Development of the US Inland Waterways System

1705-1774

  • 1705 – First recorded cargo – 15,000 bear and deer hides – came down Mississippi
  • 1718 – French establish New Orleans
  • 1764 – St. Louis founded as fur trading outpost1775-1806
    • Tradesmen sought methods of moving cargo efficiently
      • developed flatboats to move with downstream currents on available streams
        • capacities of up to 50 tons
        • propelled only by currents and with little guidance
        • at destination, broken up and sold for lumber
        • opened up heartland of the country to settlers
      • 1782 – Jacob Yoder makes first flatboat trip down Ohio and Mississippi
        • Territory expansions prompted government to seek new trade routes
          • Keelboats (also known as arks invented in early 1800’s
            • long (40 to 80 ft), narrow ( 7 to 10 ft) vessel
            • rode current downstream, but moved upstream propelled by poles or by men or animals on banks
      • 1787 – Northwest Ordinance established freedom of waterways
      • 1793 – First commercial lock built at Little Falls, New York
      • 1802 – Thomas Jefferson signed bill creating the Army Corps of Engineers
      • 1803 – Louisiana Purchase opened up New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi

    1807-1823

    • 1807 – Robert Fulton invented steamboat
    • 1808 – Pattern of federal responsibility for waterway improvements emerged
      • Report on Roads and Canals authorized improvements at Federal expense
    • 1811 -First river steamer, the New Orleans, designed and built by Fulton and business partner, Nicholas Roosevelt, launches at Pittsburgh, PA, in 1811
      • Backed by Robert Livingston, a negotiator for the Louisiana Purchase
        • Made trip from Pittsburgh to New Orleans in 14 days
        • Design did not allow the trip upstream, but monopolized traffic between New Orleans and Natchez, Mississippi
        • 1815 – Henry Shreve designed and built the Washington, a sidewheeler for  use on the Mississippi
        • Set standard for river steamboats
        • Broke monopoly of Fulton and Livingston in court case decided by the Supreme Court (1824)
        • all navigable waters were under federal control – individual states had no power to license exclusive use with one company
        • 1812 – War of 1812 delayed active federal support
        • 1815 – President Madison promoted federal role supported by Senators Webster, Clay, and Calhoun.
        • 1818 – Congressional resolution “for the improvement of water courses.”
        • 1819 – Keelboats proliferated, reportedly up to 500 on the Ohio River and tributaries
        • 1820-30 – Steamers fueled first by wood, then coal, pushed barges of coal from Pittsburgh to New Orleans
        • 1820 – Congress appropriated funds for survey of Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries
        • Regular steamboat commerce begun between Pittsburgh and Louisville
        • 1822 – President Monroe calls for continued improvements in waterways

    1824-1850

    • Second decks added to steamers to increase capacity – called river packets
      • To increase payload, paddle wheel moved to stern and barges strapped to sides
      • Operators developed technique of pushing instead of pulling barges;
      • 1823 – First steamer appeared Great Kanawha River
      • 1824 – Congress passes first “Roads and Canals” Act
      • Authorized Corps of Engineers to survey waterways to designate those “capable of sloop navigation”
      • Congress passes “An Act to Improve the Navigation of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.”
        • “to remove sand bars on the Ohio and planers, sawyers, and snags on the Mississippi”
      • Corps of Engineers has had responsibility for the waterways ever since.
    • 1825 – Erie Canal completed, promoted by DeWitt Clinton
      • Success prompted the construction of canals in other parts of country
    • 1826 – Congress authorized first survey for canal between Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico
    • 1828 – Army Engineers conduct survey of Tennessee River
    • First steamboat on Allegheny River
    • 1829 – First steam-powered snagboat launched at New Albany, Indiana
    • 1830 – President Jackson recognized integral relationship between the policy of Federal responsibility for the improvement of waterways and the policy of their free use
    • 1832 – Cumberland River (Tennessee-Kentucky) authorized for development
      • First steamer on Cumberland and Missouri Rivers
    • 1834 – Hudson River (New York) authorized for development
    • 1836 – State of Illinois began construction of Illinois and Michigan Canal
      • First steamers on Monangahela, Kentucky, and Green Rivers
      • Passenger pickets began to appear in large numbers
    • 1837-1839 – Near collapse of federal waterway improvement program
      • Economic recession
        • Tendency of individual states to make own improvements without coordination with federal government or other states; lack of financial support
        • Emergence of railroads contributed to waning of support
    • 1844 – President Tyler stated what became the accepted view of internal improvement programs in the second half of the nineteenth century: “The United States…is charged with its (the Mississippi’s) improvements for the benefit of all, and the appropriation of governmental means to its improvement becomes indispensably necessary for the good of all.”
    • 1848 – Abraham Lincoln, in addressing the government’s role in funding water projects, stated: “No commercial object of Government patronage can be so exclusively general, as not to be of some local advantage; but, on the other hand, nothing is so local as not to be of some general advantage.”
    • 1849 – Charles Ellet, Jr., advocates reservoirs to retain water that can be released during periods of low water.

    1850-1870

    • Railroads continued rise to prominence, taking away impact of the river steamer
      • Railroad companies bought canals and, in most cases, closed them
    • 1852 – Illinois Waterway, Tennessee River authorized for development
    • 1854 – Chicago and Rock Island Railroad first railroad to reach Mississippi River
      • Crescent City first towboat built specifically for barges
    • 1861 – First comprehensive hydrologic survey of Mississippi Basin made
    • 1861 – The Civil War virtually stopped river traffic
    • 1864 – All-time low water mark on Upper Mississippi mark for all subsequent measurements.
    • 1865-1870 – Stern wheelers proved more adaptable than side wheelers for barges
      • Steamboats become larger, faster
      • Floating palaces begin to appear

    1870-1924

    • Fleets of barges began to appear in large numbers
    • Efforts to construct waterways mostly local in nature (see ACT Basin history timeline)
    • 1871 – Warrior-Tombigbee River (Alabama) authorized for development
      • State of Illinois completed first lock and dam on Illinois River
      • Historic steamboat race between the Robert E. Lee and the Natchez
    • 1872 – Monongahela River ( Pennsylvania) authorized for development
      • Houston Ship Channel authorized for development
      • Delaware River authorized for development
    • 1873 – Kanawha River (West Virginia) authorized for development
      • Congress authorized first survey of inland waterway west of Mississippi
    • 1876 – Missouri River authorized for development
      • San Joaquin River (California) authorized for development
    • 1878 – First of modern era locks built on Ohio River (110 ft x 600 ft)
      • Upper Mississippi River authorized for development
    • 1879 – Mississippi River Commission created, signaling federal commitment to systematic effort to solve problems of the river.
      • Kentucky River authorized for development
    • 1882 – River and Harbors Appropriations Act (also of 1884)
      • Signaled Congress intent to improve waterways to benefit nation by promoting competition amongst transportation modes
      • First Act of Congress to combine appropriations for development of Nation’s waterways with a reaffirmation of the policy of freedom from tolls and other user charges.
    • 1884 – James River (Virginia) authorized for development
      • First appropriation for improving Black Warrior River
    • 1885 – First Corps of Engineers lock built at Davis Island near Pittsburgh
    • 1886 – Allegheny River (Pennsylvania) authorized for development
    • 1887 – Interstate Commerce Act
      • Established Federal regulation of railroads
      • Promoted policy of freedom from tolls or special taxes on waterways
    • 1888 – Green and Barren River (Kentucky) authorized for development
    • 1889 – Columbia River (Washington-Oregon) authorized for development
    • 1892 – Diesel engine invented, eventually leading to conversion of riverboats from steam to diesel
      • Peak year for steamboat traffic on Upper Mississippi
    • 1899 – Sacramento River (California) authorized for development
      • Potomac River authorized for development
      • Construction of first locks on Black Warrior River between Tuscaloosa and Demopolis, Alabama
    • 1902 – Board of Engineers for Rivers and Harbors created to determine the feasibility of riverine projects.
    • 1907 – President Roosevelt appointed Inland Waterways Commission
      • Subsequent report recommended improvement of inland waterways
      • Congressional support of report eventually resulted in Panama Canal Act
    • 1909 – Rivers and Harbors Act set national policy of intracoastal waterway from Boston to Rio Grande
    • 1910 – Rivers and Harbors Act authorizes 9-foot channel on Ohio River and a study of the most efficient means to move cargo
      • Rivers and Harbors Act authorizes 9-ft x 100 ft channel on Gulf Intracoastal Waterway between Apalachicola River and St. Andrew Bay, Florida
    • 1910-1914 – As channels are deepened, screw propeller prove more efficient
      • Improved steering and flanking qualities
    • 1911 – The Panama Canal Act
      • Key to revival of waterway transportation in US
      • Prohibited railroads from owning, controlling, or operating a water carrier through the Canal
      • led to succeeding legislation that eliminated monopoly of transportation modes by railroads
    • 1914 – Opening of Panama Canal
      • Impact on inland river commercial interests led to demand for 9-foot channel on Upper Mississippi
    • 1918 – World War I experience demonstrated need for bulk cargo transportation
      • Congress established the Federal Barge Lines
      • Congressional interest spurred finding cheaper ways to transport farm commodities
        • First use of standardized freight barges

