steamboat was as beautiful as a wedding cake
Rafts and canoes used by Native Americans and early French explorers were greatly improved throughout the 1700s. Flatboats moved grains, livestock, and lumber to New Orleans' markets. But there the boats were sold for firewood, leaving the men to walk or ride home by land!
The next step in river transportation was the keelboat that floated south but could also return north because of its V-shaped hull slicing through the water's current. Gangs of keelboatmen planted long poles in the river bottom and walked along the cleated deck. Reaching the stern, they would pull up the poles, return to the bow, and start over again. These labor-intensive return trips, however, often took three months or more.
Four years after the invention of the steamboat by Robert Fulton, the sidewheeler New Orleans steamed down the Ohio River to the Mississippi arriving at the exact moment of the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811! For days, the boat was tossed in a maelstrom of falling trees, geysers and rushing channels. Finally at Natchez, Mississippi, the river calmed and the New Orleans survived its maiden voyage.
The speed of steam travel
soon appealed to travelers. In 1817, it took 25 days to go upriver by
steamboat, but by 1827, only ten days! Later riverboats and showboats
became richly decorated floating places designed for the comfort of
up to 1,600 passengers. With their roaring engines, belching smokestacks,
splashing paddlewheels, and distinctive whistles, the boats were an
awesome power on the river. Dangers awaited, however, from cargo fires
and boiler explosions to hitting underwater snags or shallow sandbars,
and the constantly changing Mississippi kept steamboat pilots on their