Steamboats 1811-29


Built: 1811, Pittsburgh, Ohio.
Type: Sidewheel, wooden hull.
Size: 116 ft long, 20 ft beam, 371 tons
Engine: Cylinder 34 inch diameter
Cost: $38,000

The beginning of steamboating on the Western rivers dates to 1811 when Nicholas Roosevelt, great granduncle of Theodore Roosevelt, piloted a Fulton built steamboat, the NEW ORLEANS from Pittsburgh to New Orleans.

The trip began on October 20, 1811, when the boat left Pittsburgh. It arrived at Louisville, Kentucky, on October 29, 1811, where Roosevelt’s wife, Lydia (Latrobe), gave birth to their son, Henry. Roosevelt remained in Louisville for the next five weeks then resumed his journey on December 8, passing over the Falls of the Ohio and continuing downstream to Shippingport, Kentucky, and Yellow Bank, Indiana (December 14). While at this latter place they experienced the first shocks of the New Madrid earthquake (December 16) and continued downstream to Henderson, Kentucky, to see John and Lucy Audubon and survey earthquake damage.

The boat reached the Mississippi on December 18 and passed New Madrid, Point Pleasant and Little Prairie (the epicenter of the quakes) on December 19. On December 22 they spent the night near the mouth of the St. Francis where they learned about the disappearance of Big Prairie from John Bradbury’s party, which was also descending the river at this time. They arrived in Natchez, Mississippi on December 30, and New Orleans on January 10, 1812. The NEW ORLEANS continued in service on the lower Mississippi River between New Orleans and Natchez until 1814 when she was sunk by a snag.


Built: 1816, Wheeling, Virginia.
Type: Sternwheel, wooden hull.
Size: 136′ x 28′?. Alterations to her dimensions and tonnage were made in 1820, in Louisville, after which she was: 136′ 8″ x 21′ 9″ x 6′ 8″, 211 tons.
Engine: 24″ cylinder diameter, 6′ stroke. High pressure.

Boilers: Four boilers, with flues.

Engines and boilers were made by T. Sweeny Foundry in Brownsville, under the direction of Captain Shreve. The engine was of a simpler design than earlier used, with fewer moving parts.  It was positioned horizontally instead of vertically, weighed much less than the older engine designs and could produce around 100 horsepower. Shreve abandoned the bulky condenser and exhausted the spent steam into the atmosphere, reasoning that there was no need to re-use fresh-water when the river could supply it, and that there was plenty of labor to clean muddied boilers.

Built for Captain Henry M. Shreve and four partners; Niles Gillespie, Robert Clark, both of Brownsville, Pa., and Noah Zane and George White of Wheeling, W. Virginia. In 1820, she was owned by William and David Fowler of New Orleans, James Gray of Louiville, Kentucky, H.W. Conway of Arkansas, William Taylor of Baltimore, Maryland and Capt. Henry M. Shreve.

The design of the WASHINGTON would set the pattern for all future steamboats, with a shallow hull, horizontal boilers on the main deck, passenger cabins on the second deck, twin smokestacks and a pilot house. Shreve named his passenger cabins after states of the union, calling them staterooms.

Although Robert Fulton is usually given credit for the development of western steamboats, Shreve worked out the structural and mechanical modifications necessary to make the steamboat a success on the western rivers. Shreve was also instrumental in breaking the Fulton-Livingston monopoly on the Mississippi.

In September, 1816, the WASHINGTON crossed the falls of the Ohio, commanded by Captain Shreve, navigated to New Orleans and returned to Louisville in the winter.

In March, 1817, she left Shippingport a second time, running to New Orleans and back to Shippingport in 45 days, adding greatly to her reputation as the fastest steamboat on the western rivers. (In 1817, there were 17 steamboats on the Mississippi, increasing to 187 steamboats by 1830. Source:~ The American Past: A Survey of American History, By Joseph R. Conlin.)

On May 6, 1817, a Tuesday, the Louisiana Gazette reported: “The steamboat Washington, commanded by the indefatigable Captain H. M. Shreve, arrived at the levee last Saturday night, only seven days from the Falls of the Ohio, but six of which she was under way. The Washington made the trip up in twenty-four days, so that in going and coming we was thirty-one days in running 3,000 miles.”

