Buckeye State steamboat model
The Smithsonian's Office of Exhibits Central created this model of the Buckeye State packet boat for the inaugural exhibits in 1993. Built in 1850, the Buckeye State traveled between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was a wooden hull side-wheel packet boat, 260 feet long, owned by the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati Packet Line.
During the first half of the nineteenth century, steamboats such as the Buckeye State helped move the mail to areas not serviced by stagecoach lines or railway routes. In 1823 Congress declared all steamboat routes to be post roads and, therefore, subject to federal regulation and contracting.
Steamboats that traveled along the Ohio River were subject to unpredictable weather, run aground during spring floods, or trapped by winter ice. Also known as 'packet boats', 'side-wheel packets', or simply 'packets' for short, these crafts were celebrated for their speed and ability to carry a large amount of cargo.
Speed was important for all aspects of transportation, including mail. Steamboat captains often vied for record speeds, the winner gaining fame as the best on his route. The Buckeye State set a record out of Cincinnati on its maiden voyage (May 1, 1850). It reached Pittsburgh in forty-three hours, beating the record of Telegraph No. 2, which had made the same trip in forty-four hours, forty-seven minutes three years earlier. Fortunately, the Buckeye State survived the race. Sometimes captains pushed their boats too hard, stoking boilers past their capacities, resulting in steam engine explosions that engulfed the boats in fire, destroying mail, cargo, and killing passengers and crew.
Ryle, Russell G. Ohio River Images: Cincinnati to Louisville in the Packet Boat Era. San Francisco, California: Arcadia Publishing, 2000.
Wheeling News-Register, June 24, 1951