One of the popular ways to collect obsolete paper money is
thematically. Some collectors are attracted to notes depicting, for
example, trains, sailing ships, Native Americans or coins. One such
popular topic is the uniquely American steamboat.
Robert Fulton has long been associated with the invention of the
steamboat, although it is more correct to say that he was the first to
successfully commercialize the concept of a steam-powered vessel.
After exploring technical advances in Europe, Fulton purchased a steam
engine and put the steamboat Clermont into passenger service between
New York City and Albany in 1807. The 150-mile trip was made in 32 hours.
Soon steamboats, whose distinctive shallow drafts instantly made
many rivers navigable, were providing transportation of both
passengers and freight along rivers such as the Ohio and Mississippi
rivers to far flung ports such as New Orleans, Cincinnati, St. Louis
The Great Lakes and other waterways also saw burgeoning steamboat traffic.
Unfortunately, primitive safety technology and navigation aids led
to a high incidence of fires, boiler explosions and sinkings due to
striking snags or other unseen obstructions. Between 1811 and 1899,
more than 450 steamboats were lost due to such accidents. In the worst
American maritime disaster, the steamboat Sultana, carrying 2,300
recently released Union prisoners of war plus civilian passengers and
crew, exploded and sank at 2 a.m. on April 27, 1865, just seven miles
north of Memphis. Seventeen hundred died.
In spite of these horrific accidents, steamboats were beloved by
many as symbols of power, technology and luxury. They were often
“floating palaces” with luxurious accommodations. For many small towns
along a river, the arrival of such vessels, even if just for a few
minutes to replenish wood fuel supplies for the boilers, was a special event.
Steamboats have appeared on notes almost since the day that the
vessels were introduced. The 1819-dated note from Vincennes, Ind.,
shows a very early steamboat while the Ironton, Ohio, note depicts a
paddle-wheel steamboat from the golden age of steamboating. Why not
consider adding a fleet of steamboats to your collection!
Wendell Wolka has been a paper money collector and educator for
more than 40 years. If you have questions or suggestions, you can
reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by mail at
Box 1211, Greenwood, IN 46142. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope
if a written response is required.