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Diamond Jo

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Contrary to popular opinion, being a Minnesotan is no guarantee of invincibility, as the Minnesota Packet Company discovered the long and hard way back in the 1860s.

At the time, the steamboat company owned a monopoly on all shipping on the Upper Mississippi River which allowed them to charge a very profitable rate for grain heading to market. They kept this monopoly by refusing to ship competitors' grain on Minnesota Packet boats.

Then, in 1860, a young man named Joseph Reynolds set up a business shipping wheat, oats, and corn from Prairie du Chien to eastern markets via the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad. The Minnesota Packet Company put him out of business by refusing to ship his grain from river terminals to Prairie du Chien.

While they were busy congratulating themselves on eliminating a rival, Joseph Reynolds was busy building his own boat, the “Lansing,” which soon did a thriving business in competition with the Minnesota company.

The Minnesotans offered to buy Reynolds' boat and promised not to boycott his grain shipments. The minute they bought the “Lansing,” however, they refused once again to ship Reynolds' grain.

Reynolds build a second boat, the “Diamond Jo,” and soon had a lively shipping business. By 1866, the now-financially-troubled Minnesota Packet Company was forced to reorganize as the Northwestern Packet Company. The new company offered to buy the “Diamond Jo” and give Reynolds access to shipping. He sold the boat, and, of course, the company promptly reneged on its promise.

This time, Joseph Reynolds entered the steamboat business for good. The great Diamond Jo Line became famous up and down the Mississippi. Eventually, it ran the Minnesotans out of business.

Minnesotans are stubborn when it comes to admitting a fault, but I can imagine the last meeting of the board of directors of the Minnesota company looking out the window as a Diamond Jo boat passed by. I imagine the chairman saying, "Just maybe, we made a mistake.”

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.