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Cruise the Past: Overnight Steamboats from San Francisco to Sacramento

Cruise the Past: Overnight Steamboats from San Francisco to Sacramento

California’s famous overnight steamboats Delta King and Delta Queen operated first-class overnight passenger service between San Francisco and Sacramento from 1927 until 1940.

The Delta Queen and Delta King ready for service in 1927

  • The steamboats were called the “mail-order” ships because they were initially built in Scotland, shipped to Stockton where they were assembled.
  • The new steamers replaced the Fort Sutter and Capital City steamboats which were assigned the San Francisco to Stockton run.

Selling the new riverboats and views of the Delta steamers on the bay and river.

THE MILLION DOLLAR STEAMERS

Built at the cost of $1,000,000 each, they were considered the most handsome ships of their kind in the world.

  • Christened on May 20, 1927, and began their daily river voyages between San Francisco and Sacramento in June of that year.
  • The interior furnishings were quite elaborate, and everything was done to injure the comfort of the traveling public.

Brochure on The River Lines steamers and Dining Room Menu.

  • For 13 years, the two ships made nightly runs on the Sacramento River, carrying thousands during the summer months.
  • The route was a “particular boon to fishermen and excursionists who wished to get an early start into the mountains from Sacramento,” a San Francisco Chronicle reporter wrote in 1941.

Accommodations, flyers, the Delta Captains, Ship’s Officers, and news story.

  • The two steamboats took part in a race to Treasure Island on April 22, 1939, as part of the Golden Gate International Exposition.
  • The King started from Stockton and the Queen from Sacramento, converging at Pittsburg.
  • The vessels traded leads throughout the race until the Delta King commanded the edge “a few hundred yards from the finish line.”

The main staircase, Lounge, and Menu.

SAILING EVERY NIGHT FROM SAN FRANCISCO AND SACRAMENTO 

  • At 6:00 p.m. each evening, the grand monarchs of the Delta left their docks in downtown San Francisco and Sacramento for the 10 ½ hour overnight trip that included prohibition-era drinking, jazz bands, gambling, and fine dining.
  • The interior furnishings were quite elaborate, and everything was done to injure the comfort of the traveling public.

The Delta steamers were the way to travel!

  • The riverboats were very popular with tourists, businessmen, politicians, and honeymooners.
  • The River Lines steamers had first-class accommodations for 250 passengers on the leisurely overnight voyages to and from from the California State Capitol and featured a dance orchestra.
  • Dinner and Breakfast were served in the dining salons with extensive menus at reasonable prices.

THE BUSY SACRAMENTO RIVER

Passenger travel on the Sacramento River, the fourth greatest commercial river in the United States, was busy from the 1920s into the 1930s with nearly 200 people making the daily round trip aboard the river steamers.

  • The weekend cruises were top-rated during the fall and winter months.
  • Passengers at either port had access to their cabins the entire day while docked.
  • The steamboats had room for automobiles.
  • The River Lines also carried cargo and mail.
  • The Sacramento River had the highest per ton value of freight shipments of any river in the country, records show.

Navy takes over the Delta King and the Delta steamers at work.

  • The completion of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge in 1937 and 1938 spelled the doom of the California riverboats. By 1940 the King and Queen were out of business and readied for transport to New York. Then World War II broke out.
  • Both the King and Queen were drafted into the U. S. Navy to serve on San Francisco Bay as net tenders, floating barracks, troop transports, and hospital ships.

The Delta King Hotel in Sacramento and the Delta Queen sailing on the Mississippi.

  • After the War, the Delta Queen was purchased by the Green Line Steamers of Cincinnati and taken, via the Panama Canal, to the Mississippi River where she served for many years as the flagship of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company.
  • The Delta King was refurbished and is now a riverfront hotel in Sacramento.
  • The Delta Queen is scheduled to again begin cruises on the Mississippi River in 2020.