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The Charles Ward Engineering Works of Charleston was an industry leader in the development of water-tube boilers and tunnel-type, screw-propelled shallow-draft river steamboats. These were the forerunners of the modern towboat.

At the request of John P. Hale, Charles Ward (1841–1915) arrived in Charleston from England in 1871 to become superintendent of the Charleston Gas Works. By 1872, Ward had begun operating his own pipe and fittings business. He developed his first boiler for Hale’s packet, the Wild Goose. By 1880, Ward was working full-time at his own business, located first on Capitol Street, and then on the south side of the Kanawha River across from downtown. By the 1890s, Ward’s patented water-tube boilers were found on both river packets and on coastal defense vessels like the USS Monterey of the Spanish-American War.

Ward’s boilers were showcased at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. While in Chicago, Ward defended his design before the Marine Division of the International Engineering Congress. The ‘‘battle of the boilers’’ was not settled until 1904 when the British Admiralty found water-tube boilers the superior choice for naval vessels.

By the early 1900s, Ward’s son, Charles Edwin Ward (1867–1941), had married Governor Fleming’s daughter, Gypsy, and was taking the lead in adapting the tunnel-screw design to shallow-draft vessels. In 1893 the Mascot was built for the U.S. Engineering Corp, followed by the Unique in 1901. The James Rumsey, built in 1902, participated with the much larger sternwheeler D. T. Lane in a pushing and pulling contest described by the Pittsburgh Press as a contest between ‘‘David and Goliath.’’

Ward Engineering produced a total of 89 hulls in a variety of designs including sternwheel tows, such as the Greenbrier (1924) and the Scott (1930) which later plied the Kanawha as the excursion boat P. A. Denny. Charles Ward Engineering closed in 1932.

This Article was written by Brooks F. McCabe Jr.

Last Revised on November 12, 2010

Related Articles


Parkinson, George P. Jr. Charles Ward Engineering Works. Goldenseal, (July-Aug. 1977).

Parkinson, George P. Jr. & Brooks F. McCabe Jr. Charles Ward and James Rumsey: Regional Innovation in Steam Technology on the Western Rivers. West Virginia History, (Jan.-Apr. 1978).

Through the Lens: Pioneering Steam Propeller Towboats. Egregious Steamboat Journal, (Nov.-Dec. 1993).

Cite This Article

McCabe Jr., Brooks F. "Ward Engineering Works." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 12 November 2010. Web. 18 July 2024.


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