    1924-1939

    • 1924 – Congress incorporated Inland Waterways Corporation
      • Regarded as beginning of modern water carrier operations
    • 1925 – Congress authorized construction of “Louisiana and Texas Intracoastal Waterway and surveys east of New Orleans to Apalachicola Bay, first legislation to treat waterway as a continuous whole.
    • 1927 – Corps of Engineers directed to evaluate nation’s water resources
      • “308 Report”
    • 1929 – Ohio River canalization project (53 locks and dams) completed
    • 1930 – Steel barges built to accommodate liquids
    • 1930-1940 – Competition between steam-powered sternwheelers and screw propellers and diesel-powered sternwheelers and prop vessels.
    • 1931 – Diesel-powered prototype for modern towboats, the Herbert Hoover, built
    • 1933 – Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) created by Congress
    • 1936 – Flood Control Act authorizes 270 flood control projects
      • Continuous 9ft x100 ft channel completed between Apalachicola River and New Orleans
    • 1936 – Invention of Kort Nozzle, a cylindrical shroud around propeller
      • Guided and accelerated water flow over props
      • Allowed additional tonnage or less horsepower needed to move loads

    1939-1997

    • 1940-1942 – Diesel propeller vessels became popular
      • Greater fuel economy
      • Better performance against current
    • 1941-1945 – World War II demonstrated need for efficient transportation of bulk materials within the
      continental United States
    • 1942 – 9 ft x 100 ft channel completed between New Orleans and Corpus Christi
    • 1944 – Flood Control Act approved 12-foot channel for Mississippi
    • 1945 – Channel depth of 9 feet obtained on Tennessee River
      • Rivers and Harbors Act authorized development of Alabama and Coosa Rivers as well as Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint Rivers
    • 1946 – Congress authorized 9-foot channel on Cumberland River
      • Congress authorizes Tennessee-Tombigbee project
    • 1954 – Corps of Engineers began Ohio River Modernization Project, consisting of nineteen high-lift locks and dams
      • Congress permitted non-federal interests to develop Coosa River by constructing series of dams
    • 1972 – Construction began on Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway
    • 1978 – Inland Waterways Revenue Act
      • Imposed barge fuel tax (.04 cents/gal in 1980; 10 cents/gal by1986)
      • Created the Inland Waterways Trust Fund
    • 1985 – Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway opened to navigation, joining the Tennessee River with the Port of Mobile
    • 1986 – Water Resources Development Act
      • Increased incremental fuel tax to 20 cents/gal by 1995