Industrial Revolution: Steamboats--River Boats

Figure 1.--Here we see boys playing with toy boats on the river's edge as a steamboat passes Rising Sun, Indiana, in 1919. This is a town on the Ohio River across from Kenticky.

Steam power changed the world, facilitating travel and trade. This begun with domestic commerce. Steamboats rapidly improved and became a amainstay in riverine waters before being widely used for ocean trade. This was especially true for the all important Mississippi River. Until the steamboat, rafters carrying goods down the Mississipi, but had to walk home. (A young Abraham Lincoln was one and he saw slavery along the way.) The Mississipi and its tributaries were one way highways. The steamboat made them two way highways, a huge contributor to the economic development of the United States. The stemboats enabled the South to effectively trade with the West quicker and more effectively. Before the steamboat there was trade with the Northeast by oceanshipping--sailboats. Trade with the West (what we now call the Midwest) was much more difficult. The Midwest could send goods south, but the South could not send goods north. The steamboat revolutionized the American economy by changing the way that river travel was conducted. It also opened up opportunities for canal trade. The first steamboat was introduced to the Mississippi (1811). The boat was the paddle wheel steamer 'New Orleans'. It was built in Pittsburg and sailed doen the Ohio and Mississippi tiver to New Orleans. The Riverboats are most strongly associated with the South, but the South did not have the industry needed to build them. Upon arriving in New Orleans, Captain Roosevelt invited the public to come aboard his boat for an excursion down the river and back. By 1830, there were 200 such steamers on the Mississippi, and 10 years later in 1840, the numbers had increased to over 500 boats. No where else in the world was there anything like the intensive steamboat activity and in an area that was just a few decades from wildreness. There were both stern wheelers and side wheelers. The South got rich on exports of cotton the steamboats carried to New Orleans. They also caried southern products north to the growing industrial cities of the Midwest. The North also benefittd bringing both agricultural and manufactured goods south. The steamboats riverine trade for most of the 19th century. This only ended when railroads began to offer even more efficient cargo transport by the end of the century. Steamboats not only moved goods, but provided luxury accomodations and entertainment. Steamboats also spread ideas and culture. They took New Orleans jazz from Storyville to the North. Samuel Clemments got his nickname from the riverboats. Anbd his experiences led the Huckleberry Finn--the greatest American novel. The most famous and colorful steamboat commander of was Captain P. T. Leathers. He built the racer Natchez which conducted the most famous race of the steanboat era with the Robert E. Lee. There were also epic disasters. [Lloyd] And as important as the riverboats were to the economy of the South, a part of the river boat story is how the U.S. Navy during the Civil War used them to seize control of the Mississippi and sever the eastern Confederacy from western Confederacy. This was an important part of Federal naval operations.


Lloyd, James T. Lloyd’s Steamboat Directory, and Disasters on the Western Waters (1856).,


Navigate the Children in History Website:
[Return to Main steamboat page]
[Return to Main tranprtation mode page]
[Return to Main industrial revolution page]
[Return to Main specific war and crisis page]
[About Us]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Freedom] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Ideology] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]

Created: 1:38 AM 3/16/2018
Last updated: 1:38 AM 3/16/2018