S. ports to Alaska began in 1867 following the purchase of Alaska from Russia. Occupation troops were dispatched and cargo and mail soon followed. By 1875 several ship lines were making the voyage up the Panhandle in spite of often-inhospitable waters and a treacherous coastline. The first tourists began booking passage as reports of unparalleled scenery were increasingly publicized.

Charles E. Peabody was born into the old-line family that launched the infamous Black Ball Line's scheduled sailings in 1817 out of a New York pier with the packet ship James Monroe. The Black Ball Line was initially known for textile importer Benjamin Marshall's revolutionary idea for prompt, reliable service on boats that departed and arrived on schedule, full or not. From the 1820s through the 1840s regular transatlantic passages were run year round from New York's South Street to Liverpool, England and back again. Although there were at least four shipping companies that took part in this business, the Black Ball Line and Swallowtail Line are perhaps the most famous. In operation for some 60 years, the Black Ball Line took its name from its flag, a black ball on a red background.

Regular transport of goods and passengers across the Atlantic has not always been like what it is today. Ships used to sail at wildly unpredictable times. If a vessel was only half-full, it might stay in the harbor for a week or two, awaiting more cargo.

All of that changed in October of 1817 when the Black Ball Line decided to establish a policy of regularly scheduled departures. The original plan explained that a ship would depart from New York on the 5th of each month while, on the 1st of each month, a ship would leave Liverpool.

The EVENING POST in 1817 boasted that the commanders of all these ships were "men of great experience and activity." This article also speculated that "the regularity of their times of sailing . . . will make them very desirable opportunities for the conveyance of goods." This, of course, turned out to be quite true. Thanks to the Black Ball Line's innovation, New-York became a top-notch port, outshining Boston and Philadelphia.

Prior to January 1818, transatlantic sailing ships were general carriers sailing on no fixed schedule. In 1817 a group of New York merchants decided to experiment with a scheduled service to and from the port of Liverpool. Thus was founded the Black Ball Line along with an assemblage of a large enough fleet of vessels to guarantee a sailing from each side of the Pacific on a given day each week, whether the ships were fully loaded or not. The gamble, however, was a success. As it turned out, shippers were willing to pay higher rates to know that their goods were leaving on a certain date. Competing lines were soon established at New York and at other major East Coast ports.

The Black Ball Line of three ships was established in April 1817, with the ships originally intended to sail in succession, though not, like the later packets, on a fixed schedule. The addition of the JAMES MONROE as a fourth ship, on October 24, 1817, led to the announcement of the first regular transatlantic ship service: "To sail on their Appointed Days, full or not full." The fifth of the month was fixed as the departure date from New York, while ships were to sail from Liverpool on the seventeenth, beginning in January 1818. The proprietors of what came to be known as the Black Ball Line were Isaac Wright & Son, Francis Thompson, Benjamin Marshall, and Jeremiah Thompson. 

Jeremiah Thompson was an English immigrant from Yorkshire who had come to New York at age seventeen in 1801 to join his uncle in representing the family's woolen manufacturing business. From that base they engaged in shipping and ship owning. Thompson, dealing in volatile markets for finished imports and raw exports, wanted faster, more reliable service. He conceived the notion of a transatlantic ship "line" ~ several vessels under coordinated private management, sailing on known dates between established ports, and locked into an unchanging departure schedule for the foreseeable future.

The JAMES MONROE and her three sister ships, the PACIFIC, AMITY and COURIER, were all about 400 tons. Soon afterwards, other ships joined the line, some registering 500 tons. Joining the Black Ball "downhill" races across the North Atlantic to Liverpool were NEW YORK, EAGLE, ORBIT, NESTOR, JAMES CROPPER, WILLIAM THOMPSON, ALBION, CANADA, BRITANNIA and COLUMBIA.

Nobody tried to compete against the Black Ball Line for the first few years, but by 1821 everybody wanted a line. On the first and the sixteenth of every month a Black Ball liner sailed to Liverpool. Those dates became the European mail days throughout the United States.

Coming only four years after the opening of the first scheduled packet service in the United States—between Albany and New York City—this was an extraordinarily bold and uniquely American initiative that sought to capitalize on the new need for more reliable and faster service for passengers and smaller (though more numerous and hence more lucrative) consignments of various non-bulk cargoes, both of which would generate increased revenues. The start of regularly scheduled sailings encouraged the development of ever faster ships, both sail and steam, and initiated a revolutionary way of serving customers, seen today in the myriad companies offering "next-day" delivery virtually anywhere in the commercial world.

Named for the newly elected president, the JAMES MONROE inaugurated this service on the cold, windy morning of January 5, 1818, when she departed New York under Captain James Watkinson with eight passengers and a cargo consisting of apples, flour, cotton, cranberries, hops, and wool; her holds were only about three-quarters full. The departure had been advertised in the Commercial Advertiser since the October 24, 1817 newspaper edition. On January 1st, the COURIER left Liverpool, bound for New York.

