Find of the Week: The Age of Steamboats

 

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA-- Every Friday we team up with the Historic New Orleans Collection to use artifacts to tell you the story of our city's past.  For Today's Find of the Week, we take you with us on a steamboat ride back in time.

Sarah Duggan, the Classical Institute of the South Coordinator and Research Curator of the HNOC says, "the first steamboat launched on the Mississippi river in 1811 from Pittsburgh."

In the infancy of 19th century,  a new age of fast, luxurious and efficient travel had arrived.  It was the age of the steamboat and all near the river knew it, as the horns added a new sound to the ambient river sound.

In present day New Orleans the River Boat Natches is a remnant of a bygone era.  The first Riverboat Natches was built in New York City in 1823.

Sarah Duggan explains a beautiful symmetrical painting of forced perspective by French Artist, Marie Adrien Persac.  "This painting was done in 1861.  It was to commemorate a steamboat voyage Persac made with his wife after he moved from France to New Orleans in the 19th century.  He actually did many paintings of local buildings that you can see in other historic sources."

Persac's riverboat painting is the only known painting  that shows what the interior of a steamboat looked like before the civil war.  He captured the grandeur of the steamboat experience.  It features the latest trends, of brass chandeliers, woven geometrical carpeting, a bar, parlor tables, service people to wait on you, fine dining and a spittoon.

"In the early teens of the 18th century there were only about a hundred steamboats on the Mississippi River and in the next decade, by the 1820's the number of steamboats was in the thousands," says Duggan.

The increasing river traffic was not without it's danger. Boats would collide frequently.   On march 12th, 1859 the Steamboat Princess's boiler exploded with a large group of Mardi Gras passengers, from Natches, Mississippi aboard.   Steamboats were abundant but they were floating freely.  The Federal Steamboat Act of 1852 enacted stricter guidelines and regulations for steamboat operation.

With new regulation, the steamboat survived for new ages of passengers to be enjoyed today.

"It feels like a little bit of time travel. The steamboat is such a stunning visual experience. It's very instagrammable and the joy of seeing the wheel turning as it goes up the river is a really amazing sight to see in person," says Sarah Duggan.

 

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