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Captain Richard Armstrong (1839-1903)
Born in Canada, owned successful boating business in Bay City.

1883: Biography. - (Added April 2008.)

History of Bay County, Michigan - H.R. Page, 1883 (Page 140)


Capt. Richard Armstrong was born in Canada, in 1839, and moved to St. Clair, Mich., in 1850. He engaged in sailing on the lakes in 1855, and on salt water in 1857. Visited Japan and China on the United States frigate "Powhatten," with old Com. Tatnal. He was in California and Peru in 1859. Was twice around Cape Horn, and fourteen times across the Atlantic, visiting England, France, Italy, and other places. He returned to the lakes in 1862, and enlisted in the One Hundred and Third Ohio Regiment, which command helped to stop Kirby Smith from burning Cincinnati, by stopping him at Covington Heights, and also drove the rebel legislature from the capital of Kentucky. After being honorably discharged from the United States army, he returned to the lakes, where he has been master and owner of lake vessels since 1870. In 1881 he got up the first fire tug ever on the lakes. Is now manager and owner of the Saginaw River fire boats. Mr. Armstrong was married in 1865 to Harriet E. Scott, of St. Clair, Mich., and has three children, named William N., Cholula, and Paul, who are now attending the Bay City High School.

1885: Fire boats. - from Bay County Historical Society. - April 2008.

Bay City Daily Tribune -- Sunday Morning, May 3, 1885 (Page 5)

Saginaw River Fire Boats.

The Saginaw river fire boats went into commission yesterday, and are located on the river as follows:

Fire boat C. M. Farrar, Capt.Wm. Armstrong, master, East Saginaw fire boat office, just above free bridge. East Saginaw, Accessible by telephone.

Fire boat David Sutton, Capt George J. Little, master, Hamiton, McClure & Co., five miles below Farrar, accessible by telephone.

Fire boat Handy Boy, Capt. John Dawson, master, S. G. Rice & Son's, six miles below Sutton, accessible by telephone No. 208-3.

Fire boat Charles Lee, Capt. James Wilson, master; Saginaw river fire boat office foot of Fifth street, Bay City, three miles below Handy Boy. Accessible by telephone, No. 177.

Each of the above mentioned boats will be in charge of watchmen every night for the next six months. Any want of vigilence on the part of the watchmen, or thoroughness on the part of any one connected with the fire boats should be reported to the managers at once, as he is doign his best to make them efficient, and all who are interested should help to that end.

1885: Price war. - Added April, 2011.

The Marine Record - Cleveland, Ohio.

May 28, 1885, East Saginaw.

The River line steamer Wellington R. Burt, belonging to Messrs. Roots & Midler, of this city , and yacht David Sutton, owned by Richard Armstrong, of Bay City tug fame, are waging war against each other, carry dock wollopers. The Burt takes them down the river on her morning trip for 15c, and returns them free. The Sutton is doing likewise and there is no telling what the boats will be doing before my next.

1889 Armstrong's fleet. - Added July, 2011.

History of Saginaw County, Michigan - Cook, 1918.


About 1889, several years after the decine in lumber production had set in, these popular steamers were withdrawn, and left the river service to Armstrong's fleet of faster boats. These were the converted yacht Handy Boy, which had been built in 1874, the Play Boy, which came ou in 1887, the Post Boy, in 1888, and the News Boy a year after. These boats were equipped with powerful fire pumps and plenty of hose, and in their regular schedule of trips on the river afforded a valuable and efficient fire protection service to may mill owners, who were only too willing to avail themselves of it. But these steamers also had their day of usefulness in this service, and in a few year were withdrawn and sold to Lake Michigan vessel men. One or two of the "Boy" boats are still in use in those waters.

1889: Davidson building tug for Armstrong. - Added April, 2011.

The Marine Record - Cleveland, Ohio.

February 28, 1889, West Bay City.

Captain James Davidson commenced the construction of a new fire tug on February 21st, for Captain Richard Armstrong, to be used on the Saginaw river. She will be 56 feet in length, 16 feet beam, 7 feet depth of hold. She will be of the latest design, having all the modern improvements known in the fire tug service. She will throw ten aircams, and will be equial to any two fire tugs now on Saginaw river. She will be appropriately name the Geyser.

