Beat the Heat:
C’mon Along on the Mississippi!
St. Louis is well known for its hot and humid summers. In July and August, it’s not unusual for temperatures to exceed a sweltering 100 degrees F. The heatwave of July 1936 brought 18 days of temperatures 100 degrees or more. July 1954 saw temperatures peak at 115 degrees after a week-long heat wave. Today, most St. Louis residents are spared from the brutal summers thanks to the wonder that is air conditioning. Before this modern marvel became widely available, St. Louisans had to find creative ways to pass the time while staying cool. Riverboat operators on the Mississippi were happy to provide a solution. After railroads brought an end to the golden age of river travel at the turn of the twentieth century, companies like Streckfus Steamers began buying and converting old steamboats into excursion and entertainment vessels. Among these was the S.S. Admiral.
Photograph of the Admiral on the Mississippi River. The Gateway Arch can be seen in the background. Pott Collection, St. Louis Mercantile Library 
The Admiral was built from the hull of a retired side-wheel ferry, the Albatross. The interior and exterior of the boat were completely reimagined by Mazie Krebs, a former fashion editor and graphic designer. Although Krebs was an unorthodox choice at the time, she defied stereotypes with her success when the impressive Admiral took its maiden voyage on June 12, 1940. The massive silver ship was sleek and modern with an art deco theme both inside and out. It boasted a ballroom that could hold 2,000 people, a bandstand, penny arcades, lounges, bars, extravagant themed powder rooms, souvenir stands, food vendors, and a soda fountain. At 374ft long with a capacity for 4,000 passengers, she was the largest ship ever to ply the Mississippi River. And most importantly, she was the first ship outfitted with air conditioning.
Photograph of three children playing in the arcade of the Admiral on July 12, 1942
Pott Collection, St. Louis Mercantile Library
Each summer, thousands of residents fled their stifling brick homes for the comfort of the sweet river breeze aboard a Mississippi cruise. By day, families could while away the hours in the penny arcade or stroll the upper deck eating ice cream and popcorn as the tree covered bluffs and sandbars of the majestic river drifted by. After dark, romance could be found in one of the ship’s lounges or on the dance floor of the ballroom as the sounds of live jazz and big band filled the air. The Admiral became a St. Louis summer tradition.  Advertisements promised fun, romance, and luxury.
Print advertisements for day and night cruises on the Admiral
Pott Collection, St. Louis Mercantile Library
The Admiral remained a St. Louis mainstay until 1980, when public interest in river cruises began to wane. Now, as the summer heat once again pushes us indoors, and prolonged isolation from the ongoing pandemic drives us stir crazy, perhaps we can learn from these days gone by and reconnect with the river that time and again has defined St. Louis’ identity.

Check out our digital library to learn more about the history of the Admiral and other excursion vessels on the Mississippi River. Then go take a stroll on the St. Louis riverfront and once again enjoy the cool river breeze as it washes away the summer heat. 
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