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article number 257
article date 08-01-2013
copyright 2013 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
We Migrated West of the Atlantic States. We Tackle the Inland Waterways, 1820
by John Walker Harrington

From the 1924 book, A Popular History of American Invention. Original chapter title, “How Power Won the Inland Waters.”

THE winning of the waters in the interior of the region now known as the United States brought about the real union of the commonwealths which, in 1776, had declared themselves free and independent peoples. This union would have been delayed many years, however, had it not been for men who in their youth saw a vision which gave them no rest until it was realized.

Despite many discouragements, and often in the face of criticism, they held to their ideas until widely scattered communities were connected by the bonds of trade and traffic and the future of the country was assured.

Although Americans were once famed as a sea-faring race, they did little for many a decade to promote the navigation of their big rivers and Great Lakes. Their clipper ships were seen in the ports of Europe and in the harbors of China long before the taming of their own Mississippi. They turned their daring and skill in the direction of the arctic circle in quest of whales, and gave battle to the pirates of the Spanish Main, leaving their vast waterways of the West unexplored.

Strange as this situation may seem, it was the natural outcome of the conditions under which the colonies were founded. At first, the settlers built their homes either on the ocean or on the banks of the navigable streams which flowed into it. They kept in touch with one another by voyaging in pinnaces and sloops along the coast, making the deck answer the same purpose as the wagon or coach.

In New England there developed the “Apple Tree Fleet,” made up of schooners, the skippers taking their bearings from the orchards along the ocean beaches. Then came stout barks and full-rigged ships, which essayed the trade of the West Indies and finally sought the Big Ferry which brought them to foreign shores.

In due time, the early colonies were assembled about water routes directly connecting with the sea. Virginia flourished on the banks of the James; Maryland had the Potomac; Pennsylvania came into being on the shores of the Schuylkill and the Delaware, and the Dutch founded their New Amsterdam where the Hudson poured into what is now the harbor of New York.

The value of land was largely rated by its distance from a wharf. If it had a ready outlet to the water, it was worth from ten to forty dollars an acre; if not accessible by boat, it might be worth only a few shillings.


It was hard work for the colonists to take themselves from place to place, but the transportation of goods was much more difficult. Many things were bought in England which might have been obtained on this side of the ocean. As an example of what it meant to go from one city to another, read the journal of Benjamin Franklin, who at the age of seventeen started out on some American touring.

He set sail from Boston, in 1723, in a sloop bound for New York. Unable to find employment there, he started for Philadelphia, but was wrecked in a heavy gale on the coast of Long Island. Finally, he reached Perth Amboy, N. J., in a crazy little craft on which he had been thirty hours without food.

He then walked across New Jersey to Burlington on the Delaware River, from which point he got passage in a rowboat to the town of William Penn. There he arrived, wet, bedraggled, and friendless, with naught to bless himself but a Dutch dollar.

Like other boys of his time, Franklin had been thrilled by the life of a sailor and had come very near defying the will of his father and going before the mast. This taste of the temper of the ocean may have had a good effect. Years later Franklin became assistant Postmaster-General for the continent, and he made a study of transportation, both by land and water. His early travelling experiences therefore were very valuable to him, as well as to the nation.

Inland, most of the communication was by canoes made after the fashion of the original Americans, who were given to painting their faces and unpleasantly wielding the tomahawk. These aborigines made canoes by hollowing tree trunks, but the common type of boat among them was the birch-bark canoe, which was so light that it could be carried easily from one stream to another.

The eighteen-inch paths through the primeval forests, the Indian trails, were merely passages through which “poor Lo” could carry these frail craft from one river to another. The white men, when they essayed the inland wilderness, also adapted themselves to this method of transportation.


In 1760 Franklin wrote that the western country of America was accessible by great interior rivers and lakes, except for the shortest portages. He said it was possible to go from New York City to Lake Ontario by water, with the exception of a break of twenty-seven miles over which it was necessary to carry canoes. From Lake Erie stretched hundreds of miles of water passage into the heart of the Rockies.

From Canada, the Hudson valley, the St. Lawrence, and the lakes George and Champlain furnished a liquid highway used by Iroquois and Algonquins both in peace and war—as all of us who have read the novels of James Fenimore Cooper well remember.

That there was an internal commerce over these trails, portages, and streams is known to every one who has studied the arrow heads and the wampum of the Indians; for weapons of iron and copper were brought from the Northwest to the East in the course of that primitive traffic.

When Columbus and his caravels reached these shores, he found a land without horses, cattle, or beasts of burden of any kind, except a few dogs. Such a thing as a wheeled vehicle was entirely unknown. Transport in any large way was dependent upon water-courses, and upon the almost imperceptible paths made in the woods by lightly moccasined feet. Many years passed before the coming of the turnpike or of any other highway of the land.


Statesmen who charged themselves with the future of this country saw that, in order to weld the colonies into a whole, it was necessary to solve the problem of transportation. None sensed this more clearly than did George Washington. By instinct a frontiersman, by training a leader in commerce and finance, no man had been brought up in a more useful school of experience than he.

Like Franklin he had an early longing for the sea, which he overcame only at the instance of his widowed mother, who prevented him from accepting a commission which a relative had obtained for him in the British navy. The plantation where Washington was born was on Pope’s Creek, a branch of the Potomac. In his boyhood he had learned how to handle the canoe and the skiff.

As a young militia lieutenant he had served with General Braddock in the ill-starred expedition to western Pennsylvania, and had often tested the temper of forest streams. Once he narrowly escaped from drowning when he was hurled from a raft into deep water. Braddock, who insisted not only on wagons to take him into the wilderness, but also on the building of corduroy roads, was a commander of a school which had nothing in common with the needs of a land of pioneers.

Washington, a surveyor in Virginia, had made a detailed study of transportation, and had set his heart on giving easy means of communication to the land which was the hope of the Western world. In all manner of water-craft he was master, as was shown by his crossing of the Delaware in the dead of winter to surprise the British at Trenton, and by his orderly retreat by boat from the city of New York when it was necessary to abandon the city to the British.

And when the Revolution was over General Washington devoted himself to the development of his long-cherished plans of uniting the new nation in the bond of water-borne traffic.

This was no sudden impulse. The same idea had guided Washington in 1763, when he organized the Mississippi Company for the promotion of the lands of the West. Six years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Washington had spoken of the need of bringing the watersheds of the East, with the Ohio River and the Great Lakes, into one system of communication.


