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The Port of Boston

Tug working the river.Servicing All Industries and Ships
In the 1930’s, Boston was a major American seaport, served by scores of Steamship Lines from every continent, as well as coastal steamers and tankers. In addition to freighters carrying manufactured merchandise and bagged commodities (such as coffee, tea, cotton, sugar, rice, wheat, grains, spices), refrigerated ships brought fruits from the Caribbean, tankers brought crude oil to Boston refineries (all now closed) and petroleum products from refineries. Key petroleum products included kerosene for lighting, gasoline for cars and light trucks, diesel fuel for larger trucks and marine engines, home heating oil, heavy fuel oil for power plants and ship fueling, jet fuels and aviation gasoline, asphalt for paving, lubricating oils, and some solvents. Each year millions of tons of coal were brought to greater port for home heating, hot water, steam heat, electricity generation, industrial use, and conversion into coke and coal gas for street lighting. Coal and oil were delivered by a combination of coastal ships and barges. The barges were towed by large coastal tugs.

While the main channels of the Main Port were dredged to 30 and 35 feet, the greater Boston Harbor also supported barge and schooner traffic into the 1960’s on various creeks and rivers. These included the Malden, Mystic, Charles, Fort Point Channel, Neponset, and Town Rivers as well as the Herring River on the South Shore which supplied sand to the City of Boston. Boston was a city of many bridges across channels large and small including scores of swing and draw bridge, many of which are still in existence today. In addition, barge locks were in operation at the mouths of the Charles and Medford Rivers.

Tugs Work the Harbor and Rivers
Because these rivers and creeks were subjected to the 10-12 foot tides, the movement of ships and barges was somewhat governed by tidal conditions. In general, large ships and barges moved on the high tides. This tended to increase tug demand on the high tides and reduce it on the low tides. Other navigation proceeded regardless of tides in the main ship channels. Smaller tugs were often used in the rivers and creeks, while longer, deeper and more powerful tugs were used in the main ship channels.