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The Port of Rotterdam (1909)

The Port of Rotterdam, although comparatively young is one of the most interesting and progressive of the Continental Ports; a keen rival of Antwerp for third place in the mad race for the commercial supremacy of Central Europe.

Plan of the Port of Rotterdam. (1909)

Plan of the Port of Rotterdam.
New "Waal" Harbor area 800 acres, now being built is shown in cross-sectioned area in lower left-hand corner.

This port has been developed largely during the last half century. It is wholly a municipal undertaking, and no State or Provincial aid has been asked or received in the construction of its great system of quays and harbors.

Rotterdam occupies a most favorable location for the development of a modern port. It is situated on the northerly bank of the River Maas, the principal and natural outlet of the great Rhine District.

Previous to 1863, navigation between Rotterdam and the sea, a distance of about 18 miles, was most difficult, frequently taking steamers several days to make the journey. This was largely due to the shallowness and irregularity of the channel, but even then, with boats drawing but 10 feet of water the voyage was made during flood tides with no great difficulty.

With the development of larger vessels, however, Rotterdam at once realized that unless provision was made for a straighter, wider and deeper channel to the sea, her growth and standing as a port would be greatly handicapped. A new channel was then decided upon and built from Vlaardingen to the North Sea, a distance of 14 miles piercing the Hook of Holland.

This channel was completed in 1896 at a cost of $9,000,000. The City of Rotterdam paid about 10 per cent. of the cost and the Government the balance. The depth of water in the new channel is 27 feet at low, and between 32 and 33 at high tides, so that the largest sea-going vessels can now make the trip from the North Sea to Rotterdam in about 2 hours, where it formerly took several days.

Ocean-going Vessels Loading and Unloading in Midstream.

Rotterdam is especially fortunate that the range in the tide levels (about 15 feet) was not enough to require the construction of locks and gates in the new channel. With them the passage of the present 60 or more sea-going vessels in and out at the Hook daily, would have been greatly hampered.

The Government controls the river through an agreement between the adjacent states, and no dues can be levied against vessels moored in the river and not touching at the quays or harbors. Below the Williams Bridge, 62 buoys, accommodating 32 sea-going ships at the same time, have been provided, the distances between the buoys varying from 180 to 420 feet, and the depth of river at the buoys from 20 to 28 feet.

The new Meuse River passing through Rotterdam forms one large basin with the harbors constructed on either side. Starting from the easterly part of the town and working toward the North Sea, the location, size and use of the quays and harbors as given by Consul-General Soren Listoe, is as follows:

Quays in Rotterdam Harbour
Quay Length (In Feet)
Maas Station Quay 1,600
East Quay 1,200
Boomjes 3,150
Willemskade 1,730
Westerkade 1,200
Parkkade 1,700
Quay between Park Harbor and Saint Job Harbor 550
Lloyd Quay 1,800

At the latter quays the depth of water is 28 feet, while at the former six, the depth varies from 17 to 23 feet.

Harbors of Rotterdam
Harbour Length (In Feet) Width (In Feet)
Boerengat 3,850 120
New Haven 1,650 130
Haringvliet 1,350 200
Old Haven 900 240
Kolk 400 120
Steiger 950 50
Groenedaal 1,700 50
Blaak 450 180
Wynhaven 2,000 150
Scheepmakershaven 2,650 150
Leuvehaven 2,900 220
Zalmhaven 1,000 400

These harbors have a depth; varying from 5 to 12 feet and are chiefly used by the numerous market and inland craft; especially on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of every week these harbors are overcrowded with the former type of Dutch vessels. As most of the connecting bridges are movable, all of these harbors can be reached by vessels without lowering their masts.

  • Kleine Veerhaven 200 feet long, 80 feet wide.
  • Veerhaven, 650 feet long, 240 feet wide, depth 17 feet at low water.
  • Park Harbor 1,500 feet x 26 feet.
  • St. Jobs Harbor 1,200 feet x 330 feet x 28 feet.
  • Schie Harbor, 1,850 feet x 400 feet x 28 feet.

The three last named harbors are used principally for berths of the regular trade lines to different parts of the world.

The mouth of the river Schie leads into:

  • Middenkous: 1'700 ft. x 220 ft. x 20 ft
  • Voorhaven: 1300 ft. x 120 ft. x 10 ft.
  • Achterhaven: 950 ft. x 170 ft x 16 ft.
  • Buizenwaal: 350 ft. x 260 ft. x 7 ft.

These last five harbors are situated at the ancient town of Delfhaven, since 1885 annexed to Rotterdam, and generally used for vessels temporarily laid up.

