New Orleans Celebrates Steamboat Bicentennial

Byline: Associated Press/Mary Foster

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Two hundred years ago, the first steamboat meandered down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, taking more than four months to reach New Orleans. The journey was marked by Indians chasing the paddlewheel boat, a baby’s birth on board and a powerful earthquake that made the Mississippi flow in the opposite direction for 45 miles.

Despite it all, the steamboat New Orleans successfully steamed into its namesake city, revolutionizing business for the port and opening up the Midwest to economic growth.

The 200th anniversary of the first docking was celebrated Feb. 4 along the banks of the Mississippi and at the Cabildo Museum in the French Quarter. The museum has a related exhibit: “New Orleans Bound 1812: The Steamboat that Changed America.”

Built in Pittsburgh by a group of investors that included Robert Fulton, credited by many as the father of the modern steam-powered ship, the steamboat New Orleans was 138 feet long with a 33-foot beam. It carried 17 people, including Lydia Roosevelt — wife of Nicholas Roosevelt, one of the leading investors — who gave birth to a son on the way downriver.

During the first voyage, people on the banks threw rocks at the boat, fearing it carried invading British soldiers. Indians chased the boat downstream, blaming it for a recent eclipse and, later, the earthquake.

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