1889: Lost in the river. (contributed by Alan Flood - April, 2009)

Bay City Daily Tribune - Thursday, May 9, 1889 (Page 6)


Alexander Bennett Falls Overboard
From the Steamer Newsboy and Drowns.
Heroic Efforts Made to Save the Life of
the Unfortunate Man, But to no Avail.

"Man overboard Man overboard ! !" was the cry that startled the officers and passengers of the steamer Newsboy yesterday morning. Going to the side of the steamer the form of Alexander Bennett, chief engineer of the Boy Line of steamers, was seen swimming on the surface.

The Newsboy was on her way to Bay City and had just passed through the Flint & Pere Marquette railroad bridge.

No sooner had the word been shouted than Paul Armstrong, the clerk, jumped for the engine room and reversed the throttle. In the meantime a boat had been lowered to the water and the ropes cut, setting it adrift. As soon as this had been accomplished Wm. Armstrong, who was on the upper deck, jumped into the river, and with a few strokes was in the yawl. Oars were fixed, and with the assistance of two other men, speed was made for the spot where the unfortunate man had disappeared. Arriving there Mr. Armstrong dove to the bottom of the river several times, but could not see the drowning man, and his efforts in this direction were necessarily given up. Raftsmen with pike poles were immediately employed, and after considerable time the body was recovered.

An East Saginaw coroner empanneled a jury, and a verdict was rendered in accordance with the above facts. The remains were placed in a temporary coffin and brought to this city on the Newsboy, arriving about noon. They were taken charge of by Undertaker Pearsall.

Immediately after the sad accident Capt. Armstrong received a tele-gram acquainting him with the facts, and the sad and delicate duty devolved upon him of informing the unfortunate man's wife, at her home, corner of Eleventh and Adams streets. When the sorrowful news was broken to her she became frantic with grief.

No one saw Mr. Bennett fall from the boat, and how the accident happened can simply be conjectured. He was seen sitting at the bow of the boat before the happening, an unusual thing for him to be so far away from his engine.

One of the stanchions which secured a chain across the gangway was discovered broken after the accident, but as the timber was of the strongest and firmest oak, it seems impossible that the engineer's weight on the chain could have broken it. This, however, seems to be the most reasonable theory.

Deceased was chief engineer of the Boy line of steamers, and has been in the employ of the line for the past three years. He was a fine man, and had the implicit confidence of his employers.

He leaves a widow, but no children. He was about 35 years old.

The funeral will be announced hereafter.

The officials of the boat are entirely free from all blame, and their conduct in endeavoring to save the drowning man is highly spoken of. The distance of the boat from him when the discovery of the accident was made was so great that it was impossible to rescue him before he was buried by the waters of the Saginaw.

1890: Wants to Sell. (Contributed by Alan Flood. - Apr. 2008)

Bay City Daily Tribune -- Saturday, February 22, 1890 (Page 5)

Some Facts

There is not longer a decent livelihood to be made in river trame." says Capt. Richard Armstrong, " will either run a saloon, pander to low elements or run my boats on Sunday and because of this I see no profit to river service. You may say, then, that my whole outfit, steamboats and all, is for sale. I cannot see a livelihood in the business and want to sell out. If anyone else can he may get my boats cheap. I have not bought the burt nor am I about to send any of my boats to Port Austin. I will sell out, if I can, failing I shall do the next best thing. Place my boats as advantageously as possible and keep some of them on the river so long as they will pay expenses. That is exactly the pistion I am in today."

1890: Sold New Boy. (Contributed by Alan Flood. - Apr. 2008)

Bay City Daily Tribune - Saturday, May 3, 1890


The Staunch Steamer was Sold to
E. W. Voight, of Detroit

Capt. Richard Armstrong, of this city, has sold the steamer Newsboy, of the river line, to E. W. Voight, of Detroit, the consideration being $13,500. The Newsboy has been in Detroit for some time, and it was announced that she would be put on the route between that city and Walkerville, Canada, but the negotiations fell through and the boat was finally transferred to Mr. Voight. It is not known what disposition Mr. Voight will make of the Newsboy, although the Detroit News of last evening stated that the boat would be put on the route to Port Huron in command of Capt. George King.

