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Old 02-08-2017, 09:44 PM
Chimera Chimera is offline
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: In the Dreaming
Posts: 22,822

It is a PDF link, so some may not want to open it even though it is an site. So I'll quote the relevant passages;

Says there were three main dangers. Indian attacks, boiler explosions and hitting snags (submerged logs or stumps) that could outright sink a ship.

One of the worst steamboat disasters ever recorded was that of the General Slocum. The General Slocum’s boiler exploded killing 958 people and injuring 175. The General Slocum explosion was one of the worst recorded, but it was hardly the first or last. From 1811 to 1851, 21 percent of river accidents were caused by explosion. Because of all the dangers, steamboats did not last long. It was rare for a steamboat to last five years. In fact, between 1830 and 1839, 272 steamboats were destroyed after less than three years of travel.

Steamboats began experiencing competition from railroads as early as the 1830s. At this time there were only 23 miles of tracks in all of the United States. This small amount of tracks did not provide much competition, but by 1880 there were around 93,000 miles of tracks and the trains were taking away much of the steamboats’ business.

(Mark) Twain himself worked as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi for a few years. A steamboat pilot needed a vast knowledge of the ever-changing river to be able to stop at any of the hundreds of ports and wood-lots along the river banks. Twain meticulously studied 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of the Mississippi for two and a half years before he received his steamboat pilot license in 1859. While training, he convinced his younger brother Henry to work with him. Henry died on June 21, 1858, when the steamboat he was working on, the Pennsylvania, exploded.

The boiler explosions and resulting fire aboard the Sultana in 1865 (near Memphis) resulting in some 1800 deaths, exceeding even the death toll of the Titanic, and is considered the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history.

And then looking at the Sultana's entry on Wikipedia;

Sultana was a Mississippi River side-wheel steamboat. On April 27, 1865, the boat exploded in the worst maritime disaster in United States history. Although designed with a capacity for only 376 passengers, she was carrying 2,427 when three of the boat's four boilers exploded and she burned to the waterline and sank near Memphis, Tennessee, killing an estimated 1,700 passengers. This disaster has long been overshadowed in the press by other contemporary events; John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln's assassin, was killed the day before.