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Adam Isaac Kane, B.A. Millersville
Chair of Advisory Committee: Dr. Kevin J. Crisman
The first steamboat on the
western rivers was built by Robert Fulton in 1811.
In the next decade many steamboats followed, but these vessels were not
well-adapted to the shallow and shift rivers. Typically these steamboats had
deep-drafted, stoutly constructed hulls, heavy low-pressure considering engines,
and many other features akin to ocean-going watercraft.
In the 1820s, shipwrights began to adapt steamboat hull form and
machinery to the river conditions. By
the close of this decade the high-pressure engine was universally adopted
for use on western steamboats because of its power, light weight, low cost, and
ease of repair. Advancements in
propulsion machinery were paralleled by the construction of shallow,
flat-bottomed hulls and multiple decks rising high above the waterline.
In the late 1830s or early 1840s, the construction of steamboats was
materially advanced with the invention of hogging chins.
These long iron rods prevented steamboat hull from hogging or sagging,
thereby allowing shipwrights to build vessels with lighter timbers, further
reducing vessel draft.
The first section of this thesis introduces the reader to the subject and outlines the sources consulted forth this study, while Sections II and III present the historic context necessary for understanding the western river steamboat’s historic importance. Sections IV through VI contain a detailed analysis of steamboat structure and machinery divided into chronological periods. Conclusions are presented in Section VII. Appendices include a table quantifying steamboat construction on western rivers and a table of measurements from steamboats that plied the Ohio River in 1850.