How Did the Steamboat Change America?

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Steamboats revolutionized the rapid transportation of goods on American rivers. The history of steamboats in America truly begins in 1807 with Robert Fulton’s Clermont steamboat. By 1830, over 200 steamboats were traveling the Mississippi River, opening the Midwest to settlement and trade.

The steamboat’s slight draft and efficient flat-bottomed construction allowed it to navigate rivers that were only 10 feet deep, a necessity for many of America’s broad but shallow waterways. Farmers grew crops along the river because it was easy to get them to markets, and small towns and cities appeared near river forks and rapids. Because steamboats were stable and comfortable to ride on, luxury accommodations were built on some, encouraging the wealthy to use this form of travel and bringing financial resources to America’s new frontiers.