On April 26, 1817, a Louisville paper recorded that: “The citizens gave Captain Shreve a grand dinner on Wednesday at the Union Hall, in honor of the quick trip he made with the steamboat Washington, from New Orleans to this port, in the unprecedented time of twenty-four days.”

In 1821 she went up the Missouri River as far as Franklin. She ran until 1831 when she was destroyed by fire in New Orleans.

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Shreve’s Washington was a stern-wheel flatboat powered by steam. He put the engine on the main deck and built another deck above it to carry the boilers. He abandoned the space-consuming condenser and exhausted the engine into the atmosphere. Labor was plentiful for the all too frequent job of cleaning mud from the boilers. He laid the two cylinders horizontal and made them stationary instead of oscillating as in French’s engine. Shreve transmitted the power to the cranks with crossheads and connecting rods. The cranks were at right angles to one another so that the engine could not stick on dead center. The cylinders were 24 inches in diameter and the pistons had a 6-foot stroke. The four boilers also were horizontal, and like Oliver Evans, his contemporary, Shreve put flues in his boilers and operated them well above atmospheric pressure.

He risked explosions; in fact he had a severe one off Marietta, Ohio, on the first trip when the weight on the safety valve slid by accident to the end of the lever. Eight persons were killed outright and six fatally injured; Shreve himself was blown overboard and badly hurt, but he repaired the damage to the vessel and stubbornly retained high pressure, for he must have power and speed. As he thus rejected one of James Watt’s ideas, Henry Shreve was adopting another whether he knew it or not; he installed a valve operated by a cam to shut off the steam early in the cylce. This arrangement took advantage of the expansive force of the steam within the cylinders, and the device saved much fuel.

Niles’ Weekly Register carried on Saturday, July 20, 1816, a special item from St. Clairsville, Ohio, dated June 6, commenting upon Captain Shreve’s steamboat. Gentlemen from New York said that its accommodations were better than any on the North River. Its main cabin extended 60 feet; it had three private rooms and a commodious bar. Its 100 horse-power was applied upon “an entirely new principle, exceedingly simple and light.” There was no “balance wheel.” The whole engine (the “invention of Captain Shreve”) weighed “only nine thousand pounds.”

Accounts vary as to whether the Washington had side wheels or a sternwheel. The Liberty Hall and Cincinnati Gazette of September 23, 1816, observed, as the vessel was passing on the way to Louisville after it had been repaired, that there was “a single wheel placed at the stern..” Pictures and other descriptions indicate that the Washington of 1816 had side paddle wheels, but these descriptions are all dated some years later when side-wheelers were prevalent and the Washington was no longer on the river. Henry Shreve’s new George Washington, built at Cincinnati in 1824, was a side-wheeler. Its paddle wheels were connected separately to its engines so that one could be reversed while the other was going forward, and the vessel could be tumed in less space than a stern-wheeler.

If ever an engineer accomplished his purpose, Henry Shreve did- and at once. The Washington demonstrated the superiority of its shallow draught and higher speed on its trip down the Ohio and the Mississippi to New Orleans in September, 1816. Shreve made the round trip between Louisville and New Orleans during the following spring in 41 days. He came upstream in 14 days, running over the rapids of the Ohio in nominal water. The toastmaster at the dinner in his honor predicted that some would live to see this upstream trip done in ten days. As a matter of fact, before the railroad came and the Civil War, the voyage from New Orleans to Louisville had been made in less than five.
Credit: ~ Engineering in History, by Richard Shelton Kirby.


Built: 1818, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Type: Sidewheel, wooden hull.
Size: 93-100 tons.
Engine: Low pressure. Walking beam engine.

The MAID of ORLEANS was an eastern-built steamboat that voyaged from Philadelpia to New Olreans. She was the first steamer to reach St. Louis from an Altantic port.* Designed for both sea and river navigation, and equipped with sails and steam-power, she arrived in New Orleans shooner-rigged. Her two masts were removed sometime later. Owned by a New Orleans company, she ascended the river to St. Louis and worked in the New Orleans-St. Louis trade. She is depicted with a walking-beam engine, bowsprit, transom stern, and cabins below the main deck. She had a low-pressure condensing engine with a copper boiler, which exploded on the Savannah River, killing six persons. The location of her demise in Georgia supports that she was indeed built for both river and sea navigation.

The hand-written notes on this drawing read: ‘Steamboat Maid of Orleans on the Mississippi River Going to St. Louis’, ‘Voyagers } Fleury Generelly, ? Generelly, Lovely Generelly, Edward Generelly’.

