From Ohio History Central
Stereograph of the suspension bridge over the Ohio River in Cincinnati, ca. 1865-1876. A steamboat called the Ben Franklin is seen under the bridge.
The first steamboat to travel on the Ohio River was named the New Orleans. Although not as well constructed as later vessels, it managed to steam its way from Pittsburgh to New Orleans in 1811. Robert Fulton and his partner, Robert Livingston, built the New Orleans. Although the steamboat was able to make the trip to the city of New Orleans, it did not have enough power to return against the current and spent the next two years transporting people and goods between New Orleans and Natchez. In 1813 the steamboat ran aground and sank. In spite of the New Orleans's failure to return to Pittsburgh, Fulton and Livingston were able to learn from its design and build stronger steamboats in the future.
Within the next few decades, many additional steamboats were built in the East. Although most of the earliest steamboats were built in Pittsburgh or Wheeling, within a short period of time Cincinnati also emerged as a significant part of the industry. Steamboats revolutionized river travel during the first half of the nineteenth century. Although early Ohioans used the Ohio River to transport agricultural goods and manufactured products even prior to the invention of the steamboat, the steamboat's advent made travel easier. The steam engine meant that humans no longer had to power the boat themselves, and movement upstream became much easier. As a result of this new technology, river travel increased even more over time.