1892: Worlds Fair. (Contributed by Alan Flood. - Apr. 2008)
Note: Excerpt from the full article.

Bay City Daily Tribune -- Wednesday, September 28, 1892 (Page 3)


That Line of Steamers has a Monopoly
in Chicago, and Carries Crowds
of Passengers.
Many Sheckels Made by the Manager
Whose Line is the Only One
Running to the World's Fair.

Visitors can be conveyed around the grounds, either by boat or carriage, each style of conveyance being divided into three classes, busses, carriages and regular stages. The boats and carriageswill be divided in this manner and the fair charged to be regulated by the World's Fair commission, so that the visitors need have no fear of being cheated.

The Boy line steamers built in this city and which were operated between Bay City and Saginaw and Reservation beach for a number of years have a "lead pipe cinch" on the lake traffic to the World's Fair grounds. It is the only line which can land passengers at the grounds and if the operators of the line are fortunate enough to hold the advantage which clear foresight gained, they will make a mint of money during the fair.

Chicago people have already dropped into line and the visitor to the Windy City will be told to take the Boy line steamships. The managers of the other lines feel very sore over the fact of an outside management coming in and getting the best of them and on the roadway leading to the dock signs have been placed, saying: "There is no monopoly on the traffic to the World's Fair grounds," or, "Monopoly on the traffic to the World's Fair grounds don't go."

The different railroads that center in Chicago are also very busy preparing for the rush and for miles around the fair grounds extra tracks are be laid.

1895: Sells interest in Sailor Boy. - Added April, 2011.

The Marine Recorder, Cleveland, Ohio.

February 7, 1895.

Capt. Frank Brabaw, Engineer John Durham, and McDonough, all of Marine City, have purchased a three-quarter interest in the steamer Sailor Boy, from Capt. Richard Armstrong, of Bay City, and will operate her between Marine Cty and Detroit, next season, with stops at the North Channel Club House, New Baltimore, Anchorville, etc. The Sailor Boy is about five years old, and was by far the test of the "Boy Line." once famous on Saginaw River. She has been in the excursion business on the lake front at Chicago for three years, and is said to have netted enough money to pay for herself. She travels twelve miles an hour on ? feet draft, is licensed to carry 326 passengers and has plenty of room for frieght.

1896: Sells vessel Sailor Boy. - Added April, 2011.

International Gazette,
June 13, 1896.

Sheenwater, the well known and popular resort on the west side of Grand Island, which has been closed for some time, will be reopened to the public Sunday. The Union Excursion Co., of which Mr. Edward M. Krauss is manager, has bought a new stm. Sailor Boy, which will be in Buffalo Harbor this afternoon. It was built in Bay City, Mich., by Capt. Richard Armstrong, and has a capacity of 600 passengers. Its mate will be put on the line in a week or so. The company will introduce many new featues this year. Sheenwater is the official resort for the union labor people.

1903: First fire tug. (Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - Feb. 2007.)

Saginaw Courier Herald - September 9, 1903 (Page 1)


Capt. Richard Armstrong, Well Known Vessel Owner, Dead.

Captain Richard Armstrong, at one time well known tug captain and boat owner, died in Detroit yesterday morning.

Captain Armstrong was born in Canada in 1839, and moved to St. Clair in 1850. He engaged in sailing on the lakes in 1855 and on salt water in 1857. He visited Japan and China on the United States figate Powhattan with old Commander Tatnal. He was in California and Peru in 1859. He was twice around Cape Horn and fourteen times across the Atlantic, visiting England, France, Italy and other countries. He returned to the lakes in 1862 and enlisted in the 103rd Ohio regiment, which command helped to stop Kirby Smith from burning Cincinnati by stopping him at Covington Heights, and also drove the rebel legislature from the capital of Kentucky. After being honorably dischared from the army he returned to the lakes. In 1881 he built the first fire tug on the lakes at Bay City. He built and owned the steamers Handy Boy, Sailor Boy, Plow Boy, News Boy and Post Boy, and the tug Geyser. He also owned the tugs Charles Lee, James Hay, C. McFarrar, David Sutton and Chas. B. Hull.

At the time of the world's fair in Chicago Captain Armstrong went there with two of his boats, and since that time had made his home in Chicago or Detroit. He is survived by a widow and three children -- William, now interested in gold mines in Alaska, Cholula, now Mrs. John Streng, of Minnesota, and Paul Armstrong of New York.

Additional Notes.

    1850 - Census: Detroit, Wayne, Mich.

  • Scott, Wm. - b. 1808 England
  • Frances, wife - b. 1809 New York
  • James, son - b. 1831 New York
  • Delia, dau. - b. 1832 Mich.
  • George, son,- b. 1834 Mich.
  • Margaret, dau. - b. 1837 Mich.
  • Douglass, son - b. 1842, Mich.
  • Francis, dau. - b. 1844, Mich.
  • Harriet, dau. - b. 1847 Mich.

    1860 - Census: St. Clair, St. Clair, Mich.

  • Scot, Harriet - b. 1847 Mich.

    1865 - Michigan Marriages: St. Clair, St. Clair, Mich.

  • Richard Armstrong (b. 1839) married Harriet E. Scott (b, 1846) on June 7, 1865.

    1869 - Michigan Births: St. Clair, St. Clair, Mich.

  • Paul Armstrong born April 25, 1869, son of Richard and Hattie E. Armstrong.

    1870 - Census: St. Clair, St. Clair, Mich.

  • Armstrong, Richard - b. 1840 Canada
  • Harriet, wife - b. 1847 Mich.
  • William M., son - b. 1866 Mich.
  • Chilula, dau. - b. 1868 Mich.
  • Paul, son - b. 1869 Missoui

    1880 - Census: West Bay City, Bay, Mich.

  • Armstrong, Richard - b. 1840 Canada
  • Harriet, wife - b. 1847 Mich.
  • William, son - b. 1866 Mich.
  • Cholula, dau. - b. 1868 Mich.
  • Paul, son - b. 1870 Missouri

    1882 - The Bay County Story - Foot Paths to Freeway - Arndt. 1982.

  • Richard Armstrong establishes Reservation Beach along Saginaw Bay shore. About this time he introduces the first fire tug-boat on the Great Lakes.

    1886 - Directory: Bay City, Mich.

  • Harobr Tugs -- Witch of the West, Avery, Farrar, C C McDonald, George B. Dixon, E. Haight, Harley, Challenge, E.V. Munday, Cheney, Tom Matham, James Hay, Charles Lee, Cora B. Giant, Logy, Moore,Tempest, Daisy Lee, Anna Roy, Edwin Eddy, Sarah Smith, S.S. Rumage; Saginaw River Towing Association. Proprietors - Richard Armstrong Pres., D. C. Brown Collector. Office foot of Center.
  • Armstrong, Richard - tug captain, res 1321 Broadway.
  • Armstrong, Wm. - laborer, bds, 1321 Broadway.

    1866- Directory: Saginaw, Mich.

  • Saginaw River Fire Boats, Amrstrong and Scott proprs., foot of Genesee ave on dock.

    1887 - Directory: Bay City, Mich.

  • Armstrong, Richard - propr fire tugs, foot of 5th, res 1321 Broadway.
  • Armstrong, William N. Supt R. Armstrong, bds 1321 Broadway.
  • Saginaw River Towing Assoc. Richard Armstrong, Pres, J. W. Heisner Collector, Office foot of 5th.

    1888 - Michigan Marriages: Portsmouth, Bay, Mich.

  • Date Jan. 12, 1888.
  • Groom: William N. Armstrong, b. 1866, St. Clair, Mich., son of Richard J. Armstrong and Harriet E. Scott.
  • Bride: Minnie A. Lahman, b. 1868, Rochester, NY, daughter of Charles Lahman and Mary Hayes.
  • Official: Roland Woodham, minister.
  • Witnesses: Richard and Harriet Armstrong.

    1889 - Michigan Births: Bay City, Bay, Mich.

  • John Scott Armstrong , son of Richard and Harriet Armstrong, born April 1, 1889. - aka: Rolf Armstrong.

    1889 - Michigan Marriages: Bay City.

