Who Was the First President to Ride on a Steamboat?

August 19, 2023
David Sunnyside

The answer may surprise some.

In 1784 George Washington made the long trek from his Mount Vernon estate to the western part of Virginia (now West Virginia). As he traveled, he looked for ways to shorten travel time by building roads and canals. At his first stop he became intrigued by an inventor who was trying to conquer river travel with his steam-powered vessel.

Washington arranged for Rumsey to be hired as superintendent of the Potomac Navigation Company, which had been chartered to improve river navigation. That provided Rumsey with steady income and a chance to test his boat. And his success in doing so would help spark the race to develop passenger and freight steamboats that would culminate in Robert Fulton’s famous vessels 20 years later.

By the 1820s, steamboats were in use on most of the country’s major rivers, canals, and waterways. They totally revolutionized shipping. Instead of having to rely on unpredictable currents and winds, plantation owners could send their cargoes upriver on the Mississippi in a matter of days rather than taking months or even years to move their goods around the country on foot or by wagon or ship.

This week’s Old Boat Column image was taken in 1907 by a photographer from a high vantage point on the south side of the Eads Bridge. The panorama shows the steamboat MISSISSIPPI, bringing the President from Keokuk. The boat’s captain was Nicholas Roosevelt, brother of Theodore Roosevelt and a business partner of Robert Fulton.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram