Technology: 1828-1840 Cleaning up the Mississippi

This is a blueprint of Shreve's snagboat

After the federal government initially ignored his interest in river navigation improvements, Henry Shreve , a successful river captain, steamboat builder, and owner, was appointed as the Superintendent of the Western Rivers in 1828. Shreve had already designed a boat to remove the dangerous snags years before and in 1824, submitted a letter to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun explaining it. The letter went unanswered. However, government administrators did become aware of Shreve and his plans to clean up the Mississippi River. After the government funded an abortive attempt to clear the rivers, the War Department appointed Shreve to try his plans, although his superiors remained skeptical of the snag boat design.

Shreve's Snag Boat

Using his experience as a steamboat builder, Henry Shreve designed a boat that would scoop up snags out of the water where they could be cut up on board. Shreve completed the construction of the first snag boat, the Heliopolis, in 1829. The boat had twin hulls with a heavy iron wedge between them to use as a ram against snags. The boat's lifting machinery was geared to the engine, making it more powerful than anything yet employed against snags. It removed snags by ramming them and dislodging or breaking the trees so that pieces could be lifted between the two hulls where they were cut up. The cut wood was burned for fuel or floated to a landing. The stumps and other detritus were either sunk in deep pools or placed on land.

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