The Port of Rotterdam

The Port of Rotterdam
Electrical coal hoist, Bascule Bridge, and cross-section of sheds on the southwest side of the Rhine Harbor


  • Maas Quay, east side 1,900 feet long, 10 feet deep, for steamers going up the river and to the interior places of Holland, towards the east.
  • Maas Quay, west side, 2,000 feet long, 10 feet deep, for steamers going down the river and to the interior towards the west.
  • Prins Hendrik Quay, East Side, 1'700 ft. x 18 ft.
  • Prins Hendrik Quay, West Side, 2'700 ft. x 20 ft.

The latter two accommodating passenger and freight steamers to Belgium and Germany, and also large Rhine craft and small sea-going vessels.


  • Feyenoord Quay 1,000 feet long and 12 feet deep facilitates the approach of Rhine craft which usually lie anchored in the river in front of this quay.
  • Nassau Quay 2,050 feet in length by 20 feet depth used by regular service up the Rhine and by small sea-going vessels.
  • Stieltjes Quay, East side '700 feet long by 20 feet deep.
  • Stieltjes Quay, West side 400 feet long by 21 feet deep.
    • both berthing regular traders to England.
  • Wilhelmina Quay 2,800 feet long by 28 feet deep where the HollandAmerican
    line has its wharf.

  • Katendrecht Quay, 1400 ft. x 27 ft. deep
  • Charlois Quay, 670 ft. x 27 ft. deep
  • St. Jan's Quay, 2800 ft. x 23 ft. deep

upon which are built the tanks of the different Petroleum Companies; this quay is not provided with walls, but wooden landing stages and the necessary duc d'alves facilitate the mooring of tank steamers

Mooring Pier in Rotterdam Harbour.

Mooring Pier in Rotterdam Harbour.

Kortennoord Quay 1,100 feet long by 25 feet deep wholly in the employ of the Royal Society for the Exploration of Petroleum Wells in tbe Dutch East Indies, which Company also has an oil refinery at this wharf.


  • Nassau Harbor 2,000 ft long, 260 ft wide & 15 ft deep.
  • Persoons Harbor 1,900 ft long, 200 ft wide & 12 ft deep.
  • Binnen Harbor 3,400 ft long, 260 ft wide & 24 ft deep.
  • Entrepot Harbor 700 ft long, 200 ft wide & 22 ft deep.

This latter is a bonded warehouse harbor and its entrance from the Binnen Haven'is barred by a heavy log; in this harbor and along its quay dutiable merchandise may be handled free of tax.

Spoorweg Harbor 4,000 feet long x 400 feet wide and 25 feet deep. The freight department of the Netherlands State Railways is located here.

Rhine Harbor 29 feet deep and covering an area of 75 acres; its entrance is 500 feet wide and its width increases to 1,500 feet towards the end; it contains 19 mooring posts where 15 large ocean ships can be berthed and discharge their cargo on both sides into lighters and smaller vessels. The lineal quayage around this harbor is 7,000 feet.

Katendrecht Harbor 600 feet long, 350 feet wide, 23 feet deep.

Second Katendrecht Harbor 850 feet long, 450 feet wide, 27 feet deep.

Maas Harbor 1,100 feet wide, covering an area of 150 acres; depth 28 feet with 25 mooring posts accommodating 22 large sea-going steamers.

This harbor is thus far not provided with quays, but is protected by stone slopes constllucted upon wicker foundations which will permit the construction of quays when the necessity becomes apparent.

View of Ryndam of the Holland-American Line in Floating Dry Dock.

View of Ryndam of the Holland-American Line in Floating Dry Dock.

View of Ryndam of the Holland-American Line in Floating Dry Dock.

View of Ryndam of the Holland-American Line in Floating Dry Dock.

Dock Harbor 1,100 feet long, 500 feet wide and 37 feet deep; as its name intimates, this harbor is occupied by the three smaller city dry docks.

  • St Jan's Harbor 400 ft x 200 ft x 10 ft
  • Petroleum Harbor 550 ft x 200 ft x 20 ft
  • Kortenoord Harbor 1,100 ft x 240 ft x 25 ft

These latter three are all occupied by the different Petroleum Companies for their re-shipment of oil into the interior of Holland and Germany.

Waal Harbor. This is the basin which is now in course of construction, and when finished will cover an area of eight hundred acres; thus far about 65 acres have been dredged out, but the work is steadily progressing, and it is confidently expected that this harbor will be completed and placed at the disposal of shipping in the course of next year."