  • Date: December 30, 1889.
  • Groom: John C. Streng, draughtman, b. 1862 Mich., son of John Streng, mother unknown.
  • Bride: Cula Armstrong, living at home, b. 1867 Mich., daughter of Richard Armstrong and Harriet Scott.
  • Official: Roland Woodlaus, clergy man.
  • Witnesses: George Servis and Noah Farrington, both of Bay City.

    1889 - Directory: Saginaw, Mich.

  • Boy Line and Fire Boat Co., (Richard Armstrong, W. H. Armstrong, John Dawson), office foot of Genesee Ave.
  • Vessel Owners and Agents: Armstrong, Wm. N., foot of Genesee ave.

    1890 - Michigan Births: Saginaw, Saginaw, Mich.

  • Robert Armstrong, son of William and Minnie Armstrong, was born Nov. 20, 1890.

    1890/91 - Directory: Saginaw, Mich.

  • Boy Line & Fire Boat Co. - (Richard and W. N. Armstrong, F. A. Scott, John Dawson, Bay City, Mich.), foot of Genesee Ave.

    1895 - Wisconsin Births: Milwaukee.

  • Wallace Streng was born February 28, 1897, son of John Christian Streng and Cholula Armstrong.

    1897 - Directory: Bay City, Mich.

  • Armstrong, Paul - removed to Chicago, Ill.
  • Armstrong, Richard - (Dawson & Armstrong), genl mgr Saginaw, Bay City and Alpena Steamers, res 1321 Broadway.
  • Armstrong, Wm. N. - vessel capt., res. 901 Center.

    1900 - Census: Detroit, Wayne, Mich.

  • Armstrong, Richard - b. Feb. 1840, Canada
  • Harriet E., wife - b. Feb. 1847, Mich.
  • John S., son - b. Apr. 1889, Mich. - aka. Rolf Armstrong, artist.
  • Keathing, Eliza J., niece - b. Mar. 1848 Canada - widow
    ... 1870, St. Clair, MI - found Eliz Keating with Frederick Keating (b. 1859 Mich.), at home of Charles LIttle (b. 1821 Eng.), wife Maria. (b. 1826 Ire.)

    1900 - Census: Bay City, Mich.

  • Armstrong, William - b. May 1866, Mich. (son of Richard & Harriet)
  • Minnie A., Wife - b. Feb. 1868 New York
  • Robert W., son - b. Nov. 1891 Mich.
  • Lahaman, Charles, father-in-law - b. Jul. 1830 Germany.

    1910 - Census: Seattle, King, Wash.

  • Armstrong, Wm. Noah - age 43, b. Mich. (son of Richard & Harriet)
  • Minnie L., wife - age 42, b. New York
  • Robert W., son - agte 19, b. Mich.
  • Henry, Maude M., neice, age 23, b. Mich.

    1920 - Cenus: Multnomah, Oregon.

  • Streng, John C. - b. 1864 Mich.
  • Chula, wife - b. 1869 Mich.
  • Alwin, son - b. 1901 Illinois.
  • Armstrong, Harriet, mother-in-law - b. 1846 Mich.

    1921 - Washington Deaths: Seattle, King, Washington.

  • William N. Armstrong, son of Richard Armstrong and Harriet E. Scott, died Jan. 20, 1921.
Relate Pages/Notes

Richard Armstrong
Buried at Elmwood Cemetery
Detroit, Mich.
Source: [Find A Grave]

