Extract from The Pittsburgh Post, 30 October 1911

History of First Steamer

Charles W. Dahlinger Writes Story of Earliest Navigation on Ohio

Building of New Boat

New Orleans Constructed in Pittsburgh after Difficulties are Overcome

The subject of early navigation of the Ohio river is at this particular time an interesting one, not only for the people of Pittsburgh, but for the vast number who live on and near that mighty stream. The following excerpts are taken from an exhaustive article dealing with the launching and first trip of the steamer New Orleans by Charles W. Dahlinger recently published in the "Legal Journal" of this city. Mr. Dahlinger consulted some 39 authorities, entailing an immense amount of original research. This account of the beginning of steamboat navigation on the Western rivers will be found not only interesting but instructive:

The first step in the movement for the conquest of the Western waters appears to have been the letter which Robert Fulton wrote to Robert R. Livingston on August 29, 1807, suggesting that certain inquiries be made in regard to the Mississippi: "I think it would be well to write to your brother Edward to get information on the velocity of the Mississippi, the size and form of boats used, the number of hands and quantity of tons in each boat, the number of miles they make against the current in 12 hours, and the quantity of tons which go up the river in a year. On this point beg of him to be accurate." Later Livingston and Fulton also sought the professional opinion of Nicholas J. Roosevelt, a brother of the grandfather of former President Theodore Roosevelt; and he was engaged to make a personal examination of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. Mr. Roosevelt was an expert in all things pertaining to the steam engine, having for some years conducted at Belleville on the Passaic river, near Newark, an establishment for the manufacture of steam engines of the Boulton and Watt design, the most efficient engine yet developed at this early period of steam engine construction. He had also been associated with Mr. Livingston in his experiments in the application of steam to the propulsion of boats, several years before that gentleman met Mr. Fulton. In April 1900 [sic, actually 1800] Mr. Roosevelt visited Pittsburgh; and a memorandum in the handwriting of Mr. Fulton shows that on June 23, 1809, he was paid the sum of $600, on "Mississippi expedition." Proceeding down the Ohio River in a flatboat, Mr. Roosevelt spent six months in exploring that, and the Mississippi river. His report being favorable, it was decided to build a steamboat at Pittsburgh. In the spring of 1810, Mr. Roosevelt returned to Pittsburgh, bringing with him a force of capable mechanics, such as could not then be procured in Pittsburgh, and the building of the steamboat was begun, which was to be christened the New Orleans.

Shipyard a Show Place

Pittsburgh already boasted of three weekly newspapers, the Pittsburgh "Gazette," the "Commonwealth" and the "Mercury," the last being first issued to July 1812, but none of them devoted much space to the publication of local news, giving generally only meager accounts of the happenings at home. In addition to the newspapers there were Zadok Cramer's annual Pittsburgh "Magazine Almanack," and his "Navigator," of which last many editions were printed. Both these publications contained concise, but complete accounts of the development of early Pittsburgh and the "Navigator," the most detailed information on the navigation of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, concerning which it was the standard authority in all the Western waters.

The boat was constructed at the "shipyard," which Mr. Cramer mentioned in a number of his "Navigators" as one of the show places of infant Pittsburgh, along with the public buildings, the churches, Fort Fayette and the ruins of Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne. It was located on the northern bank of the Monongahela river immediately above a rivulet called Sukes run, which emptied into the river about where the Panhandle railroad bridge now crosses the stream. The rivulet is no longer in existence, the entire contour of the ground having been changed when the Pennsylvania canal was constructed in 1823. The "shipyard" had been established in 1801 by a number of Frenchmen, who came to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia, the firm name being John A. Tarascon, Brother, James Berthoud & Co. They built all sorts of river craft and schooners, brigs and other ships, from which the establishment derived its name, and which were sent to sea by way of New Orleans. The building of ships so far away from the ocean proved impracticable, and losing a large schooner which they were attempting to take over the falls of the Ohio, the firm discontinued business and the two leading members, John A Tarascon and James Berthoud left Pittsburgh and went to Shipping port on the Ohio river, at the foot of the falls, where they engaged in other pursuits. Since 1806, Anthony Beelen has been the owner of the "shipyard," where he had in 1810 established an iron foundry, the second of the kind in Pittsburgh.

Construction of the New Orleans

In the construction of the New Orleans the idea of marine architecture was adhered to. The boat was built on the model of a ship with portholes; and it had two masts. Mr. Fulton claiming that under his supplementary patent, taken out on February 9, 1811, he had exclusive right to use "the combination of sails with a steam engine." The cabin was in the hold; and there was a bowsprit eight feet long, which was painted sky-blue. * * * The boat was not provided with a pilot house, like the modern steamboats, but the pilot stood during all kinds of weather during the performance of his duties, exposed to all kinds of weather, on the deck near the center of the boat, where the steering wheel was placed, being immediately above the engine, where he could give the engineer orders, when to put the engine in motion and when to stop it, an arrangement which Mr. Fulton, in a paper presented by himself, said was one of the ideas covered by his patents.

Zadok Cramer in his "Navigator" for 1811, relates that, "There is now on foot a new method of navigating our Western waters -- particularly the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. This is by boats propelled by the power of steam. * * * This plan, if it succeeds, must open to view flattering prospects in an immense country."

The boat was unquestionably the largest that had yet been seen on the Western rivers, being of decidedly greater size than the barges, which were the largest craft then on the rivers and which rarely exceeded 100 feet and six inches, the breadth 32 feet 6 inches, and the depth 12 feet. * * * Various figures are in circulation in regard to the tonnage of the vessel, the Navigator for 1811 declaring that it was "calculated for 300 feet or 400 tons burden," the same indefinite language appearing in succeeding editions, published years after the New Orleans had left Pittsburgh.

Boat Had a Single Engine Only

The boat had a single engine, which was patterned after the Boulton and Watt Double acting design, and like all the engines made by that firm, was a "low pressure" engine and was provided with a separate condenser. The cylinder was 34 inches in diameter, and there was no walking beam. The engine was vertical and was what is known as a steeple engine, with the piston attached to a cross iron beam, which slid between guides on a gallows frame. That the portion of the engine was exposed and extended above the deck of the boat is evident from the statement of a writer in the Cincinnati "Miscellany" of February 1845, who saw the boat near North Bend, Ind., as it descended the Ohio river, on the way from Pittsburgh, and who described it by saying that he "supposed it was a sawmill, from the working of the 'lever beam' making its slow but solemn progress with the current." The engine was built in New York, and was brought in parts over the Allegheny mountains in wagons, there being no establishment in Pittsburgh at that time of sufficient capacity to do work of such magnitude. The boiler was made of copper, and together with the engine was placed in the hold of the boat.

There do not appear to be any contemporary accounts showing whether the New Orleans was a stern-wheel steamboat or had propelling wheels attached at the sides like the Clermont, the earliest description of the boat being silent in this particular. The authorities on steam navigation on the Western rivers are, with one exception, unanimous in maintaining that the New Orleans was a stern-wheeler. All the contemporary evidence, however, slight though it may be, indicates that the New Orleans was a side-wheel steamboat. Thus the "Louisiana Gazette and Advertiser" of January 13, 1812, issued three days after the boat arrived at New Orleans, stated that "she was detained by the breaking of 'one' of her wheels." Then the account of the sinking of the New Orleans, published in the Pittsburgh "Mercury" of August 24, 1814, contained a reference to the 'wheel' on the larboard side." Both these statements make it apparent that the boat had more than one wheel, and it is highly probable that the boat had two wheels which were placed at the sides of the boat, that being the ordinary mode of placing the wheels, and there being no information from which it can be inferred that any stern-wheel boat had more than one wheel at the stern prior to 1830, when a small boat was built at Pittsburgh, to run on the Allegheny river, having two wheels at the stern, which, was the first boat with two wheels so placed.

Launches in March 1811

According to the "Navigator" of 1814, the New Orleans was launched in March 1811, but it was not completed until many months later. On October 15, 1811, it was taken on a trial trip about the city. On October 20, 1811, the boat finally set sail for New Orleans; and the dawn broke on a new era in river navigation for the entire Western and Southern country. Notwithstanding the intense interest which the event must have created in Pittsburgh, the only notice of the same that is to be found in any of the Pittsburgh newspapers are the following lines published in the Pittsburgh "Gazette" of October 25, 1811: "The steamboat sailed from this place on Sunday last for Natchez"

By the time the boat was ready for her initial voyage it had been definitely decided that it was to ply between Natchez in Mississippi and New Orleans, in Louisiana. No freight or passengers were carried, the object being merely to take the vessel to its station. Mr. Roosevelt with his young wife and child went in the boat, and Mr. Roosevelt seems to have acted as its captain. The engineer was Nicholas Baker, who, on the boat's arrival at New Orleans, appears to have been given the command, as a notice was published shortly afterward in the "Louisiana Gazette and Advertiser" of February 12, 112 [sic, probably 1812] advertising the sailing of the boat from New Orleans, which was signed by Nicholas Baker, "captain." Mr. Baker is also given as the boat's captain in the New Orleans wharf report, which is a record showing the arrival of all early steamboats. The pilot was Andrew Jack, who, with a crew of six men and a few domestics, completed the number of persons on board.

Reaches New Orleans in January, 1812

The boat reached New Orleans on January 10, 1812, a notice of which fact was published in the "Louisiana Gazette and Advertiser" of January 13, 1812: "The steamboat New Orleans, from Pittsburgh, arrived here Friday evening last. The captain reports she has been under way not more than 259 hours from Pittsburgh to this place, which gives about eight miles an hour." The "259 hours" which this writer asserted the boat was under way, would mean something more than 10 days' time, so that he must have meant that the distance from Pittsburgh to New Orleans was covered in "259 hours" and to have excluded from his calculation the time that the boat lost from various causes, and the time consumed in making the extra trips between Louisville and Cincinnati, as 83 days had elapsed since it left Pittsburgh.

As was to be expected, the steamboat attracted much attention in New Orleans; crowds gathered on the levee and watched the boat moving through the water in amazement. In less than two weeks after its arrival it made a trip over the route for which it was intended, the event being chronicled in the "Louisiana Gazette and Advertiser" of March 6, 1812: "This vessel set out for Natchez on Thursday last, the 23rd of January, for her first time, more for experiment than emolument. From a gentleman passenger, of correct information, we are enabled to state, that she can steam the current at a rate of upward of three miles an hour -- that she went from the city to the Homas, a distance of 75 miles, in 24 hours.

The triumph of steamboat navigation on the Western rivers was now complete, and no one felt the elation of the victory more than Mr. Fulton himself. In a letter to his friend, Joel Barlow, the poet, at this time the United States minister to France, he expressed his gratification: "The Mississippi, as I before wrote you, is conquered; the steamboat which I have sent to trade between New Orleans and Natchez, carried 1,500 barrels, equal to 150 tons, from New Orleans to Natchez, against the current, 313 miles in seven days, working in that time 84 hours. These are conquests perhaps as valuable as those at Jena. * * *

Lasted but Little Over Two Years

Mr. Fulton, not being the original inventor of the steamboat, his own patents not having been taken out until several years after the Clermont was navigating the Hudson river, and many of his improvements being merely the adaption to the steamboat of devices long before in use in other fields and unpatentable, Livingston and Fulton placed little dependence on the validity of the patents after they were issued. Although often giving notice in the public press, a number of which were printed in the Pittsburgh newspapers, warning those who were claimed to be infringing on Mr. Fulton's patents, that legal proceedings would be instituted against them, Livingston and Fulton indulged in little actual litigation on this account. They had a better plan to secure a monopoly than the doubtful expedient of Mr. Fulton's patent rights. When the New Orleans was barely off the stocks they had already procured from the Territory of Orleans, which was the name of Louisiana before it became a state, on April 8[?], 1812, the enactment of a law granting them a monopoly in the navigation of the inland waters of the Territory, by boats propelled by fire or steam, * * *

The law was similar in scope to the one which gave them a monopoly of the waters under the jurisdiction of the State of New York, and gave them exclusive rights for a period of 18 years beginning on January 1, 1812. The penalties for violations of the law were extremely harsh, and anyone offending against the provision was liable to pay to Livingston and Fulton the sum of $5,000 for each offense and to forfeit to them any unauthorized steamboat. The only consideration for the act was that a freight rate be established which was to be not more than three-fourths of the average rate charged by other mercantile boats then navigating the inland waters of the Territory. And after the New Orleans began navigating the lower Mississippi, Livingston and Fulton attempted to exclude all steamboats not authorized by them from that river. * * *

Like many of the other early Western steamboats, the New Orleans had but a short career on the water, and in little more than two years was lost. The Pittsburgh "Mercury" of August 24, 1814, already referred to, gave an interesting account of the catastrophe at Baton Rouge, August 13.

Here the boat lay buried for more than 35 years, when in 1850, during an unusually low stage of water, its timbers were once more exposed to view and found to be in a good state of preservation. * * *

The steamboat enterprise was continued under the name of Livingston and Fulton, after the death of the two principals, the article of agreement entered into between them providing for this contingency, and the firm was continually engaged in expensive litigation with the owners of boats built under patents other than those of Mr. Fulton, who were unwilling to accede to the demands of Livingston and Fulton, and pay them for a license to navigate the waters of Louisiana. Among the most persistent violators of their rights were the proprietors of the two steamboats built under the patent of Daniel French, the Enterprise and the Dispatch, and the owners of the Constitution, built by Oliver Evans, at Pittsburgh in 1816. Feeling against Livingston and Fulton ran high. The names of both Mr. Livingston and Mr. Fulton were execrated in all the river towns above New Orleans, and no sane person would have dreamed of holding up Mr. Fulton as a benefactor mankind, or of making him the popular hero that he has since become. William Wirt, the attorney general of the United States, in an argument of the celebrated case of Gibbons against Ogden, in which the ban was finally, in 1824, placed on all monopoly in the navigation of the rivers of the United States, when the exclusive rights granted to Livingston and Fulton by the State of New York were held to be void, declared that the existing conditions were so intolerable, that in three states there was danger of civil war. To show how intense this feeling was in Pittsburgh, it is only necessary to read the fulmination which appeared in the Pittsburgh "Commonwealth" of May 15, 1816, which was quite as revolutionary as the most rabid secession articles published in the Southern newspapers preceding the Civil war. The occasion of the diatribe was the son of Edward Livingston, at the time the assignee of the exclusive rights of Livingston and Fulton, in compelling the steamboat Dispatch to leave the waters of Louisiana. * * *

In time even in Louisiana, a sentiment against the monopoly of Livingston and Fulton appears to have sprung up, and at the session of the legislature held in 1817, a resolution was adopted directing that in inquiry be made into the advisability of repealing the act of the Legislature of the Territory of Orleans granting to Livingston and Fulton their exclusive rights. However, the committee to whom the matter was referred made a report telling of the losses which had been sustained by Livingston and Fulton by the destruction of the New Orleans and the Vesuvius, and set forth the incalculable benefit that the introduction of steamboats had been to Louisiana, and recommended that the exclusive rights be allowed to remain undisturbed. Nothing was done, and Livingston and Fulton retained a practical monopoly of the navigation of the lower Mississippi river, until the case already alluded to, was decided by the supreme court of the United States, and which ever since that time has been a landmark in American jurisprudence on the question of monopoly. This case in effect decided that the exclusive grant of Livingston and Fulton in Louisiana was also void, and thereafter the rivers of Louisiana were free to every steamboat which entered upon its waters.

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