While at Newburgh, although the formal treaty of peace with Great Britain had not yet been signed, his alert and practical mind was busied with vast inland transportation projects for the new nation. He took a journey to the headwaters of the Mohawk and the Susquehanna, and, in 1783, started on his exploration of the West with the intention of achieving an ambition which he considered of such importance that he had declined an invitation to be the honor guest of France.

One of the many signs of his activity was his presidency of a canal corporation organized for the purpose of uniting the waters of Chesapeake Bay with the turgid floods of the Ohio River.

The time had come for abandoning old methods of travel and traffic. From the capital of the nation it was only a distance of 150 miles to what one of the chroniclers well called “a most howling wilderness.” The signing of the Ordinance of 1787, throwing open the vast domain of the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys to immigration and settlement, started an exodus to fields and pastures new.

The Connecticut Yankee was glad of the chance to pack up bag and baggage and take his family for a hazard of new fortunes into the vaguely known “Empire of the West.”

Large grants of land to the officers and the soldiers of the army of the Revolution also hastened the movement toward the setting sun. At Marietta, comrades in arms at Valley Forge were united on the banks of the storied Ohio. There was given to a huddle of huts lower down the stream the title of Cincinnati, in honor of the society in which so many of the generals and colonels and captains of the patriot army had enrolled.

The migration across the breadth of the country was favored by the fact that the Ohio River had a westerly course, distinguished from the other streams which flowed south. The pioneers, therefore, made their way through mountain gaps and dense forests or over roads unworthy of the name, to Pittsburgh and other points at the headwaters of the Ohio. There they rested from their exhausting pilgrimage and prepared for the risks of the river.


Their camps were made close to the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers which join as sources of the Ohio. Here had sprung up an industry unique in all history: the building of strange boats adapted to the passage of the swift and muddy streams of the central United States. In that region, Jacob Yoder, a German, had launched, in 1750, the first flatboat, an awkward box-like craft, drawing little water, on which he had committed himself and his goods to the crooked stream which forms the southern boundary of the Buckeye State.

The goal of the new traffic was New Orleans, then in the grip of the “power that was Spain.” From that Gulf port, at the outset of the struggle of the colonies for independence, two soldiers had brought a flat-bottomed ammunition-boat which they poled up the Mississippi and the Ohio as far as the falls opposite Louisville. Owing to the low stage of the water, they could not get over the barrier, and they were obliged to carry their 136 kegs of powder for the Continental Army overland.

As the migration down the two streams increased, there developed a new class of human beings: the ‘rivermen.’ Knowing the quirks and turns of the Ohio and the old “Massassip,” they hired themselves out as pilots and guides to venturesome Easterners. The settlers bought or built flatboats, as the roofed scows were called, and with the guidance of the rough-and-ready Charons, they started on their voyages.

In the craft they stowed all that they had, household goods, timber for their new houses, cows and horses and chickens, their cats and their dogs. When they reached places where they had arranged to rear new homes, they either sold their flatboats, or broke them up to get the material for their cabins. Some of the craft even carried sawn lumber, loosely joined in a roof, which could be broken up easily and joined in the lodges “in the vast wilderness.”

As the population of the [first] Northwest Territory increased, the hardy farmers were able to move some of their products to the markets at New Orleans by the river routes. They raised hogs and corn in plenty, wheat, and barley. Some built their own grist-mills and turned out flour, for which there was soon a European demand.

Before the coming of the river transport, about the only commodities in that region which brought high enough prices to justify the heavy wagon rates were saltpetre, found in the caves of Kentucky, and the ginseng of Tennessee, which then, as now, was highly prized as a medicine by the Chinese.


Before the new inland navigation began, the few farmers who had settled in that part of the country raised only enough wheat and meat and other products to feed their own families. The age of the flatboats, however, ushered in both agriculture and commerce.

Of all of that great fleet of flatboats built to serve the trade of the central United States, there is, so far as is known, not one survivor. Thousands of them were launched at Pittsburgh and other points in Pennsylvania, while at sleepy old Marietta, there rose a great shipyard from whose stocks came not only flatboats, but keel-boats, arks, barges, and even schooners.


Flatboats, in use as late as 1840, were the ugliest and most ungainly of all river craft. Their average dimensions were sixty feet in length and twenty feet in breadth, and they drew from one to two and a half feet of water. Some were smaller. The flatboat was meant to drift with the current, and was kept in the channel by huge sweeps or oars at the sides or forward, and another at the rear which served as a rude rudder.

When two of the sweeps were arranged at the bow and made to stick out from either side, such craft were called “broadhorns,” because of the resulting resemblance to the head of an ox. The boats were covered with a heavy roof, which was generally eight feet or so from the bottom, and on it the owners and their families walked and took the air, as the vessel was borne upon the mud-toned waters.

Within was comfort and a more cheerful life than the outside suggested. Forward was a sitting-room, and back of that the kitchen, while down a passageway were several bedrooms. One compartment was for cargo, and back of a bulkhead or heavy partition, were the stables for the animals.

When the craft was given up to commercial purposes only, the arrangement of the interior was simpler. Flatboats were often fitted up as floating stores, and were well stocked with groceries, dry-goods, and especially Yankee notions.

The proprietor standing on the roof or upper deck would blow his tin horn as the emporium neared a landing, and after he had done all the business the spare cash in the town justified, he would cast his establishment adrift and seek other customers down-stream.

The flatboat, by the way, was practically a down-stream venture; only when of moderate size could it be moved against the current. This was done by the use of iron-pointed poles, on which the crew bore and prodded with all their might.


Flatboating on the rivers of the Middle West was a calling for men whose blood was as red as their flannel shirts. It took muscle, nerve, and a devil-may-care spirit born of peril and privation. At any turn in the river these men held themselves ready to fight pirates as remorseless as Captain Brand of the Centipede, who scoured the Spanish Main, or as cruel as Long John Silver of Treasure Island fame.

At any moment Indian arrows might sing over the heads, or rifle bullets come whizzing from the low rakish craft hidden in the bushes alongshore. Murder and pillage were the trades of the freebooters who lay in wait for the unwary.

At one point in the Ohio on the Illinois bank was a stronghold in the cliffs, known as “the Cave in the Rocks,” a den of thugs and thieves, which the river travellers approached with cocked muskets. The gentry who held that evil citadel killed crews, captured the flatboats when they could, and took boats and cargoes to New Orleans and sold them. Many of them were shot, but it was several years before their lair was finally broken up and the band exterminated.

Men fit to cope with robbers are not soft spoken, and the flatboat-men of early river days were hard swearers and easy drinkers. One of the early American artists, Bingham, who knew the river life well, showed their type in his canvas depicting The Jolly Flatboatmen, a roistering group, singing, c]og-dancing, and fiddling on the roof of their craft.