The JAMES MONROE arrived at Liverpool, England on February 2, 1818, a respectable time for the season, especially when compared with the majority of other ships sailing at the same time. The return passage started on March 3, but the ship was forced to return to Liverpool for repairs after a storm in the Irish Sea. JAMES MONROE returned to New York only a week before her next scheduled sailing. Overall, in their first year of operation the Black Ballers averaged 25 days eastbound and 43 days westbound. Because of a shipping glut on the North Atlantic, profits were low for the first three years of service, and it was not until 1821 that the next regular packet service was established by the New Line, or Red Star Line.             (Lincoln P. Paine. Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997, pp. 271-72)

Even as the Black Ball Line was the first and most famous American packet ship line to carry passengers and cargo from New York to Liverpool and back, the steamship's arrival in the late 1800s paved the way for the demise of the sailing ship. The steamship was faster than the sailing packet, virtually cutting the voyage time in half. The steamship CITY OF GLASGOW set the precedent in 1850 when a profit was made by carrying 400 emigrants. By 1863, 45% of British emigrants to America traveled by steam and just three years later the figure had risen to over 80%. The major sailing packets continued until sometime, but three of the five largest packet lines all closed down before 1878. By the summer of that year, even the famous Black Ball Line was forced to close down. The Red Swallowtail Line was the last to go in 1880.

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Born into a family of historical seafarers, ship captains and businessmen, Enoch Peabody learned the life of the sea and began captaining various ships of the Black Ball Line. While working alongside two sons of Benjamin Marshal, Enoch met, and began courting Cornelia Marshall, their sister, daughter to Benjamin Marshall, one of the original owners of the Black Ball Line. On April 26, 1855, Captain Enoch W. Peabody of the packet ship NEPTUNE married Cornelia Marshall. Their third child of eight, Charles E. Peabody, was born on December 4, 1857, and grew up to be a stockbroker on Wall Street, temporarily leaving the family's profession on the sea. In 1881, Enoch W. Peabody died.

Charles H. Folger, who was heir to the Folger coffee empire and Enoch's cousin, was named Secretary of the U.S. Treasury in Chester Arthur's administration in the 1880s. Folger named Charles E. Peabody special agent for the West Coast, where he managed the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service. Leaving for the West at age 25 in 1882, he met Miss Lilly Macaulay on the train, a meeting that would change not only his plans for the future but would eventually influence Puget Sound shipping and another prominent Northwestern individual, Joshua Green.

Lilly's father was William J. Macaulay, an early day lumber king on Vancouver island. As Charles Peabody pursued Lilly over the next few years, his future father-in-law liked the cut of his jib and the two, along with Robert Dunsmuir, formed the Victoria Lumber & Manufacturing Co. at Chemainus, B.C. Peabody became business manager and soon married Lilly Macaulay on May 27, 1891; afterwards the couple made their home in Port Townsend, Washington where Peabody had become prominent in the coal industry, logging operations and the Merchants Bank.

In 1891 Charles Peabody and a friend, Walter Oakes, became partners in the Pacific Wharf Co. and steered it through the financial shoals of the 1893 panic.

On August 3, 1894, Charles Peabody, Capt. George Roberts, Capt. Melville Nichols, George Lent, Frank E. Burns and Walter Oakes formed the Alaska Steamship Company which would eventually enjoy a near monopoly of freight and passenger service to Alaska as their fleet increased to 67 ships. This group of six men began gathering $30,000 by selling 300 shares of stock, at $100 each. Charles Peabody was named president of the company.

On Jan. 21, 1895, the Alaska Steamship Company was finalized. The first vessel purchased was the 140-foot steamer WILLAPA which began flying the historic Black Ball flag. The WILLAPA was noteworthy to Alaska Steamship because it could carry passengers as well as freight. She was placed on the route from Puget Sound to Southeast Alaska in direct competition with the established Pacific Steamship Company. The steamer left Seattle on her first voyage March 3, 1895, making two trips a month. Another shipping company, the Northwest (Northern) Steamship Company, had organized the northern route as a result of the Nome gold strike in 1900, servicing Valdez, Cook Inlet, and the Bering Sea ports. First class passenger fares from Seattle to Juneau were $52, and freight rates were $11 per ton. A significant shot in the arm to the newly established company Alaska Steamship was the fact that, shortly after the company opened for business, Alaska began to experience major economic benefits resulting from the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. In addition to fish products, the Alaska Steamship Company began hauling mining equipment, dog sleds, cattle, and miscellaneous supplies.

A rate war ensued and the older company slashed their rates in half to try to starve off the younger company. But the Alaska Steamship officers were the real thing, not just flashes in the pan, as the Klondike miners would say. Peabody was strong in all his industries and Oakes was the son of Thomas Oakes, president of the Northern Pacific Railway. Additionally, they were adept in the emerging art of public relations. The public resented Pacific Steamship's ravenous attempts to squelch the young company and most prospective miners and businessmen patronized the WILLAPA for passage north.

June 1895, Alexander Marshall Peabody is born to Charles and Lilly Peabody.

At the end of 1897, Charles Peabody reorganized the Alaska Steamship Co. and his fleet expanded rapidly as the Klondike gold stampede mounted. In 1898 the stockholders formed the Puget Sound Navigation Co. as an inland water subsidiary. That new company was registered in Nevada where corporate laws were more lenient. The Puget Sound routes were a natural place for the company to recycle some of its smaller original vessels as they became obsolete for the strenuous Alaska runs. One of the partners in this venture was D.B. Jackson, who was affiliated with Charles Peabody from the early days of the original Pacific Wharf Co. and was the grandfather of future Washington state governor Daniel J. Evans.

1898 was a frenzied year. Boats from every available source were needed to bring gold hungry individuals to Alaska.

As the turn of the century was approaching, several events were causing tremendous increases in Southeast Alaskan marine travel: religious missions were being established, fish canneries were being built and gold had been discovered. The Inside Passage was a major route to overland staging areas for the gold fields.

On May 2, 1903, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer announced a major turning point in the steamship industry when it reported that the Alaska Steamship Co., owners of Puget Sound Navigation Co., had purchased controlling stock of LaConner Trading & Transportation Co. (LaConner Trading & Transportation was originally made up of partners Sam Denny, Peter Falk, Frank Zickmund and Joshua Green plus George T. Willey, a hay and grain merchant on the Seattle waterfront, which the other four had partnered with after LaConner Trading had been established.) The new concern was initially named Inland Navigation Co. but as Puget Sound Navigation Co., the resulting company would become the 800-pound gorilla of Puget Sound shipping. Negotiations had been pending for several weeks between Charles Peabody, Walter Oakes, Joshua Green and George J. Willey. At an earlier date, Green had bought out Sam Denny's interests in LaConner Trading & Transportation Co.

As stated in the Victoria Daily Colonist on May 3, 1903, "The transfer, which was made yesterday morning, means the consolidation for operative purposes of the Puget Sound Navigation Company and the La Conner Trading & Transportation Company with a close working alliance with the Alaska Steamship Company, which may be said to be the parent corporation. It was brought about through the purchase of the stock of L.T. & T. Co. held by Capt. Willey, general manager of the company, for a consideration of about $100,000 in cash and cash securities.

"The transfer of Capt. Willey's stock throws 20 ocean and sound steamers under one management and control. They are the 'Majestic', 'Rosalie', 'Alice Gertrude', 'Garland', 'Prosper', 'Clallam', 'Samson' and 'Lydia Thompson', of the Puget Sound Navigation Company; the Alaska Steamship Company's 'Dolphin', 'Dirago', 'Farallon' and 'Humboldt'; the La Conner Trading & Transportation Company's 'Utopia', 'George E. Starr', 'Fairhaven', 'T.W. Lake', 'Inland Flyer', 'Rapid Transit', 'Port Orchard' and 'Ashton'. All save two of these vessels, the 'Athlon' which is the property of H.B. Kennedy, and the 'Humboldt', which is owned by the Humboldt Steamship Company, are owned outright by the three transportation companies named."

Charles Peabody controlled the majority of stock and he became president of the enlarged company. Soon afterwards, Peabody became chairman of the board, at which time Green became president, Falk became vice president and Walter Oakes became secretary-treasurer. The LaConner Trading & Transportation Co. retained an identity, however, because of the strengths of Joshua Green.

In 1902, a year before Peabody and his associates bought out Willey's interest in LaConner Trading & Transportation Co., they initiated through Puget Sound Navigation Co. a Port Townsend and Port Angeles to Victoria steamship route for both freight and passengers. Pacific Steamship Co. was caught napping as they had committed all their ships to the Klondike run, which was still running as the gold rush slowly subsided. The other possible competitor, Canadian Pacific Railway, initially declined to compete on the route, concentrating instead on their Empress oceangoing sleek steamships that connected with their rail route across the Canadian Rockies and their Empress Hotels in Victoria and Vancouver.

Two months after the LaConner Trading & Transportation Co. purchase of 1903, Puget Sound Navigation Co. launched their new super steamer, the 155-foot wooden CLALLAM on the Seattle to Victoria run. The vessel was a luxury ship with 44 staterooms.

1904 saw Alaska Steamship Company having to purchase three more vessels to keep up with the gold rush runs to Alaska.

