The steamboat profoundly affected the Industrial Revolution. Efficiently transporting goods and products would not have been possible without the steamboat. The steamboat's influence on the marketplace is apparent in modern society. Self-sufficiency decreased as steamboat transportation increased commercial trading capabilities. The advent of the steamboat increased dependency on manufactured goods, and personal financial well-being then became more dependent on market forces.
Steam and Industrialization
Harnessing the power of steam launched the Industrial Revolution. Steam-powered machinery replaced man-powered hand tools, resulting in increased productivity. Factories evolved to house machinery and mass-produce goods. Prior to steam power, a wheel propelled by running water was the primary source of power in a factory. Steam power expanded potential factory locations, enabling factories to be located near cities, rivers and coastal ports. Steamboats were a vital link in the supply and demand chain during the Industrial Revolution.
Decreased Travel Time
Robert Fulton, architect of the first commercial steamboat, significantly decreased travel time for transporting goods and materials between locations. In 1807, Fulton launched his first steamboat, the Clermont. It took the Clermont 32 hours to travel from New York City to Albany, New York via the Hudson River. Prior to 1807, wind-powered sailing vessels averaged five days to travel from New York City to Albany. No longer dependent on favorable winds, steamboats allowed scheduled departures and arrivals.
Commerce and Economic Effects
Steamboats changed the types of goods available to local markets. By increasing transportation speed, farmers could sell surplus crops to remote locations without the produce spoiling during the trip. Selling surplus crops stimulated economic growth in local communities. Due to strong currents, older boats only traveled downstream on the Mississippi river system. The steamboat enabled goods to be transported both up and down the river system from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to New Orleans, Louisiana. The steamboat allowed regional specialization in agriculture and manufacturing to develop. Diversification was no longer necessary due to enhanced trading capabilities.
Steamboats and the Industrial Revolution changed traditional farming ways of life. Prior to steam power, the average farmer produced only the amount he needed to sustain himself and his family. Steamboat transportation expanded markets and facilitated the rise of market crops. Farmers focused all of their resources on crops that would yield the highest market value. As factories mass-produced and distributed more household goods, farmers who purchased factory-made household goods became less self-sufficient. The middlemen who connected markets could regulate the cost of goods and produce. No longer completely self-sufficient, farmers relied on favorable commerce to meet every day needs.
- International World History Project; Industrial Revolution; Lewis Hackett Date; 1992
- Yale University; The Industrial Revolution; Joseph A. Montagna
- Ohio History Central: Robert Fulton
- Indiana Historical Society; The Economic Impact of the Steamboat; Jane Hedeen
- Tennessee Tech University: Industrialization
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