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Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Saint Louis City and County, From the Earliest Periods to the Present Day: Including Biographical Sketches of Representative Men. In Two Volumes, Illustrated. Volume II . Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts & Co., 1883. [format: book], [genre: biography; history; proceedings]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
By the terms of the treaty for the cession of Louisiana to the United States, the full and complete navigation of the Mississippi River was secured to
the United States. The trade and commerce of the river at this time (1803-4) were unimportant. New Orleans and St. Louis were the only towns of any size upon the Mississippi, the latter having but fourteen hundred inhabitants in 1811, and the value of its merchandise and imports amounting to about two hundred and fifty thousand dollars annually. As small a sum as this appears to be, it was principally owing to the fact that St. Louis was the fitting-out point for the military and trading establishments on the Mississippi and Missouri that even this amount was reached. Peltries, lead, and whiskey made a large portion of the currency, and the branches of business were not at all fixed or definite. 108
The establishment of the Bank of St. Louis in 1816, and of the Missouri Bank in 1817, indicates a great increase of the business of St. Louis, and may be regarded as fixing an initial point in its trade and commerce with other sections. In 1821 there were only four hundred and twenty-nine tax-payers in St. Louis, and the total taxes levied for the year amounted to $3823.80.
The prices current of a retail market give but a partial idea of the business of the community, and those of St. Louis for Nov. 23, 1816, afford only a general notion of the market of the town at that period.
The annual imports of St. Louis were computed for 1820 "at upwards of $2,000,000," 109 and the Indian trade of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers was valued at $600,000. The establishment of a Branch Bank of the United States in 1829 would indicate a great increase in the trade and commerce of St. Louis for the decade from 1820 to 1830. In the absence of statistical records, the only sources of information on this point are the public journals of that period, which are filled with the evidence of the great rapidity with which St. Louis was growing in business and manufactures.
A comparison of the prices current for 1816 with those for 1835 affords some idea of the progress indicated, as well as of the articles which made up the trade of St. Louis by the river at that time:
A comparison of these figures with the same items for 1831 shows an increase of more than one hundred per cent.
The panic of 1837 was attended with the ruin of thousands of people all over the country, and with the prostration of the business, trade, and commerce of St. Louis. The arrivals and departures of steamboats for 1839, however, were: arrivals, two thousand and ninety-five; departures, sixteen hundred and forty-five. 110
It is impossible to give any concise statement of the amount of the river trade of St. Louis, but some of the leading and principal items for the year 1840 will afford an approximate idea of the volume of business then transacted. From 1831, when the first insurance office was established, to 1840 the marine risks amounted to $58,021,986. This sum does not include the whole amount of property at risk, because some of the boats and cargoes were insured at the East and South, and some were not insured at all. The estimate of property uninsured was put at thirty-three and one-third per cent., which would raise the value to $77,362,648. The receipts of lead at St. Louis for 1839 were 375,000 pigs; for 1840, 390,000 pigs; and for 1841, 395,000 pigs. A pig of lead averaged sixty-nine pounds, and was estimated at three and one-half cents per pound, making the value of this trade for 1841, $13,825, and for the three years nearly $50,000. "At least 8500 hogsheads of tobacco" passed St. Louis, with a value of $912,500. There were shipped from St. Louis 80,000 bushels of wheat and 110,000 barrels of flour, valued at $610,000.
When to these figures are added those for the trade in beef, pork, bacon, lard, butter, corn, live-stock, buffalo robes, furs, skins, and peltries, hemp, bagging, bale-rope, and the many other articles that comprise the industry of a growing community but of which there exist no statistics, it will be seen that
St. Louis had in 1840 made considerable progress on the road to that commercial prosperity which she now enjoys. The imports were valued at from ten to fifteen millions of dollars.
A slight idea may be gathered of the trade of St. Louis in 1843 from the following table, which exhibits the imports and exports of the city from the 13th of January up to the 12th of August, 1843:
The receipts of tobacco for the year 1842 were 1754 hogsheads, of which 1645 hogsheads were sold, leaving on hand on the 1st of January, 1843, 109 hogsheads.
In the Prices Current for 1844 the population is estimated at 40,000, and the registered tonnage at 20,420 tons, against 14,729 tons in the year 1842, thus showing an increase in less than three years of nearly 40 per cent. This tonnage was the property of citizens of St. Louis, and it may be safely said that at least as much more was employed in its trade and commerce the property of other cities. The arrivals during the year amounted to 2613, against 2105 the previous year, showing an increase of 508 arrivals. The annual trade of St. Louis was then estimated at $50,000,000. Nearly 47,000 bags of coffee, 11,000 hogsheads of sugar, 758,000 pigs of lead, 31,000 bales of hemp, 13,000 hogsheads of tobacco, 132,000 barrels of flour, and nearly a million bushels of wheat were imported into St. Louis in 1843, being an average increase of nearly 20 per cent, on that of the previous year.
The harbor-master's report for 1845 shows that during the year there were 2050 steamboat arrivals in the harbor of St. Louis, with an aggregate tonnage of 358,045 tons, and 346 arrivals of keel- and flat-boats, and that the trade of the city was carried on by 213 steamboats, with an aggregate tonnage of 42,922 tons.