In 1906, Capt. William P. Thornton ferried the first automobile across the sound on the STATE OF WASHINGTON steamer on the Port Orchard run. That did not start a rush because the old boats were not designed at all for transporting the bulky autos of the day. But within a couple of years, Charles Peabody bought a touring car for his family. He liked to take a few of his eight sons for a ride in his "machine" to visit friends on the Olympic Peninsula or in Victoria. Captains who wanted to please the boss scurried to aid his social pursuits. The company installed an elevator on the bow of several steamers to assist loading and off-loading of cargo at varying tide levels. To accommodate Peabody, the captains installed plank ramps that led onto the elevator and the auto was then driven aboard the ship. The next problem was the low ceiling on the vessel's superstructure on the cargo deck, much shorter than the tall Peabody car. Once again, necessity acted as the mother of invention, as the crew let the air out of the tires and removed the convertible top of the car along with the windshield, a daring act on a $4,000 auto. Once the steamer reached its destination, the crew reassembled the car. Soon, other notable worthies wanted to be accommodated. Back in those days this lengthy process did not hold up a long line of waiting cars because you were required to make an appointment many hours in advance of departure time. As requests mounted, some daring drivers pitched in to remove their own tires to speed up the process and their act became a common occurrence to the passenger crowd's amusement.

As a practical matter, Puget Sound Navigation Co. began looking ahead to the years when automobiles would draw passengers away from ferries. After the Navy construction at Port Orchard and Bremerton, housing developments followed. By the teen years of the new century, the company wondered if travelers would choose to drive around the base of the sound via Olympia to reach their peninsula destinations once roads were improved enough to make such a trip more convenient than following the company's ferry schedule. Before LaConner Trading & Transportation Co. was merged with the Puget Sound Navigation Co., Joshua Green signed a joint agreement with H.B. Kennedy for two ships to cross on the Port Orchard route. Seven years later, Puget Sound Navigation Co. and Kennedy entered an equal partnership in a separate company called the Navy Yard Route Inc., and that new company retained the name through Kennedy's death in 1920.

In 1908, the Puget Sound Navigation Co. reorganized again, increasing its capital stock from $500,000 to $1.5 million. For the next few decades the navy yard route was called by the name of their company, regardless of which boat the passenger was riding. That same year, Puget Sound Navigation Co. moved its terminal from Pier 2 to Colman dock, the same general area where riders board the Peninsula-bound ferries today.

In 1909, a group known as the Alaska Syndicate, with funds from J.P. Morgan and the Guggenheim Company, bought the Alaska Steamship Company so they could mine copper in the Wrangell Mountains. They merged the company with the Northwest (Northern) Steamship Company, keeping the Alaska Steamship Company name. The merger of the two companies just about gave them a monopoly in the Alaska shipping industry. They expanded the fleet into 18 ships and expanded service in Alaska from Ketchikan to Kotzebue. At that point, Alaska Steamship Company was no longer flying the flag of the Black Ball Line.

Alaska Steamship Company enters Alaska trade in 1894
In 1909, The Alaska Syndicate buys Alaska Steamship Company
Alaska Steamship Company merged with Northwestern Steamship Company
In 1944, Seattle's Skinner and Eddy Corporation buys Alaska Steamship from Kennecott Copper
By 1948, prewar Alaska shipping industry of 42 vessels shrinks to seven
In 1951, Alaska Steamship competitors begin tug and barge and container ship service to Alaska
In 1953, Alaska Steamship begins container ship service
In 1954, Alaska Steamship ends ocean passenger service to Alaska
In 1957, Alaska Steamship sends two vessels each week from Seattle to Southeast Alaska
In 1960, Alaska Steamship operates 14 freighters
By 1969, Alaska Steamship had ended its service to most South Central Alaska ports
In 1971, Alaska Steamship announced it was going out of business

By 1910, Puget Sound Navigation Company began to dominate Puget Sound, challenging all steamboat companies on inland waters.

1912 sees Charles Peabody retiring from Alaska Steamship Company and being replaced by S.W. Eccles of the Guggenheim Company.

In 1915, Kennecott Copper Company was formed and began acquiring stock from the Alaska Steamship Company.

By 1916, Alexander Peabody had attended Columbia and Cornell Universities and was beginning his hand as an apprentice sailor. During World War I, he joined the US Navy and by the end of his tour of duty in 1919, he had made lieutenant.

By 1918, Puget Sound Navigation had begun shopping for vessels that both had the capacity to carry passengers plus automobiles. The BAILEY GATZERT was located in Portland, Oregon and subsequently purchased and brought to Seattle and refitted for auto service in April 1918. In 1920 she was refitted, again, this time to accommodate as many as 30 automobiles.

In 1921, Puget Sound Navigation Co. decided to convert the former WHATCOM steamer to an auto ferry which would be renamed THE CITY OF BREMERTON. In this case, most of the superstructure above the main deck was stripped off and the hull was enlarged. This increased the width to the vessel, thereby making her more suited for carrying automobiles.

In 1923, Puget Sound Navigation Company took over control of Inland Navigation Company.

