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Deep Waterway


The Deep Waterway Association annual conventions were well attended by influential politicians and businessmen. In 1903, a highlight was a letter read to the convention from railroad tycoon James J. Hill. In 1907, the keynote speaker was Teddy Roosevelt. The main interest was improving water access from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. A proposal suggested deepening and widening river channels for Great Lakes vessels. But while interest was strong, there was little agreement on how to accomplish the goal. In the 1912 issue of The Journal of Political Economy, an article noted that while many studies had been made, there was still no plan in place.

But ten years later, on this date in 1922, the Ward County Independent reported on an address by Stanley Colburn to the Minot Rotary. The Governor had appointed Colburn as a delegate to the Deep Waterways Convention in Chicago. It might seem curious that North Dakotans were interested in a project hundreds of miles away, but Colburn explained that a deep waterway would have great benefits for North Dakota farmers. The cost of transporting wheat from North Dakota to Liverpool, England could drop by ten cents per bushel.

President Harding had approved a project with an estimated cost of $270 million, shared equally between the United States and Canada. In addition to improving transportation of agricultural products, the construction of a dam would produce over one million kilowatts of electricity. The sale of this electricity would pay for the project within a few years.

Not everyone was happy about the project. The Independent reported that the State of New York was spending thousands of dollars to fight it. The state feared a drop in revenue with decreased freighter traffic. New Yorkers were perfectly happy with the current route that brought freighters through the port at New York City.

By 1932, there was a shift in the focus of a deep waterway. President Herbert Hoover signed the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Deep Waterway Treaty with Canada. He said the treaty fulfilled a promise he made to the people of the Midwest. He called it the “greatest internal improvement” the country had ever undertaken. The completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway did, indeed, drop transportation costs for the farmers of North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Ward County Independent. “Rotary Drum Corps Will Head Delegation to Duluth.” 16 February, 1922.

Shelton, William A. “The Lakes-to-Gulf Deep Waterway.” The Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 20, No. 6. June, 1912

The American Presidency Project. “Herbert Hoover.” "http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=23172" http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=23172 Accessed 5 January, 2017.

Hill, James J. “The Future of Rail and Water Transportation.” Letter read to the 1903 Lakes to the Gulf Deep Waterway Association Convention. 7 October, 1903.