To show how difficulties are overcome in the determination of the Rotterdam officials to develop one of the foremost ports of the world, it is worthy of note that in the construction ol the Maas Harbour it was necessary to demolish a church, a school-house, and 700 homes. The
area of this harbor is 150 acres. It was commenced in 1897 and completed in 1905.

The present area of the Rotterdam harbors, exclusive of the River and Konings Harbor, which together form one large basin, is about 500 acres, and the length of walled quays, 20 miles, and of those not walled, 7 miles.

View in Heart of Rotterdam.

View in Heart of Rotterdam.
Showing several bridges, building on right "White House"-only
skyscraper in city.

The construction of the Waal Harbor, now underway, well illustrates the confidence the people of Rotterdam have in the future of their port. Its area, 800 acres, is over five times the size of the Maas Harbor, the last one built, and almost twice as large as the present total harbor area
()f the city which has taken about a half-century to complete.

While the quays on the northerly side of the river have but two old style cranes, the new quays and harbors on the opposite side of the river are completely equipped with every conceivable mechanical device j fixed and movable electric, steam, and hydraulic cranes of varying lifting power, and fioating cranes, derrick cranes, grain elevators, coal hoisting apparatus, etc.

The Rotterdam port is poorly supplied with warehouse facilities, there being but one on the water's edge. This is perhaps largely due to the old prevailing custom of storing goods in the lower part of the merchant's private houses which are especially built for this purpose.

These are the four kinds of bonded warehouses in Rotterdam, subdivided according to the control exercised by the custom-house authorities:

  1. The Free Bonded Warehouse.
  2. Private Bonded Warehouses.
  3. Fictitious Bonded Warehouses.
  4. Warehouses, not controlled by the custom-house authorities.

The free bonded warehouse is an institution managed for the account of the municipality under the supervision of a Board of Control, some members of which are appointed by the Queen. The custom-house authorities keep constant watch over these bonded warehouses. The free bonded warehouse has two establishments, and the custom-house authorities superintend the carrying of dutiable goods to these bonded warehouses. The duties need only be paid when the goods leave these establishments.

Birdseye View of Shipping Activities in Rotterdam.

Birdseye View of Shipping Activities in Rotterdam.

The private free bonded warehouses are intended for goods liable to a high excise duty, such as spirits, wine, etc. These warehouses are in private hands but are entirely under the control of the customs, so that they must be built in accordance with their regulations, and nothing can be either stored or cleared without their co-operation.

The fictitious bonded warehouses are for goods. liable to low duties, such as petroleum, cottonseed, tobacco, mineral waters, etc. The custombouse authorities confine themselves to controlling the quantities stored from time to time. These warehouses, therefore, possess the same advantages as the other kinds without their drawbacks as regards continual supervision.

Warehouses not controlled by the custom-house authorities, therefore contain either goods that come in free, or goods the duties on which have been paid.

The Harbor of Rotterdam is provided with seven fire fioats which are ready at a moment's notice during the daytime, and two of the steam floats are always patrolling the harbors at night for the extinguishment of fires.

The policing of the harbors is in charge of a special division of the municipal police force, consisting of one inspector, two deputy inspectors, and thirteen constables. They are provided with a fast electric patrol boat equipped with a powerful searchlight. This force is a powerful
agency for the maintenance of order and the prevention of theft and crime in the harbor. A force of mounted men regulates traffic and preserves order on the quays and bridges. Because of the numerous canals, basins and harbors right in the heart of the city, many bridges are necessary, and all have to be of the movable type to permit of the passage of vessels. These bridges are usually considerably narrower than the adjacent highways, and vehicular traffic becomes greatly congested if the bridges are open for any length of time.

The tops of the quay walls. of the smaller harbors in the heart of the city are usually about four feet above the water level, and a row of Rhine boats lined up at one of these quays, with the sale and trading of farm and dairying produce by people from the interior towns of Holland,
presents a most interesting sight.

These quays are usually surrounded by tree-lined city streets, and the harbors are as much a part of the city growth and development as the streets are to American cities.

Rotterdam is probably better supplied with tug"boats than almost any other European port, there being no less than 350 owned by various local firm!.

