The Way It Was: Henry Miller Shreve

By March 2, 2008The Way It Was

The%20Way%20It%20Was.jpgOne of the pivotal figures in developing the American economy was a guy named Henry Miller Shreve.

In the early 1800s, Shreve made a fortune running keelboats between Pittsburgh and New Orleans. There were no trains back then, and roads were primitive. You shipped your goods by water if you could, but it was a tough haul upriver with horses pulling the boats from the shore with ropes.

Shreve was the first to build a steamboat with a high pressure, non-condensing engine. It had 100 horsepower. He was the first man to drive a steamboat upriver from New Orleans to Pittsburgh. He made the trip in only 34 days which was a major breakthrough.

But Shreve’s real claim to fame was as inventor of the snag boat. Snags were trees that had fallen into the river creating obstacles to boats. The main tributaries – the Arkansas, Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers – were obstructed by tens of thousands of them accounting for three fifths of boating accidents.

Shreve designed a steam powered monster boat with giant claws, cranes and a heavy battering ram on an ironclad beam. Huge trunks were hauled up on deck and put through a saw mill right then and there.

Perhaps Shreve’s biggest feat was clearing the Red River that was clogged for 160 miles, opening up for cultivation some of the richest farm land in the nation. They named Shreveport after him.

Leave a Reply