William Parker Halliday and America’s Thriving Steamboat Trade

By Phin Upham

William Parker Halliday was born in 1827, and he would become one of the most well-known American steamboat captains. He also dabbled in the printing industry, became a banker and owned large estates of land. Halliday got his start on steamboats that cruised up and down the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

Halliday saw the potential in steamboats, correctly predicting that they would play a significant role in the movmenet of goods. He honed his focus on Cairo, Illinois, a town at a critical position, and worked out a plan that would enhance both rail and river transportation. Halliday’s ventures turned the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers into a bustling center focused on both transportation and sale of general merchandise. His business brought him into close ties with General Ulysses S. Grant, a relationship that turned out to be lucrative.. Favoritism from Grant brought valuable military contracts that vastly improved his personal wealth. He expanded business after the war, adding real estate and hotels to his growing list of acquisitions. Around this time, he also found interests in mining, lumber and furniture, all goods easily transported by rail. As Halliday found success, so did the town of Cairo. He eventually moved operations into nearby Hallidayboro, Illinois, a town which carries his namesake.

The final six months of Halliday’s life were spent at the Lexington Hotel in Chicago, not far from home. He’d come under the weather with an illness that was never fully identified, and died while he was trying to rest and recover from it.

About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or LinkedIn page.