Tugboat Annie is another local legend that I am featuring. In a time and in an industry where men behaved badly, Annie held her own. In fact, she put them all in their places.
Aug 04, 1933 · The character Tugboat Annie is based on Thea Foss (1857-1927) who founded the Foss Launch & Tug Co. in Tacoma, Washington in 1889. Today, Foss Maritime owns the largest fleet of tugboats on the U.S. West Coast.
The tugboat used as the “Narcissus” in the film was then named the “Wallowa.” It was leased to the filmmakers in Seattle by the Foss Launch & Tug Co. After the movie was filmed, the tugboat was refitted with a new engine and renamed the “Arthur Foss,” after Thea Foss’s son, who was then president of the Foss Co. Today, the tugboat “Arthur Foss” is owned by the Northwest Seaport Maritime Heritage Center. It is docked on Lake Union in Seattle, next to the Museum of History and Industry, and is open for tours on weekends. The “Arthur Foss” is listed on the National Register of Places. I have visited the museum where it is displayed. There was a sequel called Tugboat Annie Sails Again (1940) and many other revivals.
The first movie is where I became fascinated with this local lore on television reruns. Then the magic of 1950’s television brought her story to the masses. There were 40 episodes in two seasons, mostly intrigued and hilarity trying to outsmart, out maneuver Annie. The series was filmed in Toronto harbor and was first shown in Canada, having attracted ratings good enough to interest American television stations. What had succeeded in Canada proved a disappointment in the United States, where the viewing audiences had presumably become accustomed to greater sophistication. Even back then I knew Annie, as a “tugboat” pilot, was a reckoning for all girls who saw new possibilities, even with her cantankerous ways.
Tugboat Annie makes her living piloting her tugboat through the treacherous waters of the Pacific Northwest. As if the forces of nature didn’t make her job difficult enough, she must also deal with competition from Captain Horatio Bullwinkle, a rival tugboat pilot who constantly tries to steal jobs out from under Annie. Though Bullwinkle has a fearsome reputation, Annie is more than a match for him, whether the challenges require brains or brawn.
Today we’d say, “You go girl” 😊