Hall of Fame inductees are the pioneers, explorers and artists in America's river history. They were movers and shakers from the days gone by and the recent past. These men and women made significant contributions related to America’s rivers, which is why we honor them.
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The River People
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Inducted in 2007
Abraham Lincoln was a riverman for only a short time, but his relationship to the river had great significance to American history. When Lincoln was young he lived on a farm on Pigeon Creek near the Ohio River, and Lincoln often earned money ferrying passengers and baggage to riverboats waiting in midstream. In 1828, when he was 19, he was hired by a local merchant to take a cargo-laden flatboat down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. In 1831 Lincoln made a second trip to New Orleans, along with his stepbrