What was the first steamboat to travel the Great Lakes?
May 28, 1818 — The steamer Walk-in-the Water is believed to be the first steamer to sail the Great Lakes, though two previous steamers — one Canadian and one American — plied Lake Ontario in 1616.
Walk-in-the-Water weighed 328 tons and was launched on this date from Scajaquada Creek, and its first journey was trough Cleveland, Sandusky, and Detroit.
The owners of the steamboat thought one of the men who had experience managing boats a smaller body of water would be capable of handling her, so they brought a master from the North River. However, he promptly resigned after encountering one of Lake Erie’s vicious storms.
A sailor with experience sailing on Lake Erie then took command. But in 1821, a powerful gale drove Walk-in-the-Water ashore. Her engines were saved, and used on the steamer Superior in 1822. At it’s top speed, Walk-in-the-Water was able to go from from eight to 10 miles per hour. This was considered by experts and boating enthusiasts to be “something wonderful.”— John Fitch (January 21, 1743 – July 2, 1798) was an American inventor, clockmaker, entrepreneur and engineer. He was most famous for operating the first steamboat service in the United States. This letter was written to Benjamin Franklin on Oct. 12, 1785, before the first steamboat carried a man on Aug. 27, 1787.
Words of Wisdom
[The steamboat] will answer for sea voyages as well as for inland navigation, in particular for packets, where there may be a great number of passengers. He is also of opinion, that fuel for a short voyage would not exceed the weight of water for a long one, and it would produce a constant supply of fresh water. ... [T]he boat would make head against the most violent tempests, and thereby escape the danger of a lee shore; and that the same force may be applied to a pump to free a leaky ship of her water. ... [T]he good effects of the machine, is the almost omnipotent force by which it is actuated, and the very simple, easy, and natural way by which the screws or paddles are turned to answer the purpose of oars.