The name Fleury Generelly is stamped above, and in the upper right of the artwork a badge indicates that the year is 1820. Fleury Theotime Generelly, a man, was a painter, decorator, designer and engraver. He was born in Lyon, France, on 31 December 1779, and he died in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1849. The artwork, by Fleury Generelly, commemorates a journey from New Orleans to St. Louis made by Generelly and his family in 1820.

History records that she ended her days when her copper boilers exploded on the Savannah River, killing six persons, sometime after May 21, 1825. The location of her demise in Georgia supports that she was indeed built for both river and sea navigation.

* The first steamboat to reach St. Louis was the ZEBULON M. PIKE, on August 2nd, 1817, after a six week trip from Louisville.


Built: 1818-19, United States Arsenal, Pittsburgh, Ohio.
Type: Sternwheel, wooden hull.
Size: 75′ x 13′, 30 tons, draft 19″ unloaded, 30″ loaded.
 High pressure (working pressure 96 pounds per square inch, on occasion raised to 128 pounds), located below deck.
Boilers: Three boilers, each 20″ diameter by 15 ft long, located below deck.

One of the most unique early steamboats, the WESTERN ENGINEER was built at Pittsburgh in 1818-19 under the supervision of Major Stephen H. Long of the U.S. Topographical Engineers, for the scientific portion of the “Yellowstone Expedition”. She was launched on March 28, 1819, and christened in honor of the engineering corps and her ultimate destination.

A week earlier on March 18th, 1819, Secretary of War John G. Calhoun had given the expedition orders to Major Stephen H. Long, Topographical Engineer:

“You will assume the command of the expedition to explore the country between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains. You will first explore the Missouri and its principle branches and then in succession Red River, Arkansas and Mississippi above the mouth of the Missouri…The object of the expedition is to acquire as thorough and accurate knowledge as may be practicable of a portion of our country which is daily becoming more interesting but which is yet but imperfectly known. With this in view you will permit nothing worthy of notice to escape your attention…”

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Eye-witnesses declared she “embraced the watery element in the most graceful manner, under a national salute.” She was a dingy looking craft, measuring only thirty tons and drawing but nineteen inches of water light. Her equipment was calculated to strike terror in the hearts of the Indians. In form she resembled a black, scaly serpent, rising out of the water, with waste steam escaping from her sculptured figurehead.

A mineralogist, a botanist, a geographer, and a painter, together with a considerable force of troops were aboard with Major Stephen H. Long when the boat steamed down the Ohio from Pittsburgh on May 5, 1819. The diminutive craft had no difficulty in descending the Falls of the Ohio; and she reached St. Louis on June 9th, thirty-six days after her departure from Pittsburgh. The Western Engineer, according to a St. Louis account of her arrival, anchored at the upper end of the town.

[A letter dated June 19, 1819, from St. Louis, ten days after the boats arrival there, further describes this unusual craft:

“The bow of this vessel exhibits the form of a huge serpent, black and scaly, rising out of the water from under the boat, his head as high as the deck,darted forward, his mouth open, vomiting smoke, and apparently carrying the boat on his back. From under the boat at its stern issues a stream of foaming water, dashing violently along. All the machinery is hid. Three small brass field pieces mounted on wheel carriages stand on the deck. The boat is ascending the rapid stream at the rate of three miles an hour. Neither wind nor human hands are seen to help her, and, to the eye of ignorance, the illusion is complete, that a monster of the deep carries her on his back, smoking with fatigue, and lashing the waves with violent exertion. Her equipments are at once calculated to attract and to awe the savages. Objects pleasing and terrifying are at once placed before him–artillery, the flag of the Republic, portraits of the white man and the Indian shaking hands, the calumet of peace, a sword, then the apparent monster with a painted vessel on his back, the sides gaping with portholes and bristling with guns. Taken altogether, and without intelligence of her composition and design, it would require a daring savage to approach and accost her.”]

The boat left St. Louis on June 21st and entered the mouth of the Missouri the following morning. In ascending to Fort Bellefontaine, a distance of four miles, she twice grounded on sandbars and had difficulty in getting afloat. Retarded by the strong current, impeded by sandbars and rafts of driftwood, the valves of her crude engine worn by the fine sand which hung suspended in the yellow, turgid Missouri, the Western Engineer toiled past Charbonniere, St. Charles, Cote sans Dessein, and on to Franklin. At Franklin the Indians recoiled in horror at the “monster of the deep” that smoked with fatigue and lashed the waves with violent exertion. Said one red man: “White man bad man, keep a great spirit chained and build fire under it to make it work a boat”.