From the same report there has been compiled the following table of the places from whence these vessels came, showing the arrivals from each quarter for each month, as follows:
From the foregoing it appears that during 1845 there were 250 steamboat arrivals from New Orleans; 406 from different ports on the Ohio River, including arrivals from the Cumberland and Tennessee; 278 from ports on the Illinois River; 647 from ports on the Mississippi above the mouth of the Missouri, not including the daily trip of the Alton packet; 249 from ports on the Missouri River; and 168 from other points, chiefly from Cairo and intermediate ports between that point and St. Louis.
During the year 1848-49, St. Louis began to receive heavy shipments of the products of the Southern States, and orders for articles hitherto sent to other cities were sent to the merchants, manufacturers, and mechanics of St. Louis. Direct communication with the lakes and the Canadas also presented great advantages to the shipping and commercial interests of the city. The total receipts of tobacco by the river for the period of five years, from 1844 to 1849, was 49,918 hogsheads, an exhibit which shows "a steady decrease in the production of that staple in the State of Missouri since 1844." The decrease in the production of tobacco was compensated by an increase in that of hemp, the entire crop of which in 1846 was 80,000 bales, of which 47,152 bales were received by the river. The receipts of lead by the river were, for 1847, 749,128 pigs, and for 1848, 705,718 pigs. The receipts of flour by the river for 1847 were 328,568 barrels and 686 half-barrels, and for 1848 they were 387,314 barrels and 541 half-barrels. In addition the city mills produced 400,000 barrels. The total production was over 700,000 barrels, which, at $4.25 per barrel, made an aggregate value of $2,975,000. The wheat crop of 1847-48 was an unusually fine one throughout the river States and the receipts by way of the river for 1847 were 2,432,377 bushels, and for 1848, 2,194,798 bushels. The receipts of corn by the river were, for 1847, 1,016,318 bushels, and for 1848, 699,693 bushels. The Illinois and Michigan Canal opened in 1847-48 drawing off 316,625 bushels. The receipts of oats
for 1847 were 202,365 bushels, and for 1848, 243,700 bushels. "Of the entire shipments from this city," it was stated about this time, "it is computed that fully three-fourths reach the city of New Orleans." The beef receipts for 1848 were 9381 tierces, 7876 barrels, and 47 half-barrels; and of pork, 97,662 barrels and 1923 half-barrels, together with 25,820 casks, 3603 hogsheads, 2847 barrels, 3775 boxes of bacon. Of lard there were received 6579 tierces, 67,329 barrels, and 14,180 kegs, showing an immense improvement in the provision trade. The lumber trade for 1847 amounted to 16,917,850 feet, and for 1848 to 22,137,915 feet; shingles for 1847, 13,098,800, and for 1848, 15,851,500. There were also 42,282 cords of wood received by the river in 1847, and 38,857 cords in 1848. Of coal the receipts by river in 1847 were 1,454,048 bushels, and in 1848, 1,623,687 bushels.
As elsewhere stated more in detail, two calamities visited St. Louis in the year 1849, the cholera and the great conflagration of steamboats and other property on the 17th of May, which exerted a disastrous influence on every branch of her trade, commerce, and business. A mortality of seven thousand eight hundred and twenty-one persons and the destruction of three million three hundred and thirty-five thousand four hundred and fifty dollars of property could not but have administered a check to enterprise and retarded progress. It is surprising, however, to note the alacrity, energy, and perseverance which were exhibited by the people of St. Louis in repairing the losses and obliterating the evidences of these visitations. Before the expiration of six months commerce, if not fully recovered, at least exhibited no signs of impairment, but was in full motion, and all the routine of mercantile affairs was in active operation.
The estimated value of thirty-one of the leading articles of produce received at the port of St. Louis during the year 1849, with total valuation, is as follows:
During 1849 the arrivals of steamboats at St. Louis were: From New Orleans, 313; Ohio River, 401; Illinois River, 686; upper Mississippi, 806; Missouri River, 355; Cairo, 122; other points, 217. The total number of arrivals of steamboats and barges in 1848 was 3468; in 1849, 2975; of keel- and flat-boats
in 1848, 352, and in 1849, 166. The total tonnage of steamboats and barges in 1848 was 688,213, and in 1849, 633,892.
The prevalence of yellow fever at New Orleans in 1853 proved a serious check to the river trade of St. Louis, and the difficulty of shipping crews, except at enhanced wages, threw a large amount of tonnage out of the trade and advanced freights to a high figure. All descriptions of agricultural products ruled unusually high in prices, and the farmers reaped a rich reward for their enterprise and industry, the profits realized enabling them to enlarge the area of cultivation, to improve their residences, and to invest to a large extent in the railroad enterprises that were then being projected in every direction through the West. In this year (1853) the statistics and transactions of a railroad were reported for the first time in connection with the river trade. The Missouri Pacific Railroad was that year completed a distance of forty miles, through a section of country which, though contiguous to St. Louis, had not been brought under cultivation. Without a farm along its line, and with its western terminus in a dense forest, this great railroad began to connect the Mississippi with the "back country," and overpaid the expenses of transportation more than ten thousand dollars, foreshadowing the immense profits from the investment. The "receipts per Pacific Railroad" were: Tobacco, 48 hogsheads and 3 boxes; lead, 1556 pigs; iron, 88,350 pounds pig, 530 blooms; wheat, 3418 bushels; hides, 5200 pounds; whiskey, 214 barrels; wood, 370 cords; wine, 9 casks, 7 barrels, and 8 boxes, native; hubstuff, 25 cords; and hoop-poles, 570,000.
A comparison of the tonnage of Western cities at the end of the year 1853 will show the rapid strides that St. Louis had made in the river trade.
The official returns of tonnage, June 30, 1853, were:
These returns also show that St. Louis had then more steam tonnage than Wheeling, Cincinnati, Louisville, New Albany, Nashville, and Memphis combined. The arrivals of vessels at St. Louis for 1853 numbered 3307, or 529 more than at New Orleans. 111
The official returns of tonnage for the year ending June 30, 1854, give the following table of steam tonnage, showing the amount enrolled at several ports, viz.:
St. Louis was then the third city in the Union in the amount of enrolled steam tonnage, nearly doubling Philadelphia, with more than Philadelphia and Baltimore combined, with more than Cincinnati, Louisville, and Wheeling together, and paying duties on foreign imports amounting to more than seven hundred thousand dollars. 112
The navigation of the rivers in the West was impeded to a greater extent and for a longer period in 1860 that ever before within the recollection of the oldest boatmen. This condition of the rivers led to action on the part of St. Louis merchants, which for a while induced the hope that new and entirely different methods were about to be adopted. The necessity of changing the mode of handling grain consigned to the merchants of St. Louis had long been felt, and the commission houses and millers of the city had become convinced that sacks should be dispensed with, and that grain should be transported in bulk. The Chamber of Commerce aided in the movement by presenting a memorial to the City Council requesting it to grant an elevator privilege to Messrs. Henry and Edgar Ames and Albert Pearce, who had offered to construct upon their own responsibility two elevators upon the Levee, one near the foot of Curr Street, in the northern part of the city, and the other near the foot of Myrtle Street, in the southern part. The elevators were to have been of the most approved construction and material, with a capacity of half a million bushels each, and to have been exclusively used for the storage of grain in bulk. The City Council, after an able report from a special committee of that body had been submitted, promptly passed the ordinance but it was vetoed by the mayor, and the inauguration of the elevator system of handling grain in St. Louis was postponed until 1863.
The subject of bridging the Mississippi at Rock Island, which had been under discussion for several years, was brought before the Hon. I. M. Love, judge of the District Court of the United States, who decided at the April term of the court in 1860 "that that portion of the railroad bridge across Mississippi River at or near Davenport, within the
State of Iowa, being part of the bridge commonly called the Rock Island bridge, and which is part of the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad, is a common and public nuisance, and a material impediment and obstruction to the navigation of said river by steamboats and other craft," and ordered it to be removed. This action of the court was approved by the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, and the connecting of the railroad systems east with those west of the Mississippi was postponed until a period of more enlightened ideas with regard to transportation had arrived.
In consequence of low water during 1860, freights on the upper Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois ruled very high, and there was an increase in marine disasters, reaching as high as two hundred and ninety-nine boats, with a loss of life amounting to two hundred and fifty-four.
The arrivals and departures of vessels at St. Louis during 1859 and 1860 were:
During the period of the civil war (1861-65) there was almost complete stagnation in the river trade and a general paralysis of the industries and commerce of St. Louis. The condition of affairs, industrial as well as political, during the great crisis of the nation's history, is fully set forth in the chapter on the civil war. The following, however, is a copy of circular instructions issued by C. G. Memminger, Secretary of the Treasury of the Southern Confederacy, in March, 1861, relating to the commerce of the Mississippi. These instructions related to importations from places north of the then so-called Confederate States. Vessels descending the river were required to come to at Norfolk, or Nelson's Landing, on the Mississippi, and the master was to report the arrival to the collector, exhibiting duplicate manifests of the whole cargo and declaring the name of the vessel, name of master, where from, the port of destination, and a full and particular description of the cargo. A custom-house officer was board vessels and demand the manifests mentioned. These manifests were to be certified by collector or boarding-officer, and one of them returned to the master. The manifest returned by the custom-house officer was to be sent to the collector of the port of final destination. If there were on board and intended for delivery at points other than ports of entry or delivery goods not subject to duty they could be landed, provided the master gave to the first revenue officer a schedule in duplicate of the articles, describing them, quantity and value, name of consignee, and place where to be landed. On one of these schedules, directed to be returned to the master, the officer was to indorse a landing permit. The instructions were in part as follows:
"Masters of flat-boats, with coal bulk intended for points as above, must give under oath to the collector at Norfolk a schedule in duplicate, setting forth name of boat, owner, master, where from, quality, quantity, and value, and the fact of its being intended to be landed at places other than ports of entry or delivery. On these schedules the collector will estimate the duties payable; and on payment of the duties at Norfolk, will indorse on the original schedule (to be returned to the master) a certificate of payment and permit to land the goods.
"Should any portion of the cargo of vessels arriving as aforesaid, composed of dutiable or free articles, be destined to ports of entry or delivery other than the port of final destination, permission may be obtained to land the same under the following regulations:
"The master shall present to the revenue officer at Norfolk a schedule in triplicate of the goods, describing them by marks and numbers, numbers of packages and contents, corresponding with the description in the general manifest of the vessel, also stating the consignee and name of the port of destination of the merchandise.
"Should the merchandise be intended to be landed at more than one intermediate port, then separate schedules of the goods destined for each port to be made out in triplicate, with all the particulars before required, shall be presented; and the revenue officers to certify on each of the schedules the fact of presentation, and also on the original to indorse his permission for the vessel to land at the port or ports designated the goods described in said schedule. The original shall be then returned to the master or commander.
"On the arrival of the vessel at an intermediate port, the master or commander is to present to revenue officer the original schedule, and will receive a general permit to land the goods upon their being duly entered and special landing permits issued, as now provided by law for the landing of imported merchandise. Should the vessel arrive out of business hours, or should circumstances compel it, the master is permitted to deposit the goods either in a bonded warehouse or the custody of a revenue officer, and shall receive a receipt containing all the particulars of the schedule, and the original schedule shall be delivered to the person with whom the merchandise is deposited, and by him delivered over to the collector or chief revenue officer as soon as the opening of the custom-house will admit.
"On the arrival of the vessel at the port of final destination, the master or commander shall make due entry at the custom-house by delivering his original manifest, together with all schedules indorsed with the permits to land at intermediate ports, and the receipts of officers to whom any goods may have been delivered, or any other documents showing the disposition of any portion of the cargo; and the residue of the cargo shall be landed on permits similar to those provided by law for the landing of imported merchandise; and the total cargo, as shown ay the original manifest, shall be delivered at this port, with the
exception of such as is shown by the documents presented at the time of entry to have been landed elsewhere, under the penalties now provided by law for discrepancies existing in the cargoes of vessels arriving from foreign ports.
"In order to relieve vessels in this branch of importing trade from embarrassments, all goods imported therein remaining unclaimed, or for which no entry shall be made or permit granted within twenty-four hours after arrival, may be taken possession of by the collector and deposited in a bonded warehouse, on a general permit to be issued by him for that purpose.
"To afford further facilities in the event of vessels in this trade arriving at the port of final destination before the opening or after the closing of the custom-house for the day, and a necessity exists for discharging the cargo, it shall be lawful to deposit the same or any part thereof, at the risk and expense of said vessel, on the levee, in the charge of the inspection service of the customs, or in any bonded warehouse at the port, such portion of said cargo as may be practicable, the master or commander of the vessel obtaining for the goods so deposited a receipt from the inspection officer on the Levee, or the custom officer in charge of the warehouse, which receipt shall be delivered to the collector of customs as soon thereafter as the business hours of the custom-house at said port will permit.
"Any goods, wares, or merchandise imported as aforesaid may be entered at the port of destination on the presentation to the collector of the bill or bills of lading, together with the other documents now required by law on the entry of imported merchandise, before and in anticipation of the arrival of the importing vessel, and the necessary permits for the landing shall issue on the completion of these entries.
"And on the presentation of these permits to the surveyor, it shall be his duty, and is hereby required of him (if the vessel by which the goods are imported shall have arrived at the port), to detail an inspector of the customs to superintend the landing of the merchandise described therein, and such landing is authorized before entry has been made by the importing vessel at the custom-house when the interest of commerce or circumstances attending such arrival shall render it necessary. It must, however, be distinctly understood that it is unlawful to discharge any portion of the cargoes of these vessels except under the supervision and inspection of the customs officer.
"Clearances. Before the departure of any vessel navigating the Mississippi or other, rivers, destined to a foreign port or place beyond the northern limits of the Confederate States of America, the master or person having charge thereof shall deliver to the collector or chief officer of the customs at the port from which such vessel is about to depart a manifest of the cargo on board the same, in the form and verified in the manner now provided by law for vessels to a foreign port, and obtain from said collector a clearance as follows:
Confederate States of America.
District of -
These are to certify to all whom it doth concern, that master or commander of the
Given under my hand and seal at
"It shall be permitted to vessels engaged in the navigation and commerce provided for by these regulations, after clearance, to take on board at the port of original departure, or any other place within the limits of the Confederacy, any goods, wares, or merchandise, and to proceed therewith to a destination beyond the Confederate limits, on delivering to the collector or chief revenue officer at the port of Norfolk, on the Mississippi, or at the port nearest the frontier of the Confederacy on any other river, a schedule describing all the goods on board, the quantity, value, and destination, not declared in the manifest delivered at the time of clearance at the custom-house of the original port of departure. The schedule thus received is to be forwarded to the port from which the vessel may have originally cleared.
"Lastly, it is made the duty of the collector at the port of Norfolk, or at the other frontier ports at which masters of outward-bound vessels are required to deliver schedules, to board all vessels bound for places beyond the Confederate limits in the same manner and at the hours as hereinbefore provided for inward-bound vessels."
As long as there were no railroads to compete with the trade and commerce of the river, the subject of improving the navigation of Western waters was discussed. Commercial opinion seemed to have settled down to the conviction that impediments to navigation, such as snags, sand-bars, sunken boats, and the rapids of the upper river, were inevitable and had to be submitted to. But when railroads began to divert the trade, and threatened loss and injury to the vast amount of capital already invested in steamboats and barges, as well as to the multitude of laborers who found employment in river navigation, the political power of the Mississippi valley was invoked to protect the great river from the loss that was threatened, as well as to employ its natural advantages to better effect in aid of the consumer and producer. The initiatory steps looking to the improvement of the navigation of Western rivers by the general government were taken at a convention held in St. Louis in February, 1867, which resulted in annual appropriations for the removal of snags, sand-bars, and the improvements at the rapids at Rock Island.
The practical operation of the St. Louis grain elevator, the charter for which was granted in 1863, demonstrated the fact that grain could be handled in bulk advantageously, and that with proper facilities for shipping to New Orleans and transferring at that point in bulk, grain could be delivered at the Eastern cities and foreign ports cheaper via the Mississippi River than by any other route. The cost of transporting a bushel of wheat from St. Paul to New York via St. Louis and New Orleans, with the proper facilities for transferring at those cities, was ascertained to be at least twenty cents per bushel less than by any northern route, and it was also discovered that cost of transportation could be further reduced ten cents with a proper canal around the rapids at Rock Island. The Mississippi Valley Transportation Company was this year (1863) handling grain in bulk, and a transfer elevator was built by St. Louis parties
for use in New Orleans at the opening of navigation. Further elevator facilities, chiefly at East St. Louis, were undertaken in 1866, and the energy and enterprise of St. Louis were fully awakened to the practicability of making the Mississippi the great highway for the products of the Northwest to foreign markets. At the same time the trade with Montana and the gold regions of the upper Missouri was increasing, and had extended beyond the most sanguine estimates. Fifty-one boats left St. Louis during the year for the upper Missouri, carrying twenty-two million seven hundred and seventy thousand pounds of freight and many passengers.
The opening of the year 1866 found the Mississippi at St. Louis firmly closed by ice, which broke up on the night of January 12th, destroying an immense quantity of shipping.
The following statement shows the quantity of grain received and disbursed by the St. Louis Elevator Company from Oct. 24, 1865, to Jan. 1, 1867: 113
The tonnage of St. Louis, comprising steamers plying between that and other ports, July 1, 1866, was as follows:
The effect of railroads upon the trade of the Mississippi and other rivers becomes very apparent by an examination of the commercial statistics for 1866. For example, of the total receipts of flour, amounting to 2,107,026 barrels, only 424,627 were received by river; of 4,550,305 bushels of wheat, 3,245,995 bushels; of 7,233,671 bushels of corn, 4,815,860 bushels; of 3,667,253 bushels of oats, 2,648,612 bushels; of 375,417 bushels of rye, 356,078 bushels; and of 548,796 bushels of barley, 425,969 bushels. In the export of grain the same influence is visible. Of 2,107,026 barrels of flour, the rivers carried 1,149,868 bushels; of 4,550,304 bushels of wheat, 408,742 bushels; of 7,233,671 bushels of corn, 6,713,027 bushels; of 3,667,253 bushels of oats, 2,581,492 bushels; of 375,417 bushels of rye, 184,963 bushels; of 548,796 bushels of barley, 53,655 bushels. The total receipts of grain amounted to 22,079,072 bushels, and the total exports to 18,835,969 bushels.
The year 1866 was an unprofitable one in many respects. The cost of the necessities of life was greatly increased, political dissensions were bitter and violent, and the financial policy of Congress and indifferent crops produced doubt and uncertainty as to the future, and greatly depressed trade and business. The receipts of flour and grain at St. Louis fell off in 1867 4,210,317 bushels from 1866, and the exports diminished proportionately. With the exception of the hog product, there was a corresponding decrease, in every article of commerce. Previous to the civil war the great market of St. Louis had been in the Southern States, where the energies of the planting interest were wholly devoted to the growing of cotton and sugar, necessitating the importation of breadstuffs. The abolition of slavery produced an entire change in the labor system, and the destitution that followed the war interfered even as late as 1867 with the production of the great staples of the South, and for this reason, and because it compelled the raising of food-supplies at home, made the Southern people small buyers in the market of St. Louis. The prospect of so great a change in the agricultural productions of the Southern States obliged St. Louis to seek other markets for the produce which came to her from the North and West, and to open up other avenues of trade. With this in view the attention of her merchants were directed to South America and Europe. The city of New Orleans, with interests identical with those of St. Louis, set on foot a movement to establish a regular line of steamers with Liverpool, and to construct a large elevator to receive and disburse grain in the most economical manner. The contest between the river and the railroad for the great prize
of transporting the produce of the West was fairly under way at this time. The cheapness of transportation was to determine the supremacy, and in order that the grain of the West might reach an exporting point at less cost via the Mississippi River than via the lakes required improved and increased facilities. The Des Moines and Rock Island rapids were in a fair way of removal, the work having been undertaken and regularly appropriated for by the general government. That obstruction removed, the elevators of St. Louis were ready to receive or transfer the grain, and the barge company provided barges for transportation to New Orleans, where the Higby elevator transferred the grain to ocean vessels. Under the impetus thus given several cargoes of grain were shipped to New York and Europe, establishing fully the practicability of the route. St. Louis added other facilities for handling grain by extending the North Missouri and Iron Mountain Railroads to the elevators.
The arrivals and departures of vessels at St. Louis during 1867 and 1868 were:
During the year 1870 the general government established gauges at different points on the Western rivers, where the daily rise and full of the water are taken and furnished by telegraph each day to the different cities, also the height of water as compared with a well-known high- or low-water mark, which gives a more perfect indication of the depth of the channel.
The system of railroads which in 1870 had, spread out from St. Louis in every direction had the effect of contracting the limits of freightage by water. When not only freight but passengers were carried by water, the steamboats of the Mississippi found a remunerative trade. But the time had arrived when the steamboat had become too slow a means of transportation for an enterprising and progressive people. The passenger travel having deserted the steamboats, they were compelled to look to their freight-list almost entirely for their profits. The question of how to preserve to the river marine the traffic with the South that was, and would be for several years, dependent upon the river was discussed with a view to the use of iron in the construction hulls both for steamers and barges.
During the year 1870 the agitation of the question of materially reducing the taxes and dues paid by steam-boatmen for the purpose of maintaining wharves and improving the levees and harbors of river towns and cities was kept up almost uninterruptedly through the entire season.
The following is a condensed statement of all the wharfage collected at St. Louis from April, 1846, to December, 1870, a period of twenty-four years:
The following are the expenditures from April, 1848, to December, 1870, inclusive:
As the railroads grew in importance and developed their power to successfully compete with the steamboats in the transportation of merchandise and heavy freights, the steamboat interest, finding the trade gradually leaving it, began the employment of barges. In 1848 the total number employed at St. Louis was sixty-eight, with a tonnage of four thousand six hundred and forty-one tons. There were also in that year engaged in the trade a large number of keel-, flat-, and canal-boats, the arrivals of which for the year 1848 aggregated three hundred and forty-nine in number, and thirteen thousand nine hundred and sixty in tons. In 1849 the barges numbered seventy, with a combined tonnage of four thousand four hundred and ninety-seven tons. This branch of transportation continued to develop, as will appear from the following table: 115
The value of barges belonging to St. Louis is 1872 was:
"Gray's Iron Line," organized in 1863, had, in 1872, barges aggregating 29,900 tonnage plying between Cincinnati and St. Louis.
The number of steamboats and barges owned by the packet companies in 1870 was 117 steamers and 176 barges, with a tonnage capacity of 176,615, and valued then at $5,219,700.
The year 1871 was not a successful year in river navigation, business showing a considerable falling off, both in the number of trips and to the extent of ten thousand tons in tonnage, the season being unusually short and the stage of the water unsatisfactory. The average depth of water in the Western rivers was less "in 1871 than during any season in the past twenty-five years." 116 Notwithstanding these drawbacks, substantial progress was made towards replacing
the river commerce on a firmer basis. Gradually but surely the methods of operating on the Mississippi and its tributaries were changing. The demand for cheap freight was causing shippers to turn their attention to water routes, and to meet the general demand in this direction, steamboatmen were making every effort to discover the method by which river navigation might be cheapened and improved. A spirit of enterprise, of genuine and healthy progress, was alive among the river men. The steamers of the Western rivers up to 1871 had generally been built to accommodate both freight and passengers. On all of them were erected costly and weighty cabins, and of course the carrying capacity of the boat was reduced by as much as the weight of the cabin. In addition to this drawback, the owner was compelled to maintain a large and expensive cabin crew, and when passenger travel was dull freights had to be taxed to make up the deficit in a losing passenger trip. Experiments had been made with boats built with large carrying capacity, but furnished with no cabins for the accommodation of passengers. This class of boats proved successful. In 1871, on the Ohio, lower Mississippi, Illinois, and upper Mississippi large quantities of freight were transported in barges, and the number of tow-boats and barges was being increased every year.
During the same year a successful trip was made from St. Louis to Galveston, Texas, by a light stern-wheel steamboat, the "Beardstown," demonstrating the practicability of establishing direct communication between St. Louis, through the bayous and coast channel, and the coast cities of Texas. The enlargement of the Illinois and Michigan Canal opened to St. Louis, through the Illinois River and that canal, direct water communication with Chicago, Milwaukee, Duluth, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, and Buffalo. An iron propeller called the "Two Brothers," built and equipped at Buffalo, N. Y., completed a voyage from that port via the Miami Canal, Muskingum, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers to the mouth of the Red River, and thence through that stream into the Atchafalaya, the Sabine, and thence to Galveston. The Michigan and Illinois Canal having been opened, three lake schooners at the beginning of winter sailed from Chicago passed through the canal, and entered Peoria Lake. It was the intention of the owners of these vessels to pass down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to the gulf, where they could operate during the winter. Their design was frustrated by the closing of the river and lake by ice. These incidents seemed to promise that at no very distant period loaded barges would be towed from ports on the lakes to New Orleans direct.
The legislation by Congress in February, 1871, repealed the then existing steamboat laws, and enacted a law of more stringent and restrictive character. Under its provisions a board of officers was created with almost autocratic control over the whole steamboat interests. No sooner did the obnoxious provisions of this law receive the attention of the steamboatmen than a storm of opposition to the enforcement swept over the entire country. Associations of steamboatmen and vessel-owners' associations were formed at all the river-, lake-, and sea-ports in the United States. For the first time in the history of the country the owners of steamboats and ships were united. A call for a convention of vessel-owners to meet in Louisville, Ky., on the 15th of November, was responded to from about twenty States, who sent delegates. The convention, composed of men representing about one billion six hundred million dollars invested in steam-vessels, met at the appointed time, and after a harmonious but earnest discussion of the grievances under which they labored, extending through a three days' session, the convention adjourned after appointing certain general committees. The executive committee labored earnestly to prepare a bill to be introduced into Congress which would be just to their interests and still fair toward the general government. The passage of the law in question awakened an interest in the subject of steam navigation, and provoked a unanimity of feeling among those most deeply interested. A national convention of vessel-owners was called to meet in Washington City on the 23d of December, 1872, to consider what further could be done to reawaken an interest in water transportation lines. 117
The steamboat tonnage of Western rivers in 1871 was:
The aggregate value of steamboat property on Western rivers in 1871 was as follows:
The above statement does not include the coal-boats of Pittsburgh, nor the stone-boats employed at various quarries on the Ohio, Green, Cumberland, and Tennessee Rivers, the boats of the upper Tennessee River, the canal-boats employed in the navigation of the Miami, Wabash, and Illinois Canals, nor does it include the barges employed at New Orleans and other ports on the Southern waters, which would add considerably to the aggregate value.
In July, 1872, an invitation signed by many of the best citizens of St. Louis was sent to the commissioner of emigration for Missouri in London, inviting representative Englishmen to visit the great fair at St. Louis in the following October; and the London Times of August 30th, in a leading editorial, urged upon its readers the importance of a more direct trade with the Mississippi valley, and particularly with St. Louis. The invitation was favorably received in England, and although only a few Englishmen were able, in consequence of the lateness of the season when it reached them, to attend the fair, it resulted in the formation of the "Mississippi Valley Society of London and St. Louis," having for its "general objects," first, the removal of "all obstructions to the direct interchange of products between Europe and the great Western and Southern States of North America," and, secondly, "to facilitate the introduction of foreign capital into those States, for the purpose of developing their resources and increasing their commerce."
The failure to estimate at its proper value the operations of the Western river system in determining the course of commerce and establishing an equilibrium in the carrying trade was made apparent by the rates charged in 1873 on the northern and southern routes to Liverpool. Freight charges by these routes were as follows: From St. Paul to New Orleans, eighteen cents per bushel on corn; thence to Liverpool, twenty cents; elevator charges at New Orleans, two cents, making a total of all charges between St. Paul and Liverpool of forty cents per bushel. The ruling freight rates on corn during that season by the New York route had been, from St. Paul to Chicago, eighteen cents; Chicago to Buffalo, by lake, eight cents; Buffalo to New York, by canal, fourteen cents; charges at Chicago, two cents; at Buffalo, two cents; at New York, four cents; freight to Liverpool, sixteen cents, making the total charges on a bushel of corn between St. Paul and Liverpool via New York amount to sixty-four cents, or a difference of twenty-four cents on the bushel in favor of the Mississippi and gulf route.
This comparison of freight charges was not without an important influence upon the problem of cheap transportation, which was then coming into prominence. The question was carried into the halls of Congress, and its agitation led to the appointment by the United States Senate of the "Select Committee on Transportation Routes to the Seaboard," which was "authorized...to investigate and report upon the subject of transportation between the interior and the seaboard." The message of the President of the United States had invited the attention of Congress to the fact that the time had arrived for that body "to consider various enterprises for the more certain and cheaper transportation of the constantly-increasing Western and Southern products to the Atlantic seaboard," and it added that "the subject is one that will force itself upon the legislative branch of the government sooner or later." In this connection the President suggested "that immediate steps be taken to gain all available information, to insure equitable and just legislation," and recommended the appointment of a commission to consider the whole question and to report to Congress at some future day. Senator Windom, of Minnesota, was made chairman of the Senate committee which, as previously indicated, was appointed in accordance with these recommendations. In addition to this governmental recognition of the necessity and importance of full consideration of the subject of transportation, the Farmers' Convention of Illinois incorporated into their platform an emphatic demand for immediate action looking toward the improvement of the navigation on Western rivers. The Transportation Committee at the outset of the investigation were confronted with "the absence of systematized statistics with regard to the course and magnitude of the internal commerce of the country," and with "the apparent indifference and neglect with which it
had been treated" in our governmental policy. 118 The huge sum of ton billion dollars was fixed by the committee as the "value of commodities moved by the railroads in 1872;" and it was added that "their gross receipts reached the enormous sum of four hundred and seventy-three million two hundred and forty-one thousand and fifty-five dollars," and that "the commerce of the cities on the Ohio River alone has been carefully estimated at over one billion six hundred million dollars per annum."
Public attention was now directed most forcibly to the water lines of transportation, and everywhere throughout the West the people were awakening to the importance of availing themselves to the fullest extent of the unrivaled facilities for transportation which would be afforded by their magnificent rivers when properly improved, and when the difficulties and embarrassments which then beset their navigation had been entirely removed.
The commerce of the Missouri River had "dwindled to insignificance" in 1874. 119 A difference of opinion existed as to whether this was due to the fact that two well-equipped railways were running up the valley, parallel to and not far distant from the river, or to the character of the stream, the number of snags and wrecks in its bed, the rapidity of its current, and the consequent necessity for costly vessels to navigate it. An effort to establish the barge system upon the Missouri River had been made in 1873, but without sufficient trial to demonstrate whether it was or was not practicable.
The Illinois River had in 1872 become "the freight regulator between the Mississippi and Lake Michigan," and the enlargement of the Illinois and Michigan Canal had already been productive of most beneficial results. The commerce of St. Louis with the Arkansas, White, and Ouachita Rivers declined very perceptibly during the year, while the trade with the Red River still maintained a position of importance. The "packet system" on the Mississippi continued to embrace almost the entire traffic of the river. The Memphis and St. Louis Packet Company transported 341,400 tons of merchandise during the year 1873; the Keokuk and Northern Line 227,600 tons; the Missouri River Star Line Packet Company 98,950 tons; the Merchants' Southern Packet Company 140,500 tons; the St. Louis and New Orleans Packet Company 141,600 tons, and the Mississippi Valley Transportation Company 161,200 tons.
The amount of freight in tons, received at St. Louis by rail and river from 1872 to 1876 was as follows:
The decline in river business appears from figures to have become permanent. The shipments of freight, in tons, for the same years show a similar falling off in river business:
The excitement and business depression resulting from the Presidential election in 1876, together with the agitation of the war question in Europe, unsettled values, and interfered seriously with the course of trade throughout the country, but possibly less seriously in St. Louis than at other commercial centres. It is especially noticeable that the receipts of many articles of trade increased in a very marked degree on those of the previous years, as shown by the following table:
The river at St. Louis was open to trade during the entire winter of 1875-76, and continued open in the fall of 1876 until December 3d, but the winter of 1876-77 was one of the coldest on record, the river being closed at Cairo and Memphis, and as far south as Helena.
In October of 1877 a River Improvement Convention met at St. Paul, which appointed a committee to lay the wants of the Mississippi valley before Congress, and to urge an increased appropriation for the improvement of the river by the general government.
For several years prior to 1877 experimental shipments of grain in bulk to foreign ports via New Orleans had been made. The "humidity" of the gulf, 120
the condition of the grain upon arrival at destination, which was said to be impaired, and the "dangers by the way" were all alleged as causes why foreign trade down the Mississippi would be commercially impracticable. A record of the shipments, however, with official reports of the condition of grain on arrival on the other side, showed that the cargoes, without exception, were received in good condition, even when shipped in sailing-vessels, and the result of the experiment was to demonstrate the practicability of the route, and to gradually build up an increasing trade.
The value of waterways for commerce continued in 1877 to attract general attention, and the success which at this time began to attend the efforts of Capt. Eads at the "jetties" served to concentrate Western and Southern political influence in favor of such further improvements of the great rivers of the West as would render them fully equal to the demands of the already immense and still growing trade of the great valley.
A careful examination of actual freight rates during the year 1877 on shipments of grain from St. Paul via St. Louis and New Orleans to Liverpool, and via Chicago and New York, showed that the through rate to Liverpool was eleven cents per bushel lower via the St. Louis route the whole year round. This advantage in freight immediately changed the complexion of affairs, and the great trunk lines, which had discriminated against St. Louis, began making extraordinarily favorable concessions to its merchants. The public rail rates on grain were immediately reduced from twelve and one-half cents a hundred as low as ten cents, so that grain was carried at about six cents per bushel. In another case a shipment of nineteen hundred barrels of flour was contracted for at one dollar per barrel from St. Louis to Liverpool via Philadelphia, which was just five cents less than the steamship rate from New York to Liverpool. Until the jetties were completed, St. Louis was at the mercy of the railroads, and they made what rates they pleased. Chicago and Milwaukee, on the contrary, had the lake route at their command, and the railroads could not dictate to them during the summer months. Six months in the year, however, the lake route is closed with ice, and then the railroads reign supreme even in the lake cities. Not so with St. Louis: the river from Cairo to the sea is always open, and from St. Louis to Cairo it is rarely closed more than a month or a month and a half, while frequently it is not closed at all. There is, therefore, a certainty of competition and low freights for ten or eleven months in the year, whereas it exists during only six out of the twelve for Chicago and Milwaukee.
The export trade via New Orleans, which revived in 1877 under such favorable auspices, continued with augmented volume in 1878. During each month of the year there was a steady flow of shipments, and the total movement reached 5,451,603 tons. In 1879 the shipment of grain in bulk from St. Louis amounted to 6,164,838 tons, and but for the low stage of water during the summer and early fall the shipments would have been largely increased, as on the opening of the river in January, 1880, engagements were made for all the tonnage that could be had, and over 1,500,000 bushels of corn were forwarded during the month, one tow alone taking 270,000 bushels of corn and another 225,376 bushels of corn and other freight.
On the 20th of October, 1880, there assembled in St. Louis a convention of delegates from twenty-one States and Territories, the object being to promote "cheap transportation and free commerce." A convention composed of delegates from Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska was also held at Kansas City, in September, 1880, which created the Missouri River Improvement Association. Under the auspices of this association another convention was held in the city of St. Joseph, Mo., on the 29th of November, 1881, which appointed an executive committee to memorialize Congress upon the improvement of the navigation of the Missouri River.
The shipments by river for 1881 include, in addition to the articles in table of shipments by river on through bills of lading, 12,861,124 bushels of grain shipped via New Orleans not on through bills of lading.
Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Saint Louis City and County, From the Earliest Periods to the Present Day: Including Biographical Sketches of Representative Men. In Two Volumes, Illustrated. Volume II . Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts & Co., 1883. [format: book], [genre: biography; history; proceedings]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=scharf2.html