The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Democratic Free Press (Detroit, MI), 20 Apr 1836

Full Text

- From the Cleveland Herald

"Steamboats on Lake Erie." - An interesting article appears in the last Buffalo Spectator, copied from the Bethel Magazine, for January, 1836. The article is preceeded by a table giving the date for each boat, its tonnage, number of births (sic) in gentlemen's and ladies' cabins, and also the number in the steerage, state rooms, and the number of men employed in each. Owing to the other demands of our columns, we are unable to give the article entire to our readers, but shall present a synopsis of it, which we trust will not be devoid of interest.

The first steamboat built on Lake Erie was the Walk-in-the-water of 338 tons, and launched at Black Rock (Buffalo) in 1818. Her first trip up the lake caused quite a sensation, and many were the anxious eyes that hailed her appearance at the different ports as she ascended, and many too were the jokes that were cracked at the singular association of names found in the boat and her master. "Walk-in-the-water, Job Fish, master." were constantly in vogue till their novelty was lost by frequent use.

This boat was designed to test the practicability of navigating the lake by steam, and although successful, no other boat attempted to invade the "supremacy" of the Walk-in-the-water until she was wrecked a few miles above Buffalo in 1822 (actually Oct 31, 1821). The Superior was placed afloat the same season, the machinery of her predecessor being transferred to the latter, which continued running till 1834, when she was laid up, and the machinery transferred to another boat after having been used 17 years.* >From '18 to '24 there was but one boat on Lake Erie, but during that season two others were added, and the season following three more. During the years '26, '29, '30 and '31, inclusive, another was added each year, making in all from 1818 to 1831 only ten boats. But in 1833 steamboat navigation received a new impetus by the addition of twelve new boats, and the year following seven more besides the like number during the past season. The whole number of American Steamboats built on Lake Erie is thirty-nine, five of which have been either lost or laid aside. - These boats have been formed into lines, leaving Buffalo every day touching at the intermediate ports between that City and Detroit and vice versa from the latter place.

The tonnage of these thirty-nine boats is 9634 tons, and their original cost $1,150,000. The aggregate tonnage of the thirty-four boats navigating the Lake the past season is 8,000 tons, and the capital invested in this stock exceeds one million of dollars. The aggregate expense of running one of these boats, performing regular trips through the Lakes, is from one hundred to one hundred and fifty dollars per day, making the yearly expenses of each boat $25,000. The consumption of wood each trip everages about 150 cords, while trips vary from 30 to 35 each season, making 5000 cords for each boat, and counting 24 boats, the usuual number making regular trips, and we have an aggregate consumption of 120,000 cords of wood. To this should be added 30,000 cords for the smaller boats, making in all 150,000 cords annually. This wood at the medium price of $1.75 per cord gives the comfortable sum of $250,000 per year.

The number of hands employed on the larger boats vary from 20 to 40 each, and on the smaller from 8 to 15, while the aggregate is supposed to be not greatly variant from one thousand. The wages of these vary according to their rank and the duty performed. The salary of captains ranges from $600 to 1000 per annum. Mates from $18 to $40 per month. Engineer from $50 to $90 per month, fireman $18 per month and common hands from ten to sixteen per month.

There have been comparatively few disasters attending tha navigation of steamboats on the lake for the 17 years they have been in operation. Of the three boats wrecked only one life has been lost in connection with them, and that from jumping overboard unnecessarily. In reference to the immediate effect of steam, 20 persons have been killed, 10 by the bursting of the steam pipe of the Wm. Peacock in 1827 and four by a similar occurrence on board the Commodore Perry the past season.

[*Superior probably ran on as a sail vessel 1834 until wrecked in 1843. The engine, which had been installed in Walk -in-the-Water by Robert McQueen, went on to drive at least two more steamboats, including the 1844 steamer WATERLOO and probably eventually ended up powering a sawmill on the Saginaw River, Michigan.]

Media Type:
Item Type:
Date of Original:
20 Apr 1836
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Dave Swayze
Copyright Statement:
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
WWW address
Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.

Democratic Free Press (Detroit, MI), 20 Apr 1836