Leaving Franklin the Western Engineer churned past Chariton, Fort Osage, and on to the mouth of the “Konzas” River where Kansas City now stands. Nearby they found a party of “abandoned and worthless” white hunters whose deportment and dress appeared to surpass in uncouthness those of the rudest savages living in the vicinity.

Puffing bravely up the sandbar-studded Missouri, the boat glided past Cow Island and the Nodaway River. She reached the mouth of Wolf River on September lst. Here some hunters were sent ashore and returned with a “deer, a turkey, and three swarms of bees.” Three days later many large catfish were caught, some of them weighing as much as fifty pounds. Finally, on September 17, 1819, the Western Engineer arrived at Fort Lisa, a trading post of the Missouri Fur Company located on the west bank of the Missouri a few miles above present-day Omaha. Here she went into winter quarters at a point which was designated as Engineer Cantonment -having ascended the Missouri farther than any other steamboat.
Credit: ~ Steamboating on the Upper Mississippi, by William J. Petersen.

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The Western Engineer was fitted out especially to overawe the Indians. On her bow, running from the keel forward, was an escape pipe made in imitation of a huge serpent, painted black, and the mouth and tongue painted a fiery red.

The steam escaped from the mouth of the sea serpent, puffed and groaned like a powerful monster in great agony. The terrible noise could be heard for many miles, and when the Indians saw this they thought the judgment day was at hand. It is believed that the Western Engineer had more to do with quelling the Indians than all the shots and shells ever used against them. They were told that the great white father in Washington had sent a sea serpent to swallow them if they were not good.
Credit: ~ Orral Messmore Rubidoux.

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The high-pressure engine had one improvement that was subsequently incorporated on all later western river steamboats. “By … use of the cut off cam … the steam is made to act with its full (or boiler) force through about five-eights of every stroke of the piston; and by its inherent or expansive force only, through the residue of the stroke, thus nearly doubling the efficiency of the steam power, in comparison with that previously employed in western river boats.” Western Engineer was powered by three cylindrical boilers 15 feet long and 20 inches in diameter. They carried a working pressure of 96 pounds per square inch, which was raised on occasion to 128 pounds.

Although Western Engineer may have been designed for steaming on the shallow waters of the Missouri River, it had little in common with the mountain boats that would eventually make that run with regularity. One depiction shows the stern wheel clearly recessed into the lines of the hull. The machinery, both boilers and engines, are located below the deck. The sketch also indicates that there were cabins below deck and that a covered quarterdeck extended along the aft third of the vessel. The steamboat was also equipped with a mast and sail, a necessity given how far it was traveling from repair facilities.
Credit: ~ The Western River Steamboat, by Adam I. Kane.

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On 4 May 1819, Long and a party of soldiers and scientists left Pittsburgh in an unusual shallow-draft steamboat, The Western Engineer. Designed by the explorer himself, it was the prototype of the western sternwheeler and the first steamboat to ascend the Missouri as far as the mouth of the Platte. The twenty-four man crew included zoologist Thomas Say, naturalist Titian Peale, artist Samuel Seymour, and two young topographical engineers from West Point. Long’s botanist, William Baldwin, died en route and was replaced by surgeon and scientist Edwin James, the chronicler of the expedition.

After a disastrous winter of fever and scurvy near present-day Omaha, the War Department aborted the Yellowstone expedition, but Long’s party soon reorganized for an overland expedition to the headwaters of the Red River of the South, a vaguely understood international boundary line. On 6 June 1820, Long headed west with twenty-one men. Following the Platte to the base of the Rocky Mountains, the explorers sighted a jagged summit, naming it Long’s Peak. Turning south, they stopped to scale Pike’s Peak (renaming it James’s Peak) then moved along the base of the mountains across arid grasslands, and down the Canadian River to the Arkansas River and Fort Smith. The expedition had crossed from what is now Nebraska to the Colorado Rockies then back through Kansas, the Texas Panhandle, and Oklahoma. Echoing the explorer Zebulon Pike, whose 1810 report had called the region a desert, Long characterized the Great Plains as a sandy wasteland “almost wholly unfit for cultivation and, of course, uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture for their subsistence”. Long’s map labeled the region “Great Desert,” which later became “Great American Desert” in a popular atlas. Treeless and cut off from navigable rivers, the arid country, said Long, was valuable to the United States only as “a barrier” to contain settlement and discourage a foreign invasion.

Historians disagree over the value of Long’s contribution. Fur trade historian Hiram M.Chittenden called the Long expedition “an unqualified failure” while others have criticized the explorer for reviving the “myth” of the western desert that deterred western migration. Long’s many defenders, however, say the explorer was true to a conceptual science that worked backward from theories to facts. Long expected to find a desert. He assumed, rightly perhaps, that an arid region far from the Mississippi-Missouri system would be difficult to farm and defend. Although the expedition failed to survey the headwaters of any major river, Long produced an important map that was the first to delineate the Arkansas-Canadian system. The expedition also brought back samples and at least 270 drawings of indigenous alpine flora, new species of wolf and coyote, fossils, insects, and what the North American Review generally considered “highly important additions” to geography and natural history.
Credit: ~ The History of Science in the United States: An Encyclopedia.

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The Scientific Expedition not only marked the first entry of American scientists and artists into the West, it was also the first time steam-powered transportation became part of exploration strategy. …The Western Engineer, Long’s flagship, was an extraordinary sight as it left Pittsburgh bound for St Louis. The stem-mounted paddle wheels were dubbed “Monroe” and “Calhoun,” paying tribute, as Long said, to “the two propelling powers of the expedition.” But the vessel’s most astounding feature was an elaborately carved dragon that served as both figurehead and steam exhaust. One bemused observer wrote, “the bow of this vessel exhibits the form of a huge serpent, black and scaly, rising out of the water from under the boat as high as the deck, darting forward, his mouth open, vomiting smoke, and apparently carrying the boat on his back”.

For all Long’s engineering expertise, he was not an especially skilled expedition planner. From the beginning his Corps of Discovery was dogged by a host of troubles. The Western Engineer proved unreliable, underpowered, and uncomfortable.

[Note: Five other steamboats had been requisitioned from a St. Louis contractor to partake in the expedition, but only three were made available in time for the voyage, the Thomas Jefferson, the R. M. Johnson, and the Expedition. These boats headed up the Missouri with the Western Engineer, which was the only boat with sufficient power to ascend, albeit slowly. The Thomas Jefferson was sunk by snags at the mouth of the Osage River, becoming the first wrecked steamboat on the Missouri.]

Long and Major Thomas Biddle, the expedition’s official record keeper, were so deeply at odds that Biddle challenged Long to a duel. More serious was Dr Baldwin’s declining health and eventual resignation. Baldwin left the party in July, 1819 and died the following month. By the time Long and his fellow explorers reached their base camp “Engineer Cantonment” at Council Bluffs, twenty miles above present-day Omaha, it was plain that the enterprise was badly in need of additional personnel, fresh funds, and a clearer sense of its mission.

In early 1820 Long returned to Washington for urgent meetings with Calhoun. Persuaded that the expedition might still be of some use, Calhoun authorized new funding and additional recruits. …Most important, Long was given new exploration instructions – directions reflecting the expectation that science and empire were partners. The recent Adams-Onis Treaty (1819) between the United States and Spain attempted to establish the border between Louisiana and Spanish possessions by using the Arkansas and Red – rivers that had proved puzzling to many explorers. Long was directed to trace the Platte River to its source, then turn south to explore and map the Red and the Arkansas. The expedition was to complete its journey at Fort Smith. Arkansas. To make this an effective scientific venture, Long added Dr Edwin James and Capt. John R. Bell to the corps of explorers.

For all Long’s aspirations to be a serious explorer, his expedition was poorly planned and woefully undersupplied. The party had just six extra horses, only a handful of Indian trade goods, and an inadequate number of boxes for scientific samples. With only one month’s provisions, the travelers were hardly prepared for an extended western survey. Perhaps the greatest problem lay with bong himself and his own hazy conception of western geography. Conditioned by experience with navigable eastern rivers and gentle, green landscapes, Long found the West confusing and unsettling. What his eyes saw did not match what danced in his mind‘s eye. He mistook the Canadian River for the Red and was disconcerted by the land itself. Expedition journals were soon dotted with words like “sterile,” “barren”, and “arid.” …

The Long Expedition is often linked to the notion of the Great American Desert.
Long did place that term on his important 1823 map, prepared to accompany James’s official expedition account. (Convinced that much of the Great Plains was a barren land, Long told Calhoun that the region was “almost wholly unfit for cultivation, and of course uninhabitable by a people depending on agriculture for their subsistence”. American explorers had been using the word “desert” to describe parts of the West as early as 1805 but Long gave the idea an added emphasis.

