The UW-L Historic Steamboat Photograph collection consists of more than 40,000 photographic images of steamboats on inland U.S. waterways, primarily the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri rivers and their tributaries. Photos depict steamboats in every phase — from construction to destruction — along with daily operations from the 1850s to now.
29,000 now online
You can find nearly 29,000 images from the collection online. Murphy Library worked with the UW-Madison Digitization Center over the past four years to scan and host the images. Hits to the site have grown from 2,096 in fiscal year 2008 to 46,000.
Some steamboats, especially the bigger excursion boats, have more than 100 photographs. For others, there might be only a single photo to document its existence.
More than boats
The photos show steamboats in all kinds of settings — on the water, going through a lock, at a city’s waterfront or levee, tied up at shore. Other river images include:
- steamboat captains
- city and town waterfronts
- levees, locks and dams
- river-related activities
Who’s using the collection?
Steamboat buffs along with family and general historians are enjoying the easy online access, says Paul Beck, director of Murphy Library’s Special Collections. “Many doing family history have found that a relative worked on a boat and are tracking down pictures of them,” he says.
Photo searchers like not having to drive to La Crosse to see part of the vast collection. “Everyone’s blown away by the quantity of images online – 29,000 is a lot,” says Beck.
The entire collection cannot be downloaded because of copyright. “But, if we know what you’re looking for, we can tell you if we have any images you can acquire even though they’re not online,” notes Beck.