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James Rees was born in 1821. He worked in the Western Pennsylvania shops and foundries which built steamboat machinery, and he later worked for noted steamboat engine builder, Andrew Hartupee. In 1854, he established his own operation in Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River building steamboat engines, machinery and boilers. Later, he also built complete steamboats.
In the late 19th century, Rees constructed metal-hulled western river type steamboats for export around the world. These boats were fabricated, then disassembled and shipped abroad with a crew who then reassembled the vessel and taught its purchasers how to operate the boat. Rees' boats plied the Volga, Nile, Magdalena, Yukon, Columbia, Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio rivers, to name only a handful.
Modern river transportation came to many hinterlands of the world via Rees steamboats, and their heartiness and quality became legendary. The company's Idlewild, built in 1914, continues operating today as the Belle of Louisville.
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