The good ship Taconite, flagship of empire built on Mesabi Range profits

The Taconite, Bill Boeing’s former yacht, now for sale, was built and launched with a fortune won from Mesabi Range land speculation. (PHOTO: Emerald Pacific Yachts)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

For just shy of $1.3 million you could be the owner of yacht currently docked near Vancouver, British Colombia.

Made of virgin teak, this century-old wooden pleasure ship has been on the market a couple years. Apparently, today’s oligarch-on-the-go simply doesn’t have the time to maintain such an antique. I can distinctly recall my father’s frustration trying to restore and maintain my great-grandfather’s wooden speedboat. The boat seemed almost allergic to water, which was decidedly unhelpful.

But this craft in the Pacific Northwest is much more than a speedboat. And it’s been well cared for. At 125 feet of Depression-era opulence, this particular ship hosted billionaires and Congressmen, celebrities and the ruling class. It cost $421,000 to build in 1930, nearly $6 million in today’s dollars.

And its name is the Taconite. 

Who built it? Bill Boeing, founder of the Boeing Aircraft company and United Airlines. One of the most powerful businessmen of the 20th Century, and a titan of the Pacific Northwest, Boeing spent most of his free time piloting this yacht through the waters of Puget Sound. He died onboard in 1956. His ashes were scattered into the ocean from its deck.

So why would Boeing, an airplane man, name his custom-built yacht the Taconite? Taconite, after all, is the low-grade iron ore mined here on the Mesabi Iron Range of Northern Minnesota. Outside of mining communities, “taconite” refers to the day of the week when tacos are served.

Well, it turns out that Boeing named his ship the Taconite because iron ore profits seeded his fortune.

From this Anders Clark article “William Boeing: The Story of a Visionary Aircraft Manufacturer“:

His father, Wilhelm, came from a respected and well-to-do German family. However, at the age of 20, after serving a year in the German military, young Wilhelm decided he was going to leave his hometown in Hohenlimburg and emigrate to the United States to seek adventure and his fortune. He found work as a farm laborer, but soon met and joined forces with Karl Ortmann, a lumberman, and his future father-in-law. Wilhelm bought a large section of timberland, and the associated mineral rights, in Minnesota’s Mesabi Range, the first of many such purchases that established him as a timber and mining baron.

The Boeing mine was located in what is now the Hull-Rust mine pit north of Hibbing, Minnesota. Wilhelm Boeing grew tired of the timber business and moved west, but retained the mineral rights. The mine was later operated by Cleveland Cliffs from 1919 to 1928.

The elder Boeing died young, at the age of 42. His fortune paid for an elite education (and elite networking connections) for Bill Boeing. When Wilhelm’s widow Marie died she left their son Bill $1 million. He used that money to start his company building boats, the same year the Wright Brothers flew their first working airplane at Kitty Hawk.

Boeing took an immediate interest in airplanes. He bought one as soon as he could, hastily learned to fly, and piloted his plane cross country. When he crash landed back home, he lacked patience to wait for new parts. So he and his partner tore the plane apart and learned how to build it even better. The rest is history.

Meantime, Boeing commissioned his factory to build himself a yacht named for the iron ore that paid his way.

Canadian businessman Gordon Levett has owned the Taconite for more than 30 years, restoring it to its original condition. The yacht was for sale in 2015 for $2.5 million and remains on the market at a reduced price.

The story of Boeing’s Taconite reads as an interesting historical tale, but also a reminder that most of the spoils of generations of Mesabi Iron Range workers left Northern Minnesota. From the upper class segregated neighborhoods of Boeing’s Seattle to the leather furniture of gentlemen’s clubs in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and New York, most of the profit from mining leaves the place where the rock is wrested from the Earth.

Always has.

That’s why the people of Northern Minnesota always had to fight for themselves.

We still do.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, May 7, 2017 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Bill Boeing named his yacht Taconite for the fortune his father won on the Mesabi Iron Range, the same fortune that built the famous aircraft company in the Pacific Northwest. (PHOTO: Emerald Pacific Yachts)

Comments

  1. Joe musich says:

    I was exploring going to Grand Marais via water last summer. You know, a cruise up the north shore from Duluth. Nothing out there. Now if I was an oligarch I would buy this vessel and do just that with it. Back and forth cruises up mother Superior’s north shore. But not on a retired school teachers salary.

  2. Aaron,
    Well said.
    Seems like this should be on billboards all over the range as a reminder.
    Dan

    “but also a reminder that most of the spoils of generations of Mesabi Iron Range workers left Northern Minnesota,……, most of the profit from mining leaves the place where the rock is wrested from the Earth.
    Always has.”

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