STEAMBOATS IN LOUISIANARobert Fulton started the very first commercially successful steamboat service in America. His steam-powered paddleboat, the Clermont, sailed up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany in August of 1807. This trip lasted 32 hours The first steamboats were demonstrated in1787. They were used on the river ways to bring cargo, cotton, sugar, and people to their destinations. The steamboat played a major part in the population growth. The steamboats were usually made of wood and were all kinds of sizes. They looked like giant floating houses with large smokestacks and paddlewheels. They were used for carrying people and supplies up and down the river. Steamboats were later used as show boats for entertainment. The purchase of Louisiana in 1803 made New Orleans a part of the U.S. and opened the door to gamblers. The high life so popular in New Orleans spread north which ushered in the era of the riverboat gambler. By 1820, 69 steamboats were operating the western rivers. And by 1860, that number had increased to 735. These steamboats were christened “floating palaces with luxurious quarters, world class food well stoked bars and wealthy passengers. In1937 riverboat travel entered the passenger boat era. Calliopes were used on the boats to let people know that the boat was docked. The name “calliope” comes from the Greek goddess “muse of sound.”The paddle wheels were mounted either on the side or back of the boat. After the Civil War, the stern (back of the boat) paddle wheel was most popular. Although the paddle wheel is very large it draws just a few feet of water. The wheel spins about 18 times a minute with only four planks in the water for best speed. A steamboat travels about 15 miles an hour and 16 to 17 miles an hour on a swift river.
The very first paddle boats ran on wood. Coal replaced wood in 1860 and oil replaced coal in 1950. Many of the earl steamboats burned up because the fire used to create the steam would burn the boat. It took 250 pounds of steam just to blow the whistle. Maintenance for a 120 ton steamboat was $1,800, 36% of it was for wages paid to officers and crew members, 18% of it was for provisions, 12% of it was for incidentals and insurance, and the rest of it was for 25 cords of wood per day, at $2.50 per cord. One of the most popular steamboats of all time was the Delta Queen. It was designed to accommodate 234 passengers, 40 automobiles on the main deck, 15 on the outside decks, and 350-400 tons of cargo. The passengers were accommodated in 117 staterooms for two persons and a large mens dormitory area forward. The vehicles were carried on her restricted foredeck and also on her maindeck alongside the boilers. The “KEEL BOAT” carries 15 to 20 tons, a crew of 8 to 10 men, has a light construction, and is propelled by oars, sails, and setting poles.
On January 12, 1812, the first steamship to descend the Mississippi River arrived in the Crescent City, New Orleans, LA. It was appropriately named the New Orleans. . Captain Henry Miller Shreve was responsible for the first steamboat. It was far from perfect and did not even have enough power to sail upstream. It made travel easier within Louisiana because there was no other form of reliable transportation to New Orleans. The ships arrival in New Orleans signified the beginning of New Orleans as a major world class seaport. The port of New Orleans has certainly achieved that status today. The city of New Orleans links to the world can be seen by the wide variety of goods that go through the Ports facilities on a typical day. Everything from frozen turkeys headed for the Middle East to fertilizer being shipped to New Guinea, textiles from the Dominican Republic, pharmaceuticals bound for the Netherlands, and steel coils bound for Singapore are handled from day to day in the Port of New Orleans. The tremendous growth of the Port of New Orleans has been attributed to the introduction of many new lines over the past years. The Ports combination of location, first-rate facilities, and experienced maritime community is a strong calling card.
Today there are just a few steamboats remaining on the Mississippi River. The Delta Queen Steamship Company has been apart of the New Orleans scenery since the founding family sold it in 1958. This company moved its headquarters and renovated an old wharf on the riverfront that had been vacant for years. In 1990, the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen represented the last pair of steamboats to transport passengers the length of the Mississippi. This trip normally takes 10 days ending up in the port of New Orleans. Today if you would like to take a ride on a paddle wheeler, Natchez steamboat in New Orleans is the company that provides these nostalgic cruises. Today the Natchez Steamboat cruises three times a day, seven days a week. It is called “the race horse of the western waters” because it has never lost a race to another steamboat. It leaves from the Toulouse Street wharf for two-hour cruises on the Mississippi. It is one of only five surviving paddle wheelers cruising the Mississippi River system. It carries over half a million passengers a year.
In 1990, gambling and steamboats became intertwined and opened up a whole new arena for cruise ships in Louisiana. As more states adopted gambling the past glory of the river boat has returned and millions flock to try there luck on these vessels. Today we have riverboat gambling in Shreveport and Baton Rouge as well as New Orleans. Unlike the past, todays riverboat gambling is tightly controlled by each state. On these river cruises there is no set limit on betting and gambling is done on a variety of coin operated amusement devices and gaming tables.
The romance of the Steamboat, affectionately called the Paddlewheeler goes on today thanks to the rich history it has enjoyed since the 1700s. .