Coal Burnt Rivers: A History Of Steamboat Travel In The 1800s

1354 words - 6 pages

The early years of the 1800s brought a multitude of major advances in travel across America. This great revolution in American transportation can be included in a much larger movement taking place during the same time period: The Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution is credited for countless major changes in human technology around the civilized world, including the way people and items got around. During this sweeping change, all previous methods of mobility were improved drastically beyond their current capabilities, upgrading travel on both land and water. However, water travel, which was widely considered faster and more efficient than land travel, was able to maintain its ...view middle of the document...

That all changed with the introduction of steam powered boats in the late 1700s and early 1800s.” The same military website noted a fine example of steam power improving lives: farmers, who often had to transport their goods south, used unpowered keelboats to move animals and crops, which often resulted in long, tedious trips. In fact, many farmers decided to abandon their simple boats, and retreat back to their farms on land. The innovation of steamboats allowed farmers to sell their crops and return to their farms in a timely manner. Separately, the power of a steamboat’s engine alone was a major factor in its speed, allowing steamboats to free themselves from being forced to rely on the current. As reported by a website created by the University of Virginia, Robert Fulton, who is often credited as the inventor of the steamboat, used a steam engine to propel a boat known as The Clermont from New York, NY to Albany, NY. This 300 mile round trip took a total of 62 hours, giving the Clermont a final speed of about five miles per hour, a record at the time (Davidson, Castillo, Stoff 305). Clearly, the preferable speed of steamboats was a great factor in both their efficiency and success.
Another reason steamboats were able to have the most significant impact on travel in the early 1800s was the fact that those who owned steam powered vessels made the greatest profits of any transportation operator at the time. One of the few ways steamboats made profits was by moving people from one shore to another. As mentioned by the military website that has been cited on several occasions thus far, Robert Fulton’s steamboat, the Clermont, sometimes carried as many as one hundred passengers per trip. As a result of passenger boats’ incline in popularity, some steamers began to dedicate their services entirely to carrying people. For example, “The General Pike, built in 1818, was the first steamer in the West constructed for passenger service alone” (Ward 80). According to a table regarding freight and passenger revenues for a group of western steamboats during the pre-Civil War era, a steamboat titled the Will S. Hays made $28,840 per year by transporting passengers, which accounted for 30% of its total revenue (Hunter 663). The other factor in the vast profitability of steamboats was included in the income from carrying cargo. As mentioned in the same appendix table, the steamboat Will S. Hays held a noble freight revenue of $64,397, making up 70% of its total annually (Hunter 663). Additionally, steamboats were quite cheap to operate in comparison to their annual income. While a freight steamer traveling from Pittsburgh to St. Louis was capable of making an annual revenue of approximately $64,276, the same boat in 1836 may have cost between $16,200 and $25,200 each season, depending on how much freight the boat was carrying (Hunter 658 663). When compared to the expenses, the annual revenue was still considered terrific, further proving the profitability of...

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