Built at Wheeling in 1816 by the great riverman Capt. Henry M. Shreve of Brownsville, Pennsylvania, and George White and Noah Lane of Wheeling, the riverboat Washington was the prototype for almost every steamboat to follow.
Earlier boats had been patterned after the New Orleans, the first steamboat to operate on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, built in 1811 at Pittsburgh by the Fulton, Livingston, and Roosevelt group of New York. This boat was patterned after Fulton’s original Hudson River steamboat, Clermont, built in 1807. Based on his experience as a keelboat and steamboat captain, Shreve decided that he would build a boat and steam machinery more suitable to the western rivers. While partners White and Lane were building the hull at Wheeling using timber from historic Fort Henry, Shreve supervised the building of the high-pressure boilers and engines at Brownsville. On all of the earlier boats, low-pressure vertical boilers and engines had been placed in the hold of the boat. Shreve placed two pairs of horizontal boilers and a set of compact high-pressure engines connected to the sidewheels on the main deck of the Washington. This design eliminated the need for a deep hold, producing a shallow-draft vessel which floated on the water rather than in it. The Washington was also the first steamboat to be built with a second deck where there were cabins just for passengers.
The Washington soon proved that it had the power to stem the strong upstream current and maintain a regular schedule on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, unlike its predecessors. By 1825, when Shreve replaced the first Washington with the George Washington, most of the steamboats then operating were patterned after the 1816 Washington.
This Article was written by Gerald W. Sutphin
Last Revised on November 12, 2010
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Mitchell, C. Bradford & Kenneth R. Hall. Merchant Steam Vessels of the United States, 1790-1868. Staten Island, NY: Steamship Historical Society of America, 1975.
Way, Frederick Jr. Way's Packet Directory, 1848-1983. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1983.
Cite This Article
Sutphin, Gerald W. "Washington." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 12 November 2010. Web. 24 February 2017.