A shipwreck was found in the basin of the Missouri river with its cargo well-preserved. This is how nineteenth-century Americans lived

Humanity has always sought a comfortable, cost-effective and fast means of transport. Over the centuries, hundreds of different machines have been created to help people get around, including steamships, which were an extremely popular method of river transportation in nineteenth-century America.

Today, goods are most frequently transported across the continent using multi-ton trucks, but just a century ago rivers were the main highway for transporting goods to customers. Midwest Rivers (the Missouri, Ohio and Mississippi) were full of steamships, which had distinctive wheels on the sides. Unfortunately, about four ships sunk in the wild rivers each year and with them the passenger’s belongings and commercial goods.


Most of the sunken steamships were severely damaged, since they had been lying on the bottom of the river or in the mud. Fortunately, an exception was found, the Steamboat Arabia, which after only three years of work sank in 1896 in the waters of the Missouri, near the town of Parkville (Kansas City area). The cause of the accident was a tree trunk hidden under the surface of the water, which shattered the hull.

Steamers were a regular part of the river landscape in the nineteenth century.

The Steamboat Arabia (7)

The Steamboat Arabia was a comfortable and contemporary ship. It had the ability to simultaneously carry more than 100 passengers and about 200 tons of cargo. When it sunk to the bottom, the cargo holds were full of valuable goods intended for settlers, which is why many people spent years searching for the ship.

The search for the place where the steamer finally came to a rest lasted many years.

You’ll find more information about the ship and its contents on the next two pages.

The Steamboat Arabia (6)