Tag Archives: Mississippi River

Swimming upstream

By now I’m sure you’ve spotted the pattern: there’s a situation where people struggle to get from Point A to Point B, and some tinkerer comes along and says, “I bet I could make those people’s lives easier.” We saw how Watt’s steam engine turned a wheel to pump water out of a mine. Trevithick developed that idea into a steam locomotive to haul carts of coal. Stephenson improved the locomotive to move cars full of people along rails made of Bessemer steel.

In Great Britain and the United States, inventors worked on the problem of moving a vessel in water. Just like a locomotive, a steam engine would pump a piston to turn a wheel. This time the wheel had paddles and was mounted on either the stern or the sides of a boat.

John Fitch proposed a design with banks of oars, like an Indian war canoe.

John Fitch and James Rumsey designed steam-powered boats that operated on the Delaware River between Philadelphia and New Jersey. In Scotland, William Symington designed a boat for towing on the Forth and Clyde Canal. In 1801 his steamboat the Charlotte Dundas ran successfully upstream on the Carron River. The Mississippi is a big river with a powerful current. It would take a powerful engine to move a boat against it.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Fitch

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The Big River

The Erie Canal opened travel east-west from New York City to the Great Lakes, Ohio and the American MidWest. What if you wanted to travel north or south? Further west, there was a ready-made natural waterway for travel north-south: the Mississippi River. From Minnesota, The Mississippi flows through Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, where she empties into the Gulf of Mexico. From Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania you can travel the Ohio River to the Mississippi (as Lewis & Clark did). Likewise, you can start from North Dakota and take the Missouri River to the Mississippi. The Arkansas and Tennessee Rivers also feed the Mississippi.

One big difference between a river and a canal: a canal doesn’t have a current. The Mississippi River flows south, so for a long time most of the travel on it was southbound. Poling your boat north against the current is nearly impossible. Probably teams of animals or humans—slaves—were harnessed to a cable and struggled along a towpath to ‘tote that barge’ northward. It was exhausting, backbreaking labor.

Mississippi River


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barge_Haulers_on_the_Volga
Paul Robeson—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh9WayN7R-s
William Warfield—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSzYRo9j7YM

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