In 1926, after enjoying a successful east coast brokerage career, Alexander Peabody was ready to join with his family in managing the Puget Sound Navigation Company. While on his way to Seattle, Alexander's father, Charles Peabody, unexpectedly died on August 12, 1926 following an emergency appendectomy operation. Shortly after the death of Charles Peabody, Joshua Green, Charles Peabody's partner and fellow shareholder, sold his equity position in the company to the Peabody family. In the meantime, Alexander Peabody was appointed Vice President and Secretary under interim President Ira Bronson.

In 1926, the CHIPPEWA underwent a conversion that made her the largest auto ferry on Puget Sound with the capacity of 90 automobiles and 2,000 passengers.

In 1928, Alexander Peabody became President and General Manager of Puget Sound Navigation Company. At this point, the young Peabody reinstated the trade name Black Ball Line and began flying the red flag with the black ball (the Black Ball Flag) from the masts of Puget Sound Navigation vessels. Up to that time, Joshua Green was against that happening while he was a partner with Charles Peabody.

By 1929, the ferry industry had consolidated into two companies: Puget Sound Navigation Company and Kitsap County Transportation Company. A strike in 1935 forced Kitsap County Transportation Company out of business and left the Puget Sound Navigation Company, commonly known as the Black Ball Line, with primary control of ferry service on Puget Sound.

1935 sees a revolutionary new designed ferryboat designed by Puget Sound Navigation Company named KALAKALA. Build upon the hull of the burned out ferry boat PERALTA from California, KALAKALA was of a total new design. Because of the desires of Mrs. Charles Peabody for this new vessel to be "more rounded," KALAKALA was designed totally in Art Deco format. It was a revolution in disguise. Upon completion of work, on July 3, 1935, KALAKALA made her maiden voyage from Seattle to Bremerton. During World War II, the KALAKALA saw thousands of shipyard workers and military personnel being carried daily across Puget Sound to the Bremerton navy yards. The KALAKALA remained in service until December 1950, when the State of Washington took over ferry service.

In 1936, R.J. Acheson, Black Ball's traffic manager since 1932, purchased Black Ball Freight Service, a road transport subsidiary of Puget Sound Navigation Company. In the first few years of its existence, Black Ball Transport, Inc. operated the IROQUOIS, a steamship Acheson purchased from Black Ball Line and converted to a motor freighter. The IROQUOIS ran the overnight freight run year-round between Seattle, Port Townsend and Port Angeles. From 1959 to 1969, she ran in the summer only. In 1973 the IROQUOIS was sold to Alaska-Shell of Akutan, Alaska.

During World War II, Puget Sound Navigation Company and the Black Ball Line cooperated with the needs of the U.S. Government in getting war workers to their jobs in various spots around Puget Sound. Alexander Peabody also agreed to reduce ferry fares by 10 percent. With the ferry fleet now around 23 vessels, it had the capacity to carry some 22,000 cars and 315,000 passengers daily. Fifteen different routes and some 450 sailings each day was the task needed to keep pace with the war effort that Peabody had stepped up to the plate to service.

After the war, though, things began changing; times began changing; feelings began changing.

After World War II, increasing labor costs made private operation of the ferry system increasingly challenging. In the late 1940s, ferry workers’ labor unions succeeded in securing higher wages from the Puget Sound Navigation Company. The ferry service provider petitioned the State Highway Department to allow a 30% fare increase to meet new operating costs. When the State refused its request, the Puget Sound Navigation Company tied up its boats, bringing much of cross-sound ferry service to a halt.

In 1948, Lois Bates Acheson, at age 32, becomes vice president of Black Ball Freight Service.

On December 30, 1950, The Puget Sound Navigation Company receives offer from Gov. Arthur B. Langlie of the state of Washington to purchase the nation's largest privately owned ferry system. After years of failed negotiations with the State of Washington for fare increases, the Black Ball Line began working on agreements to sell 16 ferries, 20 terminals, one destroyer escort and other miscellaneous items to Washington State's Toll Bridge Authority. Captain Charles Peabody was to retain five vessels, one destroyer escort, the rights to the Seattle-Victoria route and terminals in Seattle, Port Angeles and Victoria.

June 1, 1951 The Black Ball Line becomes Washington State Ferry Service.

Washington State Ferry System ~ An Observation Worth Reading

Early Ferry Service

Washington State Ferries came into existence with the state’s buyout of Puget Sound Navigation in 1951. Ferry service around Puget Sound has changed tremendously over the course of the last century.

Originating in the early 1900s, Puget Sound ferry service was initially provided by a number of companies using small steamers known as the "Mosquito Fleet." By 1929, the ferry industry had consolidated into two companies: Puget Sound Navigation Company and Kitsap County Transportation Company. A strike in 1935 forced Kitsap County Transportation Company out of business and left the Puget Sound Navigation Company, commonly known as Black Ball line, with primary control of ferry service on Puget Sound.

After World War II, increasing labor costs made private operation of the ferry system increasingly challenging. In the late 1940s, ferry workers’ labor unions succeeded in securing higher wages from the Puget Sound Navigation Company. The ferry service provider petitioned the State Highway Department to allow a 30% fare increase to meet new operating costs. When the State refused its request, the Puget Sound Navigation Company tied up its boats, bringing much of cross-sound ferry service to a halt.

Creation of WSF

Washington State recognized that the ferries were a life line for many communities and there was a need for reliable ferry service to meet growing demand. In 1951, after numerous discussions with the State Legislature over fares and service, the Puget Sound Navigation Company sold all of its terminal facilities and ferries (with the exception of the Seattle/Port Angeles/Victoria, B.C. route) for $5 Million to a newly created Washington Toll Bridge Authority, now known as Washington State Ferries (WSF).

The ferry system was originally intended to provide temporary service until a network of bridges could be built connecting the west and east sides of Puget Sound. In 1959, however, the legislature rejected the plan to build numerous cross sound bridges. At that time, the responsibility for managing the ferry system was shared by the Toll Bridge Authority and the State Highway Commission.

The Toll Bridge Authority set fares and controlled the system’s finance, including long-term indebtedness, while the operation of the ferry system was controlled by the Highway Commission. In 1977, the two agencies were combined under the existing Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

Development of the Fleet

In its first year of service, the State operated ferry system carried approximately four million passengers. The boats the State purchased from the Puget Sound Navigation Company included a number of steel diesel-electrics from San Francisco, the Illahee, Klickitat, Nisqually, Quinault, Enetai, and Willapa; wooden diesel-electrics including the Chetzemoka, Kehloken, and Klahanie; steamers such as San Mateo and Shasta; wooden diesel-powered boats built in the Northwest such as the Rosario, Kitsap, Crosline, Leschi, Skansonia and Vashon; and a former Great Lakes steamer, the Chippewa.

The new ferry system’s first challenge was to add boats to meet growing demands for service, relieving backups that had started occurring at terminals. Two ferries were purchased from Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, the Rhododendron and the Olympic. In 1953, the State commissioned the Puget Sound Dredge and Bridge Company (subsequently Lockheed) to build the first Evergreen State-class vessel, which could carry 100 vehicles and 1000 passengers. Over the next 13 years, the ferry system responded to growing demand by rebuilding and expanding the existing fleet. However, the Evergreen State-class ferries could not keep pace with the demand. The Super-class ferries Hyak, Kaleetan, Yakima and Elwha were built in 1967, each able to carry 160 cars and 2500 passengers. Within several years even the Super-class ferries were unable to handle the demands of the system. To meet this need, the Jumbo-class Spokane and Walla Walla ferries were built in 1973 with a capacity of 2000 passengers and 206 vehicles. The Issaquah-class Issaquah, Kittitas, Chelan, Kitsap, Cathlamet and Sealth ferries were added in the early 1980s to improve operations and replace aging boats. These ferries each carry 1200 passengers and 100 cars (five have since been modified to carry 130 cars).

The fleet expanded during the 1997/99 biennium with the arrival of the Jumbo Mark II-class vessels, Tacoma, Puyallup and Wenatchee. These vessels, built by Todd Shipyards in Seattle came into active service in the 97/99 biennium. Each vessel carries 2500 passengers and 212 vehicles. Construction of a new high-speed passenger-only class ferry, the Chinook, was also completed this biennium. The Snohomish, the Chinook's sister ship, was received in the 1999/01 biennium.

Financial History

When the ferry system was first purchased by the State from the Puget Sound Navigation Company, it was intended to finance itself solely through the fare box (revenues). The original bonds issued by the Toll Bridge Authority in 1951 required that the system generate net revenues. The ferry routes sustained revenues in excess of operating expenses until 1960. The entire ferry/bridge system generated net revenue until 1974 because of the financial success of the Hood Canal toll bridge.

Tax support of the ferry system began in 1957 when the State Legislature brought ferry system employees into the State Retirement System. In 1959, the State Legislature created an account, funded by 0.25 cents per gallon of the State’s gasoline sales tax, to help pay debt service on revenue bonds issues by the Toll Bridge Authority if costs exceeded revenues. In 1960, the ferry system failed to meet the annual debt service requirements, and the ferry system received $672,000 from the State’s motor vehicle fuel tax to cover the bond payments. Additional ferry system/Hood Canal Bridge bonds were issues in 1963. However, since the early 1970s, all of the debt service payments for the ferry system bonds have come from motor vehicle fuel taxes, not from ferry system operating revenues. Over time, Washington State has continued to provide tax support for ferry system operating and capital costs as a supplement to WSF-generated revenues from fares and other miscellaneous income. Since the 1970s, State tax sources have included a gasoline sales tax, motor vehicle registration fees. Additionally, WSF pursues federal and local funds for specific projects. The use of public funds for ferry system purposes is strictly regulated, and taxes imposed for operating and capital expenses are levied and tracked separately. The taxes used to fund operating and capital expenses have been raised over the years in order to cover growing operating and capital costs. In fiscal years 1998 and 1999, the ferry system generated revenue to cover 65% and 66% of its operating costs, respectively. The Washington State Transportation Commission mandates that the ferry system fare box generate a minimum of 60% of the system’s operating expenses. The remaining percentage is provided by tax support from the State.

WSF has been involved in the on-going assessment of fares since 1991. Fare changes during the 1997/99 biennium have included across-the-board fare increases of 2.3% and 2.2% in FY 1998 and FY 1999, respectively, to adjust for inflation and several fare policy changes such as fare rounding, revised commuter discounts, and a revision to the peak season vehicle/driver surcharge.

WSF Today

WSF is the largest ferry system in the United States, serving eight counties within Washington and the Province of British Columbia in Canada. Counties served include Pierce, King, Snohomish, Kitsap, Skagit, Island, San Juan, and Jefferson Counties. WSF’s existing system has 10 routes and 20 terminals that are served by 28 vessels. In fiscal year 1999, WSF carried over 11 million vehicles and 26 million people—over one million more walk-on and vehicle passengers and 500,000 more vehicles and drivers than in fiscal year 1997.

~from Washington State Department of Transportation website

In 1951, before Washington State took over ferry operations, Alexander Peabody created a Canadian subsidiary of Puget Sound Navigation Company, Black Ball Ferries Ltd. To this Canadian company were transferred the QUILLAYUTE along with BAINBRIDGE (JERVIS QUEEN), the CITY OF SACRAMENTO (renamed KAHLOKE and later LANGDALE QUEEN), the CHINOOK (renamed CHINOOK II and later SACHELT QUEEN), and later, the SMOKWA. B.C. Ferries acquired Black Ball Ferries, ten years later, in 1961. That sale included the QUILLAYUTE, BAINBRIDGE, KAHLOKE, SMOKWA and CHINOOK.

By 1952, Black Ball Freight Service operations included 200 trucks and trailers and employed 125 people. In 1952, Black Ball Freight Service organized a new subsidiary, naming it Black Ball Transport, Inc. A new version of the famous Black Ball flag was incorporated into Black Ball Transport, Inc. with the new flag being much like the old ~ just with the addition of a thin white circle around the black ball on a red flag.

In July 1958, Canadian Premier W.A.C. Bennett announced that the British Columbia Ferry Authority would take over ferry service under mandate from the provincial government.

In 1959, Black Ball Transport, Inc. built an auto and passenger ferry, naming it the MV COHO. Philip F. Spaulding & Associates of Seattle designed the vessel, with the keel being laid January 12, 1959 at Puget Sound Bridge & Dry Dock in Seattle. COHO made her first commercial sailing to Victoria, B.C. on December 29, 1959. Initially, the COHO not only serviced the Port Angeles to Victoria vehicle and passenger route, but also carried freight trucks between Seattle, Port Angeles, Port Townsend and Victoria, as well.

In 1961, Black Ball Ferries, Ltd was sold to British Columbia.

In 1963, Robert Acheson died. His wife, Lois Bates Acheson took charge of Black Ball Freight Service.

In 1973, Black Ball Freight Service, then operating some 350 trucks in Washington and British Columbia, was sold to ROCOR International. Black Ball Transport continued to operate the COHO on the Port Angeles to Victoria passenger and vehicle route and continues to this day.

In 1980, Captain Alexander Marshall Peabody died at the age of 85, leaving behind him the legacy of the Black Ball Line in Puget Sound waters and the Pacific Northwest including Canada and Alaska.

In the early 1980s, wildcat strikes by Washington State Ferry personnel, new-ferry construction contracts laced with accusations of corruption and a multitude of other alleged deficiencies within the ferry system became common place.

"Increased fares, decreasing passenger loads, strikes, boats with poor interior design, and boats that could not steer their way out of the surrounding scandal were all part and parcel of the 1980s. The ferry system which had been losing money during the 1970s was a financial morass ten years later. State action to increase the ferry subsidy level from 25 percent to 40 percent prevented fare hikes that would have totaled 92 percent in a 25-month period, but the overall funding problem remained largely unsolved.

With a contrariness typical of human nature, ferry riders --who had a generation earlier celebrated the state takeover of the ferries as an escape from the much maligned Captain Alexander Peabody and Puget Sound Navigation Company-- began to call for a return to the good old days when Black Ball provided good service, low fares, delicious food service and a comfortable boat."

"In many ways, the history of Puget Sound ferries may have come full circle and the future may be a return to some of the elements of the past. Private operators, smaller vessels, and service restored to places like Port Orchard, Harper, Everett, Indianolo and other communities could all be in the future. The public roads, which made the Mosquito Fleet obsolete, are themselves suffering from crippling gridlock. The answer may be a new Mosquito Fleet, making commuting by boats an attractive alternative to frustration on the freeway.

