Founded in 1889, the Foss story is a quintessential example of the American Dream: Thea Foss, a young Norwegian immigrant and her husband, Andrew, turned one rowboat into what eventually became a world class fleet.
It started in Tacoma, Washington when Thea Foss bought a used rowboat, hoping to rent it out to help with the family’s finances. After painting it pristine white with green trim, she sold the rowboat at a profit and used the money to buy several more boats. She was in business – renting the small boats to fishermen and duck hunters, ferrying customers, and delivering supplies in the Tacoma waterways. She continued to purchase more rowboats and launches while her husband, a carpenter, began building them. Soon, the fleets were up to 200 boats. Thea then expanded the business by transporting logs with towboats, under the name Foss Launch and Tug Company. By 1904, the company boasted 10 launches, a shipyard, a 60-passenger oil powered boat, and a small rescue craft to help disabled vessels. World War I propelled the small towing business to a new level, allowing Foss to purchase interests in a Seattle-based towboat company.
Thea died in 1927, a day before her 70th birthday. Members of the Foss family, including Thea’s three sons, continued to operate Foss Maritime for many decades. The city of Tacoma named the Thea Foss Waterway after this pioneer, who is also said to be the inspiration for the television series “Tugboat Annie.”
Today, Foss is a legacy to Thea and Andrew’s hard work, determination and vision. The green and white colors she painted the first rowboat are still used on the company’s powerful state-of the art tugs, which can now be seen in waters throughout the world.
In 1987 Foss Maritime was bought by Saltchuk Resources, Inc., a privately owned family investment company that primarily focuses on maritime transportation. Although Foss Maritime continues to operate independently, it is now part of a worldwide network. With our combined resources we can provide customers a full range of transportation services.
For more historical information, see the online Encyclopedia of Washington State History at www.historylink.org.