The Steamboat Era

A History of Fulton’s Folly on American Rivers, 1807–1860


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About the Book

The steamboat evokes images of leisurely travel, genteel gambling, and lively commerce, but behind the romanticized view is an engineering marvel that led the way for the steam locomotive. From the steamboat’s development by Robert Fulton to the dawn of the Civil War, the new mode of transportation opened up America’s frontiers and created new trade routes and economic centers.
Firsthand accounts of steamboat accidents, races, business records and river improvements are collected here to reveal the culture and economy of the early to mid–1800s, as well as the daily routines of crew and passengers. A glossary of steamboat terms and a collection of contemporary accounts of accidents round out this history of the riverboat era.

About the Author(s)

S.L. Kotar of St. Louis has been writing (together with J.E. Gessler) for more than four decades, beginning with scripts for television’s Gunsmoke.
The late J.E. Gessler lived in St. Louis.

Bibliographic Details

S.L. Kotar and J.E. Gessler
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 307
Bibliographic Info: 26 photos, glossary, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2020 [2009]
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8368-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vi
Preface      1

1. The “Invention of the Devil”      5
2. Keelboats and Barges: The “Arks” of the New World      16
3. Onward to the “Father of Waters”: The Fulton-Livingston Patent      22
4. The Meschasipi—Or Is That the “Mississipi”?      29
5. “St. Looy” and the Upper Mississippi      41
6. A World Unto Their Own: The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers      58
7. Navigating the Inland Western Waterways      72
8. The Trades and the Trade-Offs      77
9. Economic Conditions During the Steamboat Era      88
10. Making Money on the Rivers      100
11. Man Overboard! Steamboat Disasters on Western Waterways      116
12. The Steamboat Race Is On!      137
13. The Development of Steamboat Crews      145
14. Deckhands: A Distinctive Class of Casual Workers      167
15. Steamboat Gothic: The Florid and the Ornate      177
16. “My satisfaction was complete”: First-Class Passengers      186
17. Steamboat Diversions      197
18. “Just the bar’ necessities, ma’am”      206
19. The Nameless Masses: Deck Passengers      217
20. An International Incident      223
21. Potions, Purging and Practitioners      230
22. (In)Famous Steamboat Cities      245
23. The Roaring ’50s: The Railroads Come Calling      259

Appendix A: Glossary      265
Appendix B: Original Accounts of Steamboat Disasters      277
Chapter Notes      289
Bibliography      293
Index      297

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Colorful, anecdotal, and interesting…recommended”—Choice
  • “Fascinating details…the book is a good one and well worth owning”—SpeedReaders