During the early and mid-19th century, Vermont’s waterways became increasingly important, linking major urban centers to the north and south by using Vermont as a thoroughfare. Steamboats were the first to do this for Vermont. In the 1790s, Samuel Morey, a Vermont inventor created a prototype steam engine for boats. There were also many other people working on this technology at the time. Robert Fulton is traditionally credited with the first practical use of the steam engine. The steamboat Vermont was the first to operate on Lake Champlain in 1809. Steamboating thrived again after the interruptions caused by the Civil War, but by the 1870s railroads had become more efficient modes of transport and gradually caused the retirement of almost all the steamboats from the river.
Steamships were the quickest mode of water transportation, but waterways were also utilized by sailing sloops, barges, and ferries. The linking of Lake Champlain to the Hudson River via the Champlain Canal in 1823 served to increase all water traffic coming and going from Vermont. Steamships became bigger and more luxurious, though not always more comfortable. In the early days of railroads in Vermont, steamboats were an essential link in connecting rail lines on both sides of Lake Champlain.
How do steamboats work?
Steam is water that has been vaporized. Water is heated until the liquid becomes an invisible, odorless gas. It looks whitish and cloudy because there are tiny droplets of liquid water mixed in with the vaporized water, or steam. When water becomes steam it increases in volume 1,600 times. This enormous transformation in volume can be harnessed to operate mechanical devices.