Steam Era

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History Homework Help, 10 Points?

The major application for steamboats transporting freight and passengers in the United States was on
a. New England streams.
b. western and southern rivers.
c. the Great Lakes.
d. the Gulf of Mexico.
e. coastal waterways.


Steamboats in Alabama

Because its entry into the Union coincided with the beginning of the steam era and a period of rapid growth in river transportation in the United States, steamboats played an important role in the economic development of Alabama. Well into the twentieth century, the state had few modern roads, and those that existed were poorly maintained and often impassable in bad weather. Alabama was fortunate, however, in having an abundance of navigable rivers. The first steamboat to ply the rivers, the Alabama, was built in St. Stephens and launched in 1818 on the Alabama River.

Alabama's rivers quickly became major thoroughfares with the invention and widespread use of steam-powered river craft with shallow drafts (those that can float in fairly shallow water) that could travel upstream against strong currents. River development in north Alabama was hampered by a series of hazardous cascades on the Tennessee River known as Muscle Shoals, which prevented the passage of vessels further upstream except during periods of high water or flood. South Alabama rivers had no such impediments; as a result, steamboat traffic flourished, particularly on the Alabama, Tombigbee, and Black Warrior rivers, all of which funneled into Mobile Bay. The state's most important towns developed along these navigable rivers, and Mobile, the largest metropolis, became known as the Port City. On the east side of the state, the Chattahoochee River created another north-south thoroughfare, opening up that side of the state to transportation and commerce.

Alabama steamboats were owned by companies and individuals throughout the nineteenth century. The earliest steamboat companies were the St. Stephens Steamboat Company, organized in 1818, the Steamboat Company of Alabama in 1820, and the Mobile Steamboat Company in 1821. By 1861, however, most boats on Alabama rivers belonged to Cox, Brainard & Company. In the antebellum period, slaves owned by the company or individual owners served as deck hands.

Steamboat transportation made possible the plantation-based cotton economy that flourished during the steam era and lasted from approximately 1820 to the end of the nineteenth century. The primary function of most steamboats was to carry as much cotton as quickly and as cheaply as possible from the interior of the state to the ports along the Gulf Coast. In antebellum Alabama, steamboats going downstream to Mobile stopped to load cotton bales at nearly 300 landings along the Tombigbee River and 200 more along the Alabama River. Ideally, cotton landings were located below high bluffs rising out of the river. Cotton warehouses were located on the top of the bluffs and were connected to the landings below by wooden slides. The men who worked at the top of the cotton slide were called "rolladores" and were usually slaves; whereas Irish immigrants typically made up the class of workers called stevedores, who performed the more dangerous jobs at the bottom; slaves were too valuable for such work. Numerous other landings dotted the rivers because steamboats had to stop frequently to take on firewood to stoke their boilers and keep up a good head of steam. On trips upstream, the same boats carried cargoes of sugar, coffee, food, clothing, household goods, farm supplies, and other similar products to merchants in towns up river. They also carried luxury items including fine furniture purchased by wealthy Alabamians in Mobile, New Orleans, Philadelphia, New York, and even abroad.

Most of Alabama's antebellum steamboats were side-wheelers. (Powerful but less maneuverable stern-wheelers became more common in the last quarter of the nineteenth century). Side-wheelers averaged about 200 feet long and 30 to 40 feet wide and were well suited to the state's narrow, shallow rivers. They were constructed of wood and were, in effect, little more than long barges with a steam engine, boiler, and paddle wheels located across the center.

Most steamboats featured several decks. The main deck was usually open and unobstructed (except for the cooking facilities and machinery) to accommodate as many cotton bales and stacks of firewood as possible. Cotton bales often were stacked in any available space on the upper decks as well, which inconvenienced passengers and created serious fire hazards. Second-class, or "deck," passengers were not assigned cabins and slept on the main deck wherever they could find a spot between cotton bales or stacks of firewood.

Above the main deck was a series of enclosed decks. The one immediately above it, the so-called "boiler deck," contained first-class passenger accommodations, including a long saloon that ran the full length of the deck. On both sides of this deck were small, sparsely furnished sleeping rooms equipped with bunks. Each compartment had two doors, one opening onto the outside gallery that traversed the entire deck and the other into the saloon that ran down the center of the deck. Th

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