Of Snags
& Salvage

During the Golden Age of Mississippi steamboating, the river was still wild, competition was fierce, and few laws controlled navigation. Accidents were common along the entire Mississippi River. The need to clear the river of obstructions and to recover lost property stimulated a new salvage industry.

Bosse steamboat photoRemoving downed tress, or snags, became a common practice (pictued left--click photo to see enlargement). While clearing the river of snags made navigation easier, it also destroyed aquatic conditions for many species of fish.

During the 1840s James Eads (who later designed St. Louis' famous Eads Bridge--see illustration below) began devising new salvage methods. He was wildly successful. By the 1850s, Eads had standing contracts with major insurance companies and operated ten specialized salvage boats.

Using giant steam-driven pumps, salvors often refloted boats without removing cargoes or further damaging the hulls. Boats sunk one week could be back in service the next. Salvage technology spread fast and helped keep river traffic flowing smoothly. Between 1870 and 1880, a single salvage boat, the T.F. Eckert, raised or removed over 360 steamboats and barges.

Photo from Bosse collection, courtesey of Army Corps of Engineers. Text adapted from Army Corps publication, "Paddling and Piloting Vessels of the Northern Mississippi River."

Eads bridge

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Center for Global Environmental Education
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