The following table showing the number of inward-bound vessels. cleared in at Rotterdam, as compared with other ports in the Kingdom, since 1850, well illustrates the rapid growth of the port:

Growth of the Port of Rotterdam
Year For the entire Kingdom For Rotterdam Percentage of Ships For Rotterdam
No. of Vessels Tonnage in net. Reg. tons. No. of Vessels Tonnage in net. Reg. tons. No. of Vessels Tonnage
1850 6961 967,710 1940 346,186 27.9 35.5
1860 8217 1,591,419 2449 673,839 29.8 42.4
1870 8351 2,037,491 2973 1,026,348 35.6 50.1
1880 8164 3,438,038 3456 1,681,650 42.3 48.9
1890 9475 5,446,158 4535 2,918,425 48.2 53.6
1900 12307 9,450,710 7268 6,326,901 59.0 64.9
1907 14404 13,791,464 9221 10,107,155 64.0 73.3

The increasing importance of Rotterdam as the principal port of the rich Rhine Valley is shown by the following table giving the traffic up the Rhine from Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Belgium, during the last fifteen years, in metric tons:

Traffic Up The Rhine River
Year Amsterdam Rotterdam Belgium
Tons Increase Tons Increase Tons Increase
1890 170,365   2,582,791   1,165,457  
1895 242,315   3,980,127   1,571,765  
1900 446,837   7,845,544   2,604,632  
1901 435,838   7,735,307   2,757,330  
1902 451,936   8,197,989   3,238,843  
    1:3.51   1 :5.71   1:4.23
1903 437,730   10,338,291   3,78&,569  
1904 428,859   10,684,261   4,104,306  
1905 478,920   12,771,307   4,435,580  
1906 538,945   13,357,575   4,821,229  
1907 597,518   14,762,226   4,937,737  

Over 80 per cent. of the traffic down the Rhine is diverted to Rotterdam.

Rotterdam has a total of about 100 regular lines of steamers departing for various parts of the world on regular sailing days. The principal one of these is the well-known Holland-American line with its large fleet of passenger and freight steamers. Every week steamers of this line
leave Rotterdam and New York.

While no unusual difficulty is encountered in maintaining the requisite depth in the channel and harbors, Rotterdam maintains a fleet of dredges which are usually busy on maintenance or new work and in keeping the channels free from ice during the winter season. The material dredged is mostly used for filling and raising low ground, some of it being pressed through pipes by sand suckers, nearly two miles.

Owing to the treacherous mud and sand sub-soil in and around Rotterdam, much difficulty has been experienced in building permanent and durable quays, and many failures have been recorded during the last halfcentury.

The growth of the city of Rotterdam has been as phenomenal as that of its port. Since 1850 it has grown from a comparatively small city of 90,000 people, to over 400,000 in 1908.

The increase in the population of the five largest Dutch Communes in 1900 and 1907, is as follows:

Population Change - 5 Largest Dutch Communites
Community Population
January 1, 1900 January 1, 1907 Percent Increase
Amsterdam 510,853 564,186 10.4%
Rotterdam 318,507 390,364 25.7%
The Hague 206,022 248,995 20.8%
Utrecht 102,086 114,692 12.3%
Groningen 66,537 73,278 10. %

Between 1850 and 1907 Rotterdam's percentage share in the increase in the population for the whole country (The Netherlands) has grown from 6.4 to 14.0 per cent. and the percentage of the population of Rotterdam to that of the whole country has increased from 3.2 to 6.9 per cent.

To show how water transportation dominates the situation, it is said that the railroads handle but ten and the rivers and canals 90 percent of the commerce at Rotterdam.

Since 1870 the City of Rotterdam alone has spent over $20,000,000 upon her harbor system, and $9,000,000 upon the new ship canal to the North Sea, making a total investment of about $30,000,000.

The harbor system of Rotterdam is under the control of the "Municipal Board of Works"; a select committee of six Common Council men. with an Alderman as Chairman. The principal adviser of this Board is the "Director of the Municipal Works", who has as a permanent official staff, a deputy-director, two assistant managers, three engineerarchitects, thirteen chief-surveyors, fourteen surveyors and architectural designers, and a temporary staff of five engineers, one architect, three chief-surveyors, and two hundred and thirty surveyors, designers, assistant-surveyors, and foremen. Under this staff there are regularly employed about 1,550 laborers. This department is managed no differently from the other municipal departments, for the Director of the MunicipalWorks, in addition to his duties in connection with the great dock system, has charge of the water, gas, and electrical works, the municipal telephone, and the abattoir.

Interesting View in Rotterdam Harbour.

Interesting View in Rotterdam Harbour.

Interesting View in Heart of Rotterdam.

Interesting View in Heart of Rotterdam.

The Canals in Rotterdam

The Canals in Rotterdam
Serve the dwellings as much as the city streets.

Interesting View in the Heart of Rotterdam.

Interesting View in the Heart of Rotterdam.

Frederick L. Ford, "The Port of Rotterdam." In Part II: A Study of Some Representative European Ports in the Summer of 1909, Report of Connecticut Rivers and Harbors Commission to the General Assembly, Hartford: State of Connecticut, 1911, P. 53-60

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