Historical geographer Martyn I. Bowden suggests that the Great American Desert image never gained wide acceptance. What endured in the American imagination was the Jeffersonian garden. That was the image land speculators, real estate agents, and railroad promoters used effectively in the Euro-American settling of the Great Plains after the Civil War. But, in one important way, Long and James were right. Significant parts of the West could not sustain the kinds of agriculture practiced in lands east of the Mississippi. Acknowledging the West as a land of little rain, high wind, and blazing sun, Long and James foreshadowed some of the conclusions reached in John Wesley Powell‘s prophetic Report on the Lands of the Arid Region (1878). And farmers and ranchers dusted out in the 1930s and again in the 1950s certainly would have found in Long and James some vindication for what they saw blowing in the wind.
Credit: ~ A Companion to the American West, by William Francis Deverell.


Built: 1819, by William Parsons, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Type: Sidewheel, wooden hull.
Size: 355-376 tons.
Engine: Low pressure.

Running in the Louisville trade, the PARAGON was owned by William Noble and Robert Neilson, with Samuel Cummings master. Her accommodations were reportedly spacious and convenient, and were “finished in a style of neatness and elegance surpassed by few in the Eastern states.”

She was recorded lost in 1828, “worn out.”

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The performance level of the Paragon in the 1820s represents the best level of achievement at the end of the first decade of western steamboating. Built at Cincinnati in 1819 the Paragon (355 tons) was one of the largest and finest boats on the rivers. Within a year of her maiden voyage she had completed the trip from New Orleans to Louisville with full cargo in seven days and seven hours. She was owned at this time by one Louisville and two New Orleans merchants.
Credit: ~ Steamboats on the Western Rivers: An Economic and Techno- logical History, by Louis C. Hunter, Beatrice Jones Hunter.


Built: 1823.
Type: Sidewheel, wooden hull.
Size: Unknown.
Engine: Unknown.

Similar in design to the PARAGON, the CALEDONIA was possibly built by William Parsons, Cincinnati, Ohio, and may have operated in the same Lousiville trade.


Built: 1824-25, Cincinnati, Ohio.
Type: Sidewheel, wooden hull.
Size: 360-375 tons.
Engines: High pressure. Two separate.

In 1824, when Henry Shreve began building the GEORGE WASHINGTON, he made radical departures from his earlier designs.

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The side-wheel boats, preferable to the stern-wheelers in most respects, (which) were less flexible to steer; in order to turn, they had to describe a large circle. Shreve now proposed to connect each side wheel to one engine only- thus, one wheel would be able to go forward while the other went backward, and the boat could be turned in its own length. The boat would be almost flat of bottom, and have two more stories of cabins and decks than his other steamboats had. His boats needed to be roomier. He was going to provide a setback story of cabins, and the pilothouse would sit atop that.

Shreve’s associates argued that such a vessel would be so top heavy that it would sway from side to side, then turn over; and with each wheel connected to a different engine, the steering could not be controlled. Shreve showed mathematically that none of these misfortunes need be feared. The boat would float easily on the water, it would steer as if by magic. He wore down all opposition. The construction of the George Washington, at Cincinnati, proceeded.

As had happened when the Washington was building, river men and landlubbers came and saw and croaked a pessimistic chorus: the thing was preposterous; a Tower of Babel, cabin upon cabin. It was dubbed ‘Shreve’s Folly.’ To Shreve, his new boat was beautiful. It would sit the water like a swan with arched wings. It would be safe and fast; it could tum out alertly for driftwood or shoals. Its fittings would reach a new high mark of taste and comfort.

On the day set for it to sail a curious crowd gathered from near and far. A spectacular disaster had been prophesied. The sensation-hungry waited breathlessly for it. They were cheated; nothing untoward happened. The towering steamboat moved easily away and glided down the river. The spectators stared after its lofty structure as upon a miracle.

