BY 1765 A BOAT YARD was started in Pittsburgh. Packhorse trains from Philadelphia brought hardware for the boats. Lumber came from the dense woods of Pittsburgh. Although there was still great danger from Indian attacks, boats traveled down the Ohio to sell goods along the way. By 1783, boat builders on the Monongahela River near the village of Elizabeth advertised boats of all sizes and provisions of all kinds including flour. Between 1792 and 1800, many large sail boats and two row galley boats were built along the Monongahela River and sailed down the Ohio, then into the Mississippi River and passed New Orleans for use on the Atlantic Ocean.

Boats traveling on the Ohio River before 1794 (before General Wayne's victory against the Indians) were in constant danger from both attacking Indians and river pirates. On the Ohio River near Shawneetown, Illinois, was a group of river pirates sheltered by an overhanging cliff. They could see both up and down stream but were concealed themselves. They terrorized travelers on the route between Pittsburgh to New Orleans.

What do you think of the river Pirates?

In 1810, news of a steamboat traveling on the Hudson River reached Pittsburgh. The idea of inventing steamboats had been around since George Washington was shown a model of one built by James Rumsey in 1784. At the same time, a man named John Fitch had been also working on a steamboat of a different design. These two first inventors raced each other to perfect their boats for public use. Neither of them lived long enough to see this happen. Most people didn't believe that their idea of using steam power to move boats or land vehicles (cars and trains) could work. Other inventors carried on this quest for steam power and, eventually, after reviewing what others had already tried, Robert Fulton worked out the difficult problems to make steam engines powerful enough to use.

Nicholas Roosevelt, a partner of Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston, who built that Hudson River steamboat, came to Pittsburgh in 1810 and built another steamboat on the Monongahela River, called the "New Orleans." Roosevelt worked in a boat yard along the river at the bottom of Boyd's Hill. It took over a year to build, and when it was finished he had to wait until the spring thaw for water depth. Then in March of 1811, when the river water was deep enough, this side-wheeler steamboat was launched. On October 25, she began her maiden voyage that would take her to New Orleans. Traveling at 8 miles an hour, she steamed down the Monongahela and into the Ohio River heading towards the Mississippi.

After 1811, steamboat building became an important industry in Pittsburgh. In succeeding years, half of the boats traveling the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers were built in Pittsburgh.

What's it like to be on a steamboat?

The first steamboats were hard to manage on curves in the river and were often stuck because they were too deep set for low water levels. This predicament "Washington," a steamboat whose engine was stronger and whose boilers were up on the deck instead of below the water surface. He added an upper deck for passengers. He also invented a steamboat that removed dead trees (or sawyers) from the river, making navigation safer.

In 1839, the first large iron steamboat was built and called the "Valley Forge." In 1840, Pittsburgh built about one hundred iron boats. In 1857, a visitor counted 124 steamboats docked along the Monongahela wharf in Pittsburgh, with 30 steamboats arriving in a day. The keelboat men were clearly upset by the steamboat. This new invention threatened their jobs. Soon the keelboats were used only for smaller streams that fed into the rivers.

If you were a keelboat man, why would you
be upset about the steamboats?

There was a keel boater named Mike Fink who thought that Pittsburgh was getting too civilized and moved out to the Rocky Mountains to seek more adventure.



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