By: Jacob, Sara Kalaf, Thomas, and Andrew Branca

Why are steamboats so popular?

The Mississippi River: A 2,700 mile long body of water that slices through 41% of American states, spewing 593,000 cubic feet of liquid per second into the Gulf of Mexico. Once an insurmountable obstacle, the invention of the steamboat renders it conquerable. This steam powered craft with its iconic paddles remains just as popular today as it was when it was first invented.

First Introductions to The Mississippi

Robert Fulton is credited with bringing about the success of the steamboat even though he himself did not invent it. This credit goes to Scottish ship builders in 1801. It is in this sense that Fulton acts as a Christopher Columbus-like figure by the fact that he actually made the idea known on a broad scale to the public. The first commercially available steamboat on the Mississippi River was under his jurisdiction with the name Clermont. This vessel was first launched in 1811, and was an instant success.
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The Golden Age of Steamboats

This success of the Clermont eventually caused many other shipbuilders to build successful models of the steamboat themselves. Besides Fulton's ship, there were three other steamboats that made themselves apparent on the waters of the Mississippi between the years of 1811-1814. To describe this explosion of the steamboats, it must be noted that in the 1810's there were approximately 20 of these ships on the Mississippi River, whereas in the 1830's, there were around 1,200 of them.

It was because of this new quicker mode of transportation that introduced new ideas and cultures to cities, such as New Orleans, along the Mississippi. The art of steamboat building also attracted a larger population of people to the city of the New Orleans that worked in factories that built these soon to be luxuries.

Historical Steamboats

Innovative Effects

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The Ending of the Steamboat Era

The end of the “Steamboat Era” came about primarily due to the Great Depression, which made it very difficult for steamboat owners to stay in business, and left much of the population unable to have enough money to board such a ship. The advanced ship manufacturing methods other than steamboats, and the rise in popularity of diesel tugboats, also contributed to the now nostalgic idea of riding a steamboat.

Another fact on this matter was that steamboats were proven to be much more dangerous than other, more modern forms of transportation. In the first forty years of large steamboat manufacturing, there were around 4,000 fatalities due to boiler explosions during the voyages of these ships. While efforts were made to improve the safety of these steamboats, they came too late to beat the new diesel tugboats, trains, and cars that had taken America by storm.

Steamboats Today

One of New Orleans most famous steamboats still sails today, the Natchez. The Natchez has had 9 different incarnations since its first in 1823. The most recent has been in operation since 1975. The Natchez I once carried Marquis de Lafayette, the most important French figure in the American Revolutionary War, whilst the Natchez VI was the ship that transported Jefferson Davis from his river plantation on the Mississippi River after he heard that he was chosen as president for the Confederacy.

While, today, the steamboat is not considered a practical mode of transportation the technology for such ships has evolved immensely over the years. In certain nuclear powered steamboats, a nuclear reactor heats water to create steam to run the ship’s turbines. Genuine steamboats are mainly used today from charters up the Mississippi River, to four-course meals on the Savannah River. The 19th century decor in most steamboat excursions today draws maritime enthusiasts and history buffs alike due to its historic beauty that is so well replicated today. But in its essence, all of these ships are still Steamboats at heart, and they will never fade from the grand history of Mississippi culture.

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