A description of the George Washington was written by W. Bullock, an Englishman, who traveled on it two years later while on his way home from Mexico by way of New Orleans:

‘On the third of April we left New Orleans in the beautiful steam-boat George Washington of 375 tons, built in Cincinnati, and certainly the finest fresh-water vessel I have ever seen. River boats, like these, possess the advantage of not having to contend with the ocean storms, as ours have, and are therefore built in a different manner, having three decks or stories above the water. The accomodations are much larger, and farther removed from the noise, heat and motion of the machinery; wood being the only fuel made use of, they are consequently not incommoded by the effects of dense smoke, so annoying in some of our steam vessels. The accomodations are excellent, and the cabins furnished in the most superb manner. None of the sleeping rooms have more than two beds. The principal are on the upper story, and a gallery and verandah extends entirely round the vessel, affording ample space for exercise, sheltered from the sun and rain, and commanding from its height, a fine view of the surrounding scenery, without being incommoded by the noise of the crew passing overhead. The meals served in these vessels are excellent, and served in superior style. The ladies have a separate cabin, with female attendants, and laundresses; there are, also, a circulating library, a smoking and drinking room for the gentlemen, with numerous offices for the servants &c. &c. They generally stop twice a day to take in wood for the engine, when fresh milk and other necessaries are procured and the passengers land for a short time. The voyage before the introduction of steam, was attended with much risk and labour, and occupied ninety days from New Orleans to Cincinnati, for small vessels, the same voyage (1600 miles) is now performed with the greatest ease and safety, in eleven or twelve days, against the stream, and the descent . . . is done in seven days; each vessel taking several hundred passengers besides her cargo of merchandise …. We paid 81. each from New Orleans to Louisville, (1500 miles) which includes every expense of living, servants &c …. The traveler is now enabled, without the least danger of fatigue, to traverse the otherwise almost impassable wilderness and wilds, that bound the western States of America, and this, without leaving his comfortable apartment, from the windows of which he can enjoy the constantly varying scenery, so new to European travelers.’

When Bullock made this voyage, the Valley steamboats were being modeled generally after the George Washington instead of the earlier Washington. All side paddle-wheels worked independently; all western boats sat nearly on top of the water. Shreve was quite undisturbed by imitation. He expected steamboat-builders to use the most practical design they could find. The Valley needed fast, capacious boats – its needs were his consuming interest.
Credit: ~ Master of the Mississippi: Henry Shreve and the Conquest of the Mississippi, by Florence L. Dorsey.


Built: 1826.
Type: Sidewheel, wooden hull.
Size: 174′ x 23′ x 9′, 242 tons. (In some articles 138′ long, 210 tons)
 18″ cylinder diameter, 6′ stroke. High pressure.
Boilers: Six boilers, each 36″ diameter by 18 ft long.

Owned by B. Hayden & Co. and Samuel and Joseph Perry of Cincinnati, the TECUMSEH was launched with her engines in working order and steam up. A New Orleans and Louisville packet, Capt. Abe Tyson was her master, and Joe Arthern was her Clerk.

Designed with a strengthened hull, her floor timbers were 6×8, six inches apart, with every forth timber double, while her forward frame was solid timber and her bottom planks were six inches thick to resist snags. There was a Ladie’s Cabin in the hold aft, and a Gentlemen’s Cabin on the deck forward.

In April, 1828, she made the run from New Orleans to Louisville in nine days and four hours, a new record. (Sometimes stated as eight days and two hours, possibly deducting time she was stopped by fog.) In 1817, the WASHINGTON had made this run in 24 days, and in 1843 the SULTANA ran it in just four days and twenty-two hours.

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The steam boat Tecumseh, arrived at Louisville from New Orleans in nine days and four hours, having lost one whole night and part of another, by fog – distance 1500 miles.
Credit: ~ Nile’s Weekly Register, Vol. 32, Page 151, by William Ogden Niles.

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The 138-foot steamboat Tecumseh, built in Cincinnati in 1826, respresents the transition from eastern-style steamer to the characteristic western riverboat design that took place from the 1820s to the 1840s. Although the Tecumseh still had a relatively deep hull with bowsprit and figurehead like a contemporary eastern boat, her superstructure and layout represent the western prototype introduced by Henry Shreve a few years before.
Credit: ~ America And The Sea: A Maritime History, by Benjamin Woods Labaree.