Fire Tug Geyser

Built by
Davidson Shipbuilding

Willing R. Burt

Pasenger Steamship

Capt. Armstrong lived in West Bay City and later moved to the east side of the river where he had a homestead on Broaday near the old Fremont school. His youngest son, Rolf, born in 1889 at Bay City, went onto to a career as a commercial artist, and is recognized as among the best "pin-up" artists of the 20th Century.
William N. Armstrong the eldest son, was his father's right-hand man in managing the vessels business. After the boating business came to an end, he moved to Seattle, Wash., from there he did prospecting for gold in Alaska. In 1906 William was a member of Frederick Cook's second expedition to reach the peak of Mt. McKinley.
Paul Armstrong, son, (1869-1915), also was captain on the Great Lakers, and later became a news reporter and afterward, a successful playwright.
John S. (aka: Rolf) Armstrong, son (1889-1960) went on to become one of the most famous pin-up artists of the 20th century.
Robert Armstrong, grandson (1890-1973), born to William and Minnie Armstrong. Robert made his way to Hollywood and became an actor playing in supporting roles in a number of popular movies, including King Kong.
-- Robert's father, William, was quite an adventurer. In 1906, while residng in Seatle, he joined up with the second Cook epedition to reach the peak of Mt. McKinley in Alaska. Afterwards Cook's claim that he succeeded was highly contest, and William was one who opposed the claim and said so in a New York Times article. (see Robert's bio. for more.)

Chulu Armstrong, daughter, married JOhn C. Streng, in 1889. John was a draughtsman with the Industrial Works, at Bay City, then in 1893 they moved to moved to Milwaukee, Wisc., where John was employed as a draughtsmand by that city. The moved once again, before the 1920 cusnsu, where they were picked up living in Mulnomah, Oregon, with a son, Alwin.
Related Pages:
Armstrong, William N. son
Armstrong, Paul son
Armstrong, Rolf son
Armstrong, Robert W g-son
Article: Armstrong Family
Armstrong's 5th ave dock
Bay Co. Civil War History
People Referenced
Armstrong, Chulula (dau.)
Armstrong, Paul (son)
Armstrong, Richard
Armstrong, Paul (g-son)
Armstrong, John S. (son)
- aka: Rolf
Armstrong, Robert W. (g-son)
Armstrong, William N. (son)
Bennett, Alexander
Brabaw, Frank Capt.
Brown, D.C.
Davidson, James Capt.
Dawson, John Capt.
Durham, John
Farrington, Noah
Hayes, Mary
Heisner, J.W.
Henry, Maude M.
Keating, Eliz
Keating, Frederick
Keathing, Eliz J. (niece)
King, Geo. Capt
Krauss, Edward
Lahman, Charles
Lahman, Minnie A. (d-inlaw).
Little, Charles
  • Little, Maria Mrs.
    Little, Geo. J. Capt.
    McDonough, Mr.
    Midler, Mr.
    Pearsall (undertaker)
    Roots, Mr.
    Servis, George
    Scott, Delia (s-inlaw)
    Scott, Douglass (b-inlaw)
    Scott, Frances (m-inlaw)
    Scott, Francis (s-inlaw)
    Scott, F.A.
    Scott, George (b-inlaw)
    Scott, Harriet E. (wife)
    Scott, James (b-inlaw)
    Scott, Margaret (s-inlaw)
    Smith, Kirby
    Streng, Alwin (g-son)
    Streng, John C. (s-inlaw)
    Streng, John
    Streng, Wallace (g-son)
    Tatnal (aka. Tatnali), Cmdr.
    Voight, E.W.
    Wilson, James Capt.
    Woodlaus, Roland - pastor
  • Subjects Referenced
    103rd Ohio reg.
    Bay City, MI
    Boy Line & Fire Boat Co.
    Cape Horn
    Chicago, IL
    Cincinnati, OH
    Covington Hts., OH
    Detroit, MI
    East Saginaw, MI
    Farrar, MI
    First fire tug
    Hamilton, McClure & Co.
    Marine City, MI
    New York
    Pere Marquette R.R.
    Port Austin, MI
    Port Huron, MI
    Reservation beach
    Saginaw River Towing Assoc.
    Saginaw River Fire Boats
    St. Clair, MI
    Seattle, King, WA
    S.G. Rice & Sons
    Walkerville, Can.
    - Charles Lee, tug
    - Chas. B. Hull, tug
    - C. McFarrar, tug
    - David Sutton, tug
    - Geyser, tug
    - Handy Boy, steamer
    - James Hay, tug
    - News Boy, steamer
    - Plow Boy, steamer
    - Post Boy, steamer
    - Sailor Boy, steamer
    - US Powhattan
    Worlds fair
    Internet References
    Apr. 21, 1854: Wreck of Powhattan, 200 hundred lives lost. {New York Times}
    World's Fair 1893 history and photos. [ChicagoHS.org]
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.