Once again the future of Washington ferries is uncertain. Given that Puget Sound is still a watery highway with few bridges, ferries will certainly become a more expensive form of transportation and may have to give way to a demand for some private enterprise to fill the gaps caused by reduced funding.

Puget Sound residents who called on the state to rescue them from what they considered the oppressive monopoly of Alex Peabody's Black Ball Ferries are now demanding to be freed from the iron grip of the Washington State Ferry System, on one hand, and asking for state funding of the system on the other. For its part, the state has discovered that running the nation's largest ferry system is often a thank-less task. Washington State ferry riders pay fares that are only a small portion of the operating cost and yet they complain at every fare increase. In the last 50 years ferries hae been safe, for the most part functional, and enjoyable to ride. They have been a central feature in Washington State's tourist industry, yet the Washington State Ferry system often seems taken for granted in the good times and subject to harsh criticism in the bad time. Captain Peabody would probably say "I told you so."

~from "Puget Sound Ferries" Carolyn Neal and Tom Janus, American Historical Press, 2001; p. 143, 184-185

On August 29, 2004, Lois Bates Acheson died, leaving behind her the legacy of the Black Ball Line's Black Ball Freight Service and Black Ball Transport; plus the magnificent vessel MV Coho............

In 2005, the Chronicle of Philanthropy's America's Most-Generous Donors had this to say:  "Ms. Acheson, who died at age 89 in 2004, bequeathed $21-million to the Oregon State University Foundation, in Corvallis, for the College of Veterinary Medicine. The veterinary college did not exist when Ms. Acheson was a student at the university - she graduated with a business degree in 1937. But she loved animals and had endowed a scholarship for students of the college in 1980. When she planned her estate, she earmarked $1.5-million of the gift to endow a dean's position at the veterinary college, and the university plans to use the rest of the bequest to endow the veterinary college."

~March 2006

The Black Ball Route ~ Northeast United States ~ New York to Liverpool

Map of the Port of New York, East River c. 1851

The Yorkshire

The Orpheus

The Neptune

Isaac Webb

The Charles H. Marshall

Isaac Wright

Charles Peabody c. 1888



Lilly Peabody c. 1920
Charles E. Peabody b. 12/4/1857 Brooklyn, NY; m. 5/27/1891 Lilly Harriet Macaulay;
d. 8/12/1926 Seattle, WA 
Parents were Enoch Wood Peabody and Cornelia Marshall of Brooklyn, NY
Charles and Lilly had 10 children (2 died as infants). Surviving children were: Charles Macaulay; Folger; Alexander Marshall;
Norman Penfield; Gerard Rushton; Enoch Wood; Laurence Bernard and Duane

Black Ball Line Adriatic 12c USPS Stamp (1869)

Black Ball Line Yorkshire 28c USPS Stamp (1988)
The first ship pictured on a U.S. postage stamp was an American Black Ball packet, the S.S. ADRIATIC. It was a 12c stamp issued in 1869, the denomination which paid the basic letter rate between the US and the UK. The rate, 12c eastbound or 6d westbound, went into effect on January 1, 1868, and represented a 50% rate reduction. An additional stamp was issued in 1988 reflecting Black Ball's YORKSHIRE. First day of issue was June 29, 1988

Black Ball Line Orpheus

Black Ball Line

Black Ball Line Neptune

Black Ball Line Tavern Clock

Black Ball Line

Black Ball Line Tavern Clock


Puget Sound Navigation



Puget Sound Navigation


Seattle Waterfront c 1906

Seattle Waterfront c 1906

Seattle Waterfront c 1906

SS Jefferson c. 1906

SS Yukon ~ Poster Shot

Alaska Steamship Company

Alaska Steamship - Juneau c. 1906

SS Alaska ~ Poster Shot

Colman Dock and H. B. Kennedy c 1913

Puget Sound Navigation

Colman Dock and Iroquois c 1915

Chippewa c. 1927

Inland Navigation



Puget Sound Navigation

Bailey Gatzert


Puget Sound Navigation


Ferry Kalakala passing Bainbridge









San Mateo





Pier 2 ~ Seattle Waterfront

Kalakala arriving Colman Dock c. 1937

Alexander Peabody
Puget Sound Navigation Company

Truck Fleet
Black Ball Motor Fleet

Black Ball Line Building
Seattle, Washington

Alexander Peabody
Puget Sound Navigation Company

Black Ball Line Building
Seattle, Washington


Black Ball Ferries ~ Chinook II c. 1960

Black Ball Ferries ~ Quillayute c. 1955

Black Ball Ferries ~ Bainbridge c. 1952

Black Ball Ferries ~ Kahloke c. 1953

Black Ball Ferries ~ Smokwa c. 1955

Black Ball Freight Service c. 1955

Robert and Lois Acheson

Black Ball Freight Iroquois c 1960

Robert Acheson, center

MV Coho Stack and Flag Mast

Lois Acheson




The Black Ball Line and The Pacific Northwest


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