Iron-hulled R. B. Forbes with its twin smoke stacks is shown alongside the U.S.S.Jamestown, famous for its famine relief journey to Ireland. The R. B. Forbes was also used extensively in salvage operations.


Otis Tufts built the first iron-hulled vessel in the United States on this wharf in 1854. Named the R.B. Forbes, after its owner Robert Bennet Forbes, it was often used to tow clipper ships built along Border Street to their owners in New York. During the Civil War, the tugboat served in the Union blockade of Confederate ports until a gale sank it off Virginia in 1862.

The Cambridge-born Tufts was a remarkable inventor, machinist, and pioneer in steam-powered technology, which he applied to printing, marble cutting, and sugarcane refining. On seeing men building the Boston Custom House driving piles by hand (c. 1840), he returned the next day with drawings for a steam-driven pile driver that revolutionized construction.

And in 1859, Tufts invented the first passenger elevator. Previously elevators were used only for freight. His "vertical railway elevator," as he called it, rose slowly along a solid iron screw. Installed at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City, the novelty drew hundreds of visitors daily.


How did the Harborwalk come to exist? [expand]

How did Colonial laws help create today's Harborwalk? [expand]

Why else is Otis Tufts important? [expand]

Tufts' original patent drawing of double-hulled iron ship [expand]

What other role did the R. B. Forbes play? [expand]



Banner: Detail of the painting Courtesy of the Robert Bennet Forbes House Museum, Milton, Mass

Tufts image: Courtesy of Tufts' descendant, Joe Seamans

Drawings: Submitted to U.S. Patent Office, 1859, reprinted in Harpers New Monthly, 1882.

About us

The Friends of the Boston Harborwalk is a group of volunteers, affiliated with Boston Harbor Now, dedicated to enhancing enjoyment of Boston's 43-mile Harborwalk. The Friends meet monthly to plan and coordinate our three main priorities.

1. Host monthly two-hour long tours connected to the Harborwalk or Boston Harbor;

2. Facilitate waterfront clean-up days to ensure that the full length of the Harborwalk is clean, safe, and inviting;

3. Create engaging interpretive signs to help people learn about and enjoy the rich stories connected to Boston's waterfront.

For more information and to join the Friends, contact Mike Manning, Chair, .