Steamers Robert E. Lee and the Natchez in the race from New Orleans to St. Louis, —BBC Hulton Picture Library
Watercraft propelled by steam; more narrowly, a shallow-draft paddle-wheel steamboat widely used on rivers in the 19th century, particularly the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Though U.S. experiments with steam-powered boats began in 1787, the first regular steamboat service, operating on the Mississippi, was not established until 1812. Until c. 1870 the steamboat dominated the economy, agriculture, and commerce of the middle of the U.S. Because the paddle wheel created turbulence that eroded the banks of narrow channels, river steamboats worked best on broad rivers. The first ocean voyage of a steamboat occurred along the eastern coast of the U.S. in 1809, and Europeans soon developed steamboats capable of crossing Europe's stormy, narrow seas. The first transatlantic steamboat journey was made by the Savannah in 1819, and the first commercial shipping line, the Cunard Line (seeSamuel Cunard), was established in 1840. The screw propeller replaced the paddle wheel in oceanic steamers in the later 19th century. See alsoocean liner.