Generally, however, the flatboaters were a lantern-jawed, ague-faced, slant-eyed lot, who employed their scant leisure in hurling tobacco juice at distant targets with amazing accuracy. Usually they gave themselves up to malarial musings, but when danger and battle came they were galvanized into quick action and rapid profanity. Their lingo was all their own.

“Hell’s a-snortin’,” roared Red-Whiskered Blake. “Watch us put them galoots out of business quicker nor an alligator can chaw a puppy.”

He who was called “The Snag of the Mississippi” and likewise “The Snapping-Turtle of the Ohio,” known also as Big Mike Fink, had his last fight long years ago. “I can outrun, outjump, outhop, throw down, outyell, knock down and drag out any man in the country,” was his favorite slogan. And it was no idle jest.

Besides the flatboats, there were many other types of craft especially adapted for the peculiar conditions on the Western rivers. Like the flatboats, most of them were planned from forms which had been used on the rivers of the East, especially on the Connecticut and the Delaware.


The keel-boat, as its name suggests, had a heavy timber fastened to the bottom along its entire length, which afforded some protection when the boat struck a snag or a rock. It was propelled up-stream by the use of setting-poles handled by men who walked up and down a narrow running-board built at its sides.

When the keel-boat was roofed over it was known as a barge.

The Durham boat, so named for its inventor, Robert Durham, who first employed it on the Delaware River, had more graceful lines than most river vessels of the period. It was a keel-boat resembling an Indian canoe. This type was sixty or more feet in length and roomy enough to be available both for freight and passenger traffic. Out of it was evolved the first packets of the Western rivers.

It was a far cry from the dugout to the floating hotels of the palmy days of the Mississippi, but the packet keel-boats which were soon going out of Cincinnati were, at least, a promise of things to be. They were advertised as comfortable, commodious, and the passengers were assured of “safety.”

The cabins were recommended as bullet-proof; there were excellent portholes from which to shoot at river pirates, and also a one-pounder cannon. The packet was followed by a convoy in which were armed men. Such vessels could get to New Orleans in a month, carrying both passengers and cargo.

As the freight business of the rivers began to develop, roofed craft, known as arks, were introduced. They served to transport apples, cider, flour, and later coal, which found a ready sale at New Orleans. When the demand for lumber grew, huge rafts of logs were floated down-stream for European shipment.

On the Missouri River, more turbulent and more muddy even than its sisters of the valley, craft very much like those seen on the Ohio and Mississippi, were put into commission. They were changed somewhat to meet the needs of a navigation in shallower and more uncertain waters.

The “bull-boat” was the Missouri’s very own, because its principal material, the hide of buffalo bulls, was easily obtained by shooting those now nearly extinct animals ranging the shores of the “Big Muddy.” This vessel was made rather round; it was really a big basket, composed of slender saplings and withes.

Over the skeleton were stretched the hides, which, as they shrank considerably, made a tight covering. The seams were water-proofed with pitch and gums. The bull-boat was not such a river-worthy craft as the “broadhorn,” however, for it was easily punctured by the many obstructions in the channel.

Travelling on all three of these rivers was fraught with peril on account of the many snags, timbers, and jagged rocks, often masked by the shimmering surface. Flatboats, keel-boats, arks were likely to be hung up on a floating tree, or driven high on the numerous islands by capricious eddies. When this happened, the more fortunate vessels in sight went to the rescue, but in most cases, the ill-starred boats proved total losses, and their owners had to make their way back home through the wilderness.


On account of these misadventures and of the great difficulty of working vessels against the swift currents, men invented all sorts of schemes for outwitting the stubborn river-gods.

For centuries, horses had been used to provide power for ferry-boats by making them walk a treadmill or an endless-chain arrangement. Horse-boats, a feature of harbor travel in the Eastern waters, brought such cities as New York and Philadelphia in communication with suburbs beyond the rivers.

At some points on the Mississippi it was possible to work scows across the stream by means of a small stern wheel, driven by horses. Two adventurers of navigation rigged up an eight-horse team-boat in 1807, and sought to reach Louisville, but they lost control of their vessel at Natchez, where she was so badly damaged that they abandoned her.


The story of the cantankerous streams of the Central States engaged the attention of a Connecticut boy, who did a great deal in later years to conquer them. John Fitch was born in Windsor, Conn., in 1743, and at an early age was apprenticed to a watchmaker. At the outbreak of the Revolution he turned from tinkering escapements to fashioning guns for the army.

His interest in the West led him to the Ohio country where he became a trader. He and his party were captured by Indians at the mouth of the Muskingum River, and all his goods were destroyed. Fitch was spared, although nine of his companions were killed. As a captive he was made to walk all the way to Lake Erie.

He finally made his escape and arrived penniless and worn at Warminster, Pa. There, in 1785, he began work on his steamboat, a device which he had planned especially for conquering the rapid Western rivers. Since 1720, and probably before, inventors had been wrestling with the problem of how to drive boats up-stream by the force of vapor, and at that time experiments were being conducted along that principle in England and France.

Fitch probably knew little or nothing about what was being done on the other side of the Atlantic. He believed that the future of the United States depended upon getting the best of the big rivers which were the keys to American inland navigation, and he set his heart upon making this practicable.


As watch and clock maker, Fitch had been used to working in brass. Of that alloy he made the model of his first steamboat which, in April, 1785, he showed to Doctor Ewing, the Provost of the University of Pennsylvania. The educator was much impressed by it, publicly declaring the invention to be a valuable one.

That autumn, at Davisville, Pa., Fitch operated his steamboat. It was driven by buckets attached to the sides. The steam-powered machinery set the buckets in motion, and the vessel glided slowly over the water. The inventor made five of his steamboats in all. The buckets did not suit him, and the next model had oars.

He finally produced a workable vessel which became a steam ferry-boat, and during the summer of 1790 it plied fairly regularly between Philadelphia and Burlington. In 1796 Fitch demonstrated a steamboat with a screw propeller in the water of Collect Pond in New York City.

Had the general public or the government seen the future of steam navigation at that time, civilization might have set its clock at least twenty-five years ahead in the interior of the United States. John Fitch had the vision, but, like many inventors before and after him, he was alone in his vision. When he once told a group of men of his dream that the Mississippi would be conquered by the power of steam, they heard him forbearingly, and when he left them one of the listeners remarked: “He is crazy, poor fellow!”

The staid old American Philosophical Society, of Philadelphia, consenting to learn from him about the steamboat, apparently saw no possibility of its doing anything very useful.

Fitch then took his scheme to Benjamin Franklin and besought his aid. The greatest opportunity which that eminent scientist and statesman ever missed was that of helping the wild-eyed, unkempt, uncouth inventor who poured into his ears a torrent of words about the vessel which was to revolutionize the traffic of a world. Franklin saw only the suffering and distress of the man, and taking him into another room offered him some money, which Fitch indignantly refused.

What hope could there be, thought Fitch, when a savant of international fame, an inventor of distinction himself, could not see that a boat would be driven by steam as easily as it was then moved by the leverage of oars! Without substantial help and encouragement, Fitch went from the government to the legislatures of the various States.

Finally, to get rid of him, he was given the exclusive privilege of navigating vessels by steam in the waters of New York and also those of New Jersey and Virginia. Destitute and despondent, Fitch toiled on in his efforts to get enough capital to build a boat big enough to demonstrate his ideas. Here was his project, given in his own words; and in the light of our present knowledge what can anybody see in it that indicates an unsound mind?

“Where streams constantly tend one way,” he wrote, “great advantage will accrue in inland navigation, and particularly in the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, where the God of Nature knew that the banks could never be traversed by horses and has laid a store of fuel at their headwaters to last to the latest ages for the very purpose of navigating their waters by fire.

“Here is an estimate which I beg leave to make. It takes thirty men to take a boat of thirty tons burthen from New Orleans to the Illinois. Now, I say, if I could be enabled to complete the experiment, I would obligate myself to make a boat of sixty tons burthen which, with engines and all complete, would cost $2000. As that could work double the time of the men at the oars, it could go half the time, and transport 120 tons in the same time that the other would thirty tons. At the rate now charged this would pay for itself and clear $10,000, whilst one boat could make one trip—and larger boats could be made to greater advantage. It would also raise the value of land in the Western territories in proportion.”

Falling to get anybody in the United States to see that his Invention would benefit the country, Fitch went to France, where he was also unsuccessful. For a time his plans were in the possession of an American consul. They were lent by the consul to Robert Fulton, who was then working on the same problem of steam navigation.

Fitch finally retired to his lands at Bardstown, Ky., where he eked out a meagre existence until he ended it by his own hand. His company had failed; “the steamboat” had been junked; and as far as he was concerned “finis” had been written on all his hopes.

Fitch had often stated that some man of wealth would eventually make the art of steam navigation a success and win a fortune. In the very year, 1798, in which the unfortunate inventor ended his unhappy life, Robert R. Livingston, member of an old and aristocratic family and one of the richest men of his time, built a so-called steamboat, with which he failed, however, to make enough speed to maintain a franchise.

Chancellor Livingston had taken over the lapsed rights of Fitch, whose boat had not made the required four miles an hour. The boat had been built on the joint account of Livingston, Nicholas J. Roosevelt, and Colonel John Stevens, of Hoboken, all of whom were to become noted factors in the development of power navigation.

COLONEL JOHN STEVENS’S SCREW-PROPELLED BOAT OF 1804. Stevens had seen Fitch’s steamboat. He examined the boat and her mechanism, and in 1792, he took out patents for steam propulsion. Nearly a decade before Robert Fulton ran his Clermont, Stevens had a steamboat on the Hudson as builder, owner, and captain. Six years later he equipped with double screws this predecessor of Fulton’s craft. This is a photograph of a replica of Steven’s screw-propelled boat, taken at the foot of 1st Street, Hoboken, in the sixties. Courtesy of Stevens Institute of Technology.


Colonel John Stevens and his son, Robert Livingston Stevens, receive all too little credit for their remarkable inventions. Stevens had seen John Fitch’s steamboat navigating the Delaware River and was much impressed. He examined the boat and her mechanism, and in 1792 he took out his first patent for a method of steam propulsion. By 1798, nearly a decade before Fulton, he was actually navigating the Hudson River with a steamboat of his own.

In 1804, he built a revolutionary type of craft—a screw-propelled vessel, the first of its type. He was probably the best engineer of his time in America. Stevens, in 1807, built his side-wheel Phoenix.

STEVENS’S PHOENIX, THE FIRST OCEAN-GOING STEAMER. Colonel John Stevens, aided by his son, worked independently of Fulton. Fulton’s monopoly of steam navigation on the waters of the Hudson made it necessary for Stevens to employ the Phoenix in daring ways. He sent her to Philadelphia from New Jersey by sea. A fierce storm overtook her. After making a safe harbor in Barnegat, she proceeded to Philadelphia and plied many years between that city and Trenton. Stevens thus indisputably earned the credit of first navigating the high seas with a steam-driven vessel. Courtesy of Stevens Institute of Technology.

Prevented by the monopoly granted to Fulton and Livingston from navigating the Hudson River, he boldly sent the Phoenix, in command of his son, to Philadelphia, in 1808. Although the vessel had to put into Barnegat because of a violent storm, she was undoubtedly the first steam-driven craft to navigate the high seas. For six years she plied between Philadelphia and Trenton.

In the construction of the Phoenix, Stevens, then over seventy years of age, was assisted by his son Robert, who became the foremost marine and railroad engineer in the United States.

COLONEL JOHN STEVENS (left). Colonel Stevens, born in New York in 1749, invented not only the method of driving ships by screw-propellers, but also the multi-tubular boiler (1803); established between New York and Hoboken the first steam ferry in the world (1811); and with his son, Robert, made steam navigation a commonplace on the Delaware. He designed the first iron-clad ship (1813), practically an anticipation of the Monitor, obtained the first charter for an American railroad, built a steam locomotive with multi-tubular boiler (1826), and, single-handed, did more for transportation in America than any other man. Courtesy of Stevens Inst. of Technology.

ROBERT L. STEVENS (right). Robert L. Stevens, son of Colonel John Stevens, for a quarter of a century stood at the head of the naval engineering profession in this country. The universally prevalent forms of ferryboat and ferry-slip, the overhanging guards, the fenders, the spring-piling, the ship-walking beam (1821), the split water-wheel (1826), the balance valve for beam engines (1831), the location of steamboat boilers on the wheel-guards are inventions of his. Courtesy of Stevens Inst. of Technology.

The utmost speed that Fulton thought possible for a steam-driven boat to attain was seven miles an hour, and this he accomplished in his later vessels. It was reserved for Robert L. Stevens, after long and cautiously conducted experiments as to the form of vessel best calculated to overcome the resistance of water, to design and build a boat which made what seemed then the dizzy speed of thirteen and one-half miles an hour.

With his New Philadelphia, there began the first day line to Albany. Robert Livingston Stevens gave the modern American ferryboat and river steamer their familiar forms. He was the first to invent, in 1818, the method of using steam expansively on shipboard, and he devised the now prevalent form of ferryboat, ferry-slip fenders, and spring piling.

