Reading the River
River pilots guided steamboats up and down the heartland’s great rivers, a skill still practiced on inland towboats.
In the heyday of the riverboat, pilots were the heroes and celebrities of river commerce. They faced shipboard explosions and fires as well as snags, ice, shifting channels, and all the other obstacles of a changing river. A journey’s success, the ship owners’ fortunes, and the lives of the passengers rested on how well pilots read the river.
Produced by the History Channel