A History of the River Division

Now headquartered in the port city of Paducah, Kentucky, Marquette Transportation traces its roots to Cassville, Wisconsin, an old Mississippi River village where horses, not engines, powered the earliest ferries. Soon, the river became a catalyst of change. Towns and cities sprang up along the waterways, ushering in an economic boom with the growing demand for produce, dry goods and commodities.

In 1958, Ray Eckstein, a Cassville native, founded Wisconsin Barge Lines, a switch boat operation that he soon transformed into a bulk commodity carrier. Throughout the 60s, Wisconsin Barge flourished under the helm of Ray Eckstein, whose fleet of tugboats and hopper barges couriered a steady flow of commerce from port to port. When he later sold the company, Ray was asked to stay behind the wheel of the operation, which he did until the late 70s.

In 1978, Ray christened his new transportation company Marquette, which he named for Father Jacques Marquette, a French Jesuit priest who lived among the Great Lakes Indians from 1666 to his death in 1675. Father Marquette is credited with helping Louis Jolliet map the Mississippi River.

Although Marquette Transportation started small, the company thrived as industry demand for export grain hit record levels. Ray Eckstein invested in more vessels, building his fleet to 12 towboats and 350 barges. But the early 80s pronounced a devastating downturn in the nation’s economy. Prime interest rates skyrocketed to 23% and President Jimmy Carter issued a grain embargo against America’s largest consumer of grain—Russia. Suddenly, the river business was reduced dramatically.

Marquette struggled in the midst of this economic storm. To stay afloat, Ray tightened his operation to two towboats and 70 barges and restructured the company. Marquette was now poised to take a new direction in its industry.

During the 90s, Marquette welcomed the addition of Ray’s son, John, to the company. As president, John Eckstein and his father made dramatic changes that strategically positioned Marquette from a barge operator to a line-haul towboat company that leased its barges to its towing customers. This move, combined with a major investment in the Marquette fleet and a focus on high-quality service, proved to be the company’s most successful venture to date.

Today, John carries forward the Marquette legacy of entrepreneurship and forward-thinking solutions to meet the demands of a new business world. With a world-class management team behind it, Marquette’s high-quality initiatives and innovative services have turned a once mom-and-pop operation into a vibrant marine transportation company serving some of the world’s largest suppliers of food and commodities. With a strategic mix of vessels across three fleets, Marquette now serves America’s inland rivers, the Gulf, Eastern Seaboard, and offshore destinations, such as the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America. Marquette’s River unit operates more than 50 line haul vessels and 800+ dry cargo barges. The company’s Gulf-Inland unit provides a fleet of more than 60 inland towing vessels, and its Offshore unit is comprised of 9 offshore tugs.