The walking beam, too, was first applied to shipping engines by him in 1821. The enumeration of his many useful inventions would fill several pages.

ENGINES OF STEVENS’S BOAT OF 1804. Three years before Robert Fulton’s Clermont ploughed up the Hudson, an engine and boiler, built by Colonel John Stevens, of Hoboken, N. J., had been successfully used in driving a screw-propelled boat. In 1844 this engine, in the presence of a committee, propelled the vessel at the rate of eight miles per hour. Courtesy of Scientific American.


Chancellor Livingston went to France as the United States Minister, and in Paris he came in contact with Robert Fulton, who was then busy with the invention of submarines and torpedoes. He had given some attention to American navigation, as he was an advocate both of the steamboat and a canal system.

When only thirteen, Fulton’s dream of conquering the waters with a force stronger than that of poles or oars began to be realized, for at that age he constructed a boat which he moved with side paddle-wheels. His painting of miniatures had gained for him the friendly interest of Benjamin West, the Philadelphia artist, with whom he lived for several years in London.

While Fulton was conducting experiments on the Seine, he formed a lasting friendship with Livingston, out of which came the revival of the steamship project. He studied what English and French engineers had done on the subject, then returned to the United States, intent on bringing his experiments to a successful issue.

CHANCELLOR LIVINGSTON (left). Chancellor Livingston went to France as minister of the United States. In Paris he met Fulton, with whom he later formed a partnership. Livingston, member of an old, aristocratic family and one of the richest men of his time, had tried to build a steamboat as early as 1798.

ROBERT FULTON (right). Although he was a painter of miniatures, Robert Fulton had dreamed of steamboats even as a boy. He conducted experiments on the Seine in France and there met Livingston. Out of the friendship thus born came the successful Clermont.

As Fulton himself often said, he never claimed the idea of the steamboat as his own, but only the ability to make a steam-driven vessel which could be operated with practical success.

Before he left Europe he had shipped to New York a good steam-engine from the famous works of Boulton and Watt, at Soho. On his arrival in America he began the construction of the wooden hull of the steamboat, later named the Clermont in honor of the Livingston’s country-seat up the Hudson River.

A memorable year was 1807, in which Fulton’s Folly, as the scoffers had called the Clermont, ended her trip from New York City; up the Hudson, to Albany. She had made the run of 150 miles in thirty-two hours, which gave her a speed of nearly five miles an hour and a good margin over the four miles required in order to maintain an exclusive grant for steam navigation in the waters of the Empire State.

There was a stop overnight at Clermont, the chancellor’s estate, where congratulations were showered upon the promoters. Thus, for the first time on any river, was steam navigation on a large scale made a commercial success.


Livingston and Fulton lost no time in following up their advantage. The Clermont was lengthened and broadened, her machinery made more efficient, and passengers made more comfortable by the building of the paddle-wheels outboard, so that these contrivances hung over the water. The passengers were also enclosed, an arrangement which saved them from being doused at unexpected times.

Then came the launching of two other steam craft, the Paragon and the Car of Neptune, closely followed by that forerunner of lake and river hotel-steamboats and the costly ocean steamships which cross the Atlantic in a week.

This was the Savannah, the first steam vessel to cross the ocean to England, which trip she made in the year 1819. She was named from the city in which she was largely owned, and sailed under the American flag.

The engines of the Savannah were constructed in the old Speedwell Iron Works in Morristown, N. J., where Samuel F. B. Morse worked out his invention of the submarine telegraph. Thus in a little factory in the New World were brought into being two means of uniting continents and defying space and time.

The Savannah, however, was really only an auxiliary steam-craft, as her paddle-wheels were often removed on her voyage when the weather was rough. But she had shown the way to the ship-builders of Europe, and British inventors and builders soon developed the ocean steamship, and made good once more the boast that Britannia ruled the waves.

REPLICA OF FULTON’S CLERMONT. The reconstructed Clermont took part in the Hudson-Fulton celebration.

In America, as a result of the prevailing policy of granting broad, exclusive franchises, the promoters of the steamboat were able long to enforce their exclusive control, and to make giant strides in inland steam navigation. Malice and jealousy could not stay that wonderful progress.

In vain did the captains of sloops and schooners of the Hudson seek to injure the new steamboats by running into them. More drastic laws were passed to punish such malicious mischief. The old sailing masters eventually bowed to the inevitable, and some of them joined the crews of steam-driven vessels.

FULTON’S PARAGON. After the success achieved with the Clermont, Fulton and Livingston built the Paragon. From Valentine’s Manual of 1852.


None read the doom of sail more quickly than did a steel-thewed youth who stood at the tiller of a sloop which plied as a ferry between Staten Island and the Battery of New York City. A commander on his own deck at sixteen, this son of a New Dorp farmer had the genius of the Dutch for seamanship and the readiness of the American to grasp opportunities.

Cornelius Vanderbilt, growing to man’s estate, won a fortune and fought the first American steamboat trust to a standstill. With Daniel Webster as his counsel, he attacked the syndicate of Livingston and Fulton in the Supreme Court and defeated it on the broad grounds that any control over waterways by private interests was a violation of the Constitution of the United States.

A mighty decision it was, for it established, for all time, the federal responsibility for navigable rivers and harbors, and started this country on that great enterprise which resulted in the deepening of channels and the fostering of both ocean and inland navigation.

Commodore Vanderbilt, with a title won through his becoming the owner of a steamboat line, flung his restless energy into the fight for the Hudson and out of that came the splendid transportation lines of the American Rhine. When the rivalry was at white heat, passengers were carried from New York to Albany for a dollar each, and finally for ten cents.

They had to pay, of course, for their meals and staterooms, but the accommodations they got were the last words in luxury. The controversy, as it flamed high, advertised far and wide the beauties of the majestic river, and hundreds of thousands of persons both, from these and foreign shores, felt that they had missed much in life until they had made at least one trip upon the famous Hudson River.


Another of that doughty Dutch race, one closely connected with Theodore Roosevelt in blood, was Nicholas J. Roosevelt, pioneer for the steamboat on the turbid waters of the Middle West. Like Fulton, Roosevelt had dreamed when a boy of an age of power on lake and stream.

Nicholas Roosevelt was born in New York city, in 1767. Until he grew to manhood he spent his days on the country estate of his family near Esopus, New York, where he was living when the British forces were holding the island of Manhattan. His boyish activities often took him to the neighboring Hudson, and among his recreations was the running of a little power craft of his own invention.

This boat was an embryo Clermont, for it was moved by paddle-wheels at the side. The motive force came from the action of whalebone and hickory springs imparted by a cord to the axle, on which were the wheels. Although Fulton had also employed paddle-wheels in his youthful experiments, he was at first inclined to use floats and chains for the Clermont, and was only dissuaded from doing so by Chancellor Livingston and Roosevelt. Indeed, it has often been asserted that Roosevelt was well justified in his claim for a patent on the steamboat paddle-wheels and boxes.

On account of his previous association with Livingston, Nicholas Roosevelt became enthused with the idea of advertising the advantages of steam, and he started out at once to convert the West. With authority from the Livingston-Fulton combination, he started on his promotion tour. He found so many skeptics that he fortified himself against objections to the new power by observing conditions at first hand in a flatboat trip down the Ohio.

Convinced that his idea was feasible, he caused coal-mines to be opened at certain landings, so that there would be no lack of fuel for the steamboat which he knew would soon be picking its way among the islands of the Ohio. On the strength of his own survey, Roosevelt was authorized by his backers to spend $38,000 for the building of the hull of a river steamboat, for which most of the machinery was shipped from the East.


“Even a raft can float down-stream,” chided the critics, when they saw the New Orleans making for Louisville. “Just wait till the old tea-kettle tries to go up-stream.”

She did go up, with hum and whistle and with her decks crowded with Rooseveltian converts. The age of the river steamboat had come; a gilded age tinged with romance to this day. From the launching of the New Orleans, in 1811 and the Vesuvius, for the lower Mississippi, in 1814, the rivers took on a new life.

But it became evident that the old stream, which tore out its banks and cavorted in a way which would have scandalized the placid, classic Hudson, must have a steam-craft especially designed for it. This want was partly met by Henry Shreve, a young man who modelled a double-decked steamboat of shallow draft, whose engines were on the main deck instead of being buried in the hold.

He was arrested and prosecuted, and came near serving a long term in jail for his infringements, but the Washington, which he planned, came up to all the requirements.

With the breaking up of the Livingston-Fulton monopoly in 1824, the rich and colorful life of the Mississippi under steam burst forth with all its glamour and glory. It drew to it the young and the adventurous from all the surrounding States, and even from the Atlantic seaboard. The riotous Missouri caught the fever, and soon steamboats of even lighter draft were in commission on the bosom of the Big Muddy.

The smoke from the stacks of these devil-boats of the white men made the Indians rub their eyes. Among those who caught the lure was a boy at Hannibal, Mo., who went as a lad to learn to be a pilot and became a master of literature under his pen-name of Mark Twain. The strange pseudonym came from the cry of the leadsman and meant that the water he was sounding was at the two-fathom mark.


On the rivers of the big central valley, the flatboats and the scows long held their own, and indeed rafts were often sighted on the way to the Gulf. But before long the roustabouts of the flatboats became the deck-hands of the steamboats.

With the growth of steam navigation the government provided power snag-boats and dredges operated by steam to clear the channels of obstructions. Travelling was somewhat safer then, and big barges, large floating stores, floating theatres, and a circus amphitheatre were added to the stream of traffic, for they could all be towed by steam-tugs.

The troublesome Mississippi was never thoroughly tamed, however, and even though huge embankments and levees were built to stay its sudden floods, it still wandered a mile or so from its bed overnight, leaving steamboats stranded high and dry.

As the steamboats increased in size and power, competition among their owners manifested itself in open rivalry. High-pressure boilers were introduced and the whistles shrieked the challenge of the race by day and night. The captains of the white-hulled craft, regardless of the twisting channels and the risk of snags, hurled defiance and vibrant oaths at all corners. They risked life and property without a qualm.

If coal and wood gave out, goods, lard, bacon, hams or tar would do just as well for the hungry, fiery maws of the furnaces. The scalded stokers, naked to the waist, yelled and cursed as the trembling wooden vessels careened down-stream in belching clouds of smoke.

Fires and explosions were frequent, and there was more than one Jim Bludso who stood at his post in the pilot-house and held the nose of the boat against the bank until every passenger was ashore. To the timid, the sign “Low Pressure,” painted on a paddle-box, was reassuring.

The days of the Sultana and the Southern Belle have gone into the limbo of things that were; but there are still old stern-wheelers on the Mississippi with the old thrill along their keels. Once in a while, as old race-horses are wont to do, they try other’s speed for a mile or two.

With the coming of the road and the canal the pulse of the traffic in the Mississippi slowed down. The steamboats of the old type suffered by comparison with the railroad largely because they carried so many deck-hands, and with the demand for higher wages they were no longer profitable.


There was no more picturesque sight in the old days than the antics of the roustabouts who took freight in at the landings and hustled what cargo was waiting on board. They had periods of leisure, however, which piled up heavy overhead charges which could hardly be met under new conditions.

Still, with the introduction of cheaply operated barges burning oil, a profitable freight business is again being built up in the valley, and it is growing apparent that the railroad cannot do everything.


An entirely different system of inland transportation is that which is built about the Great Lakes and the canals. There were very short canals in the United States long before the successful outcome of the American Revolution, but the history of these artificial channels is bound up in the navigation and use of the 80,000 square miles of those land-locked seas separating part of the United States from Canada.

Even early French explorers had long recognized the value of the Great Lakes, but it remained for the canal-builder to make them useful to industry and commerce. One of the results of General Washington’s trip into the Western wilderness, after independence had been won, was his plan for connecting the Atlantic seaboard with the central rivers. He had also approved the project of joining the waters of the Hudson with Lake Erie by canal.

As president of the Potomac Canal Company, founded for the purpose of digging the connecting channel from Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio River, he did not live to see the fruition of his plans. He was able, however, before his death, to support in every way the view of Gouverneur Morris, the eminent financier, that the day was much to be desired when “the waters of the great inland seas would, with the aid of man, break all their barriers and unite with those of the Hudson.”

Such a plan was urged again, in 1808, by Albert Gallatin, the secretary of the treasury; but it was not until 1817, ten years after the first commercially successful steamboat had been launched, that this mighty project was under way.

In those days there were no excavation engineers, no contractors on a big scale, and the day of power machinery and steam dredges and shovels had not dawned. American zeal, however, began the task of felling primeval forests, pulling up enormous roots, and removing millions of tons of earth, which work was carried on for eight years before “Clinton’s Ditch” was done.

A proud day it was for DeWitt Clinton, governor of the Empire State of New York, chief advocate of the canal, when from a ceremonial barge he emptied two kegs of water from Lake Erie into the waters of the Hudson and proclaimed the marriage of ocean and inland sea.


When this great artificial channel was opened in 1825, the commerce of the Great Lakes, long pent up and undeveloped, began to pour toward the ocean ferries. The wheat and wool of Ohio, the coal of Pennsylvania, and the copper of Lake Superior, were thus to find their way to the waiting ships of foreign lands.

Along the route of the Erie Canal sprang up thriving communities. Buffalo which had been hardly more than a trading-post, became a busy city. In the municipality of New York, 3,500 new houses were built in the year the artificial strait was opened, and it soon boasted a greater export trade than either of its ancient rivals, Boston and Philadelphia.

Then came an era of canal-building which developed almost side by side with the spread of steam navigation, although the canal did not call on mechanical power for many a year to propel its craft.

Philadelphia hastened the completion of the long-delayed Union Canal. The Western States speeded their canal-digging programmes at every point. Ohio, alert to get all the trade she could both from the North and the South, connected her great river of the lower boundary with Lake Erie, coming in touch not only with the many ports of the inland seas but also finding a way to reach the Atlantic seaboard with heavy freight.

Numerous other canals were excavated in response to the demand for a network of communication throughout the nation.

DAM AT DELTA RESERVOIR, NEW YORK. This reservoir, five miles north of Rome, impounds the flow of the Mohawk near its headwaters. Water from the Delta Reservoir passes down the Mohawk and enters the canal at Rome. The Delta Reservoir has a surface area of four and one-third square miles. The canal seen in the view is the Black River Canal. Courtesy New York State Barge Canal Commission.

Although the day of the railroad was drawing near and steamboats had become an accepted means of travel, the public quite unexpectedly developed a wish to be canal-boat passengers. As the boats were intended primarily for freight, their owners had to change their plans to meet the demand. The canal-boats, which are really modified keel-boats or barges, were quickly fitted with cabins, and the travelling public welcomed. Thousands immigrants chose this method of transit on their Westward journey.

For business men, who wanted to proceed to their destination with all speed, express canal-boats were devised. They had finer accommodations than the so-called line boats, and were drawn by speedier horses or mules. Passengers of social pretensions, dressed in fashionable attire, could sun themselves on the roof, provided—especially if they wore silk hats—they ducked their heads when the crew sounded the warning, “Low Bridge.” The voyagers slept in bunks along the sides of the cabins, which also served as dining-saloons whet the bunks were folded up after the manner of the berths in modern Pullman coaches.

The freight and passenger business of the Erie Canal and that of the Ohio canals grew to enormous; proportions before the opposition and competition of the railroads caused many of the familiar channels to be abandoned. The canals of the United States, however, were not so easily to be put out of the running. Some of the more elaborate ones, such as the venerable Morris Canal in New Jersey, which has few locks and depends upon inclined railroads or planes to lift its boats from one level to another, remain as picturesque relics.

While some wiseacres were singing the lay of the last canal, conditions were arising in the Great Lakes and elsewhere which called for a new policy toward the artificial waterways of the country. Navigation on the huge area of the bodies of fresh water had developed in an amazing manner. From the introduction of the steamboat, and with the launching of the old Walk-in-the-Water at the Lake port of Buffalo, special types of power-craft were introduced.

OPERATING A GATE ON THE NEW YORK STATE BARGE-CANAL. Courtesy of the General Electric Company.


The age of steam came to the Great Lakes at about the same time it dawned upon the big rivers. The first steamboat to dip into the unsalted seas was the Ontario, which was launched at Sacketts Harbor under a grant from the heirs of Robert Fulton. A heavy swell and choppy waves at this particular point often made navigation difficult. The Ontario got out of control at first, and wrecked her pier in trying to get back.

The first steamer on Lake Erie, the Walk-in-the-Water, was better adapted to the disposition of the inland waters and did far better than the Ontario.

The services of hardy Lake sailors, men of the stamp who made possible the victory of Commodore Perry on Lake Erie, were enlisted to man the new Lake steamboats.

The discovery of copper and of rich iron deposits on the shores of Lake Superior, the demand for bottoms to bring the wheat of the great Northwest into Chicago or to the Erie Canal, stimulated traffic to a high degree.

As there was no heavy foreign competition, the shipping on the Great Lakes soon grew to be considerably more than half that of the entire nation, and gave to our inland navigation larger vessels than those maintained on the interior waters of any other country.

The passenger and pleasure traffic of the Lakes is carried on enormous excursion steamers which are as well appointed as the finest ocean liners. The freight is handled in vessels which are peculiarly adapted to Lake conditions.

The whaleback (now almost obsolete), a cigar-shaped craft, the hull of which was covered with curved plates of steel—the invention of a Scotchman, Captain McDougall—was especially adapted to Lake traffic.

THE AGE OF THE GREAT LAKES WHALEBACKS. The whaleback loads and unloads quickly and is also stable on the rough waters of the Great Lakes.

Laden with iron ore and copper, the improved successors of the “whalebacks” make quick trips in the Lakes, and as they are speedily loaded and unloaded with devices which permit the handling of a whole train-load in a few hours, they are increasing in favor with inland navigators. Ore is literally poured into them, settling down into their holds by force of gravity; and when the vessel reaches its destination, automatic grab-buckets as quickly remove it. Large quantities of grain are handled in much the same way.

Although navigation on the Great Lakes is closed in winter, it makes up in summer for lost time. During the season, thousands of salt-water sailors join the hardy mariners of the Middle West in manning the huge fleets carrying raw material for American furnaces and mills.

The usefulness of the 90,000 square miles of the land-locked seas is increased by canals. Between Lake Superior and Lake Huron is an artificial channel, making up for the shallowness of the natural outlet, the St. Mary’s River, in which there is also a waterfall. Through this ship-canal, twenty feet in depth, millions of tons of heavy freight pass every year.

Between Lakes Erie and Ontario there is the Welland Canal, which was begun by the Canadian Government in 1824, about the time the Erie was nearing completion, and opened, in 1832, to connect the Great Lakes more closely with the St. Lawrence. This channel is fourteen feet in depth, and through it pass vessels of larger register from the inland seas to the Atlantic. The difference in level between the two lakes, taken care of by locks, amounts to 300 feet.

MODERN ORE-CARRIER OF THE GREAT LAKES. This type of vessel was especially developed for the rapid loading and unloading of ore.

Although there are many abandoned canals, once busy channels of trade, the commerce of the Great Lakes has done much to keep in commission numerous straits dug to supplement the rivers. There was a time when even the Erie was reaching its last stages, but the indomitable energy of Theodore Roosevelt brought a canal revival to the nation.

When he was governor of New York State he became so deeply interested in inland navigation that he started the movement which resulted in the expenditure of $100,000,000 in the broadening and deepening of the old Erie into a modern barge-canal. By canalizing rivers and much dredging, this great liquid highway across the Empire State has received a new lease of life.

The revised Erie differs in construction from the old in that it makes use of slack-water navigation. There are 446 miles of the barge-canals, the Erie being 339 miles in length. The size of the channels varies according to locality, the minimum depth being 12 feet. The main line is 125 feet in width where it is cut through the earth sections; 94 feet where the course has been blasted through the rock, and 200 feet in width in the channels marked by buoys. Fifty-seven locks regulate the flow of the water at the changing levels.

In the early canals, locks were ponderous gates of wood, opened and closed only with great labor. The barge-canal has locks of reinforced concrete equipped with massive doors of steel which are made to swing by electricity on metal pivots, and they can be opened and shut within half a minute. The machinery of the barge-canal alone cost the State of New York about $10,000,000.

LOCKS AT LOCKPORT, N. Y. Two locks of barge-canal dimensions have supplanted a tier of five old locks. Another tier of locks has been retained. The two locks have a combined lift of forty-nine feet.

With the coming of the new method of construction the old tow-path, over which the hauling mules were driven, passed into history. Now the barges are either self-propelled by electric power or towed by tugs.

Another interesting new canal development is the sluice cut through the neck of Cape Cod, thus furnishing a safe and easy passage for craft which before had to chance the rigors of an outside route.


Of especial importance, both for peace and war, is that combination of canals and rivers—found in the eastern and southern United States—which permits the passage of vessels of light draft, such as torpedo-boat destroyers, without their having to navigate the ocean. On such waterways as these, swift motor-boats are important factors in the development of communication.

It would be an ideal state of things, if the American continent were spanned from the Atlantic to the Pacific by a huge lagoon, but owing to the enormous differences in level, especially in the mountainous West, this dream of transportation could hardly be realized.

Theodore Roosevelt, leader of the proponents of the inland waterways, when he became President of the United States, gave himself over, heart and soul, to the great project of cutting in twain the Isthmus of Panama, which joined the two Americas. The digging of this big ditch brought the extreme West and the East close together, and proved an important factor in the development of international commerce.

The mighty plan of cutting down the distance between the two coasts and saving the tedious and hazardous trip around stormy Cape Horn was conceived shortly after the discovery of America, although many centuries passed before the vision of the Spanish conquistadores was translated into terms of dredges and steam-shovels.

A French company, of which Count Ferdinand de Lesseps was the directing genius, began the digging of a canal in 1880, but after millions and millions of francs had been spent the work was suspended; costly machinery, assembled at a great cost, fell into decay and rusted under the tropic skies.

MACHINERY ABANDONED BY THE FRENCH AT PANAMA. Courtesy of the Panama Canal Commission.

The United States acquired the title to the abandoned route and, in 1904, began the colossal task of finishing the work. Ten years and three months later the Panama Canal was opened to the fleets of the world.

The Canal traverses a zone, obtained by special treaty on the payment of the sum of $10,000,000. The acquisition of the needed territory was pushed through by Theodore Roosevelt, in accordance with the quick initiative which the Roosevelts have always shown; he had made up his mind that the Canal had to be built—and it was.

STEAM DIPPER AT WORK IN PANAMA CANAL. This boulder weighs over fifty tons and was blasted three times while it was resting on the dipper before it could be deposited in the removing scow. At times more than thirty boulders were blasted in this manner in a day. Courtesy of the Bucyrus Company.

This great waterway is 50 miles in length; has a minimum width of 300 feet and a minimum depth of 41 feet. It cost $375,000,000, including the $40,000,000 paid to France for the old route. When the work was at its height a veritable army of 44,000 laborers were employed, and in all 238,000,000 cubic yards of earth and rock were excavated.

The “spoil,” as taken from the big prism, would build sixty-three pyramids the size of Cheops. It could have been piled into a structure of the bulk of China’s Great Wall, which would easily have stretched across the continent, or almost as far as the distance between New York and San Francisco.

CULEBRA CUT, CULEBRA. Deepest excavated portion of Panama Canal, showing Gold Hill on right and Contractor’s Hill on left. June, 1913. Courtesy of the Panama Canal Commission.

Some of the debris was employed as a core or filling for the great Gatun Dam, which was built to impound the waters of the fretful Chagres. The dam itself is a mile and a half long, and half a mile wide at its base, and tapers up to 400 feet in thickness at its top.

Mountains of cement were needed to construct the works and locks about the big Canal, so that ocean liners might pass from ocean to ocean as quickly as though they were small barges going through an Ohio creek. On the whole, the transfers from one level to another are made even more rapidly than was possible in the early days of canal-boating on this continent.

The locks of Panama are 1,000 feet in length, 110 feet in width, and have a depth of 41.66 feet. The gates of steel are seven feet thick, and they weigh from 450 to 700 tons each, according to their width and height. The many millions of gallons of water which are poured in and out of these locks are forced through valves and culverts.


Where vessels are unable to use their own power, the government provides towing locomotives, driven by electricity, which run along the tops of the locks, four in tandem, and in a very few minutes speed even heavy war ships on their way.

U. S. S. WISCONSIN IN MIDDLE EAST CHAMBER OF GATUN LOCK, PANAMA CANAL. Electric locomotives haul the ships through the locks. Courtesy of the General Electric Company.

Considered as a means of aiding the internal commerce of the United States, the Canal can cut off the steaming or sailing distance of any vessel bound from New York to a port on the Pacific coast by 8,415 miles. Eventually, it will be of still more value in developing our trade with the Central and South American republics.

Our inland navigation bears a very close relation at all points to foreign trade, for many of the cargoes are brought from the inner regions for transfer direct to vessels loading for Europe.

HOW SHIPS ARE ELECTRICALLY CONTROLLED IN THE PANAMA CANAL. The passage of a vessel through the locks of the Panama Canal is controlled by means of a remarkable switchboard located in the building at the left. A detailed view of the switchboard appears on page 101. Every stage of the passage—the rise and fall of water in the locks, the opening and closing of gates—is indicated by electric lights. Copyright, 1914, by Scientific American.
THE MIRAFLORES LOCK CONTROL, BOARD, PANAMA CANAL. The course of a vessel through the locks of the Panama Canal is controlled by electric switchboards. The men at the switchboards need not see the vessel. The height of the water in the locks, the opening and closing of the gates, the positions of the moving parts of a lock are all electrically indicated, chiefly by lights on the switchboards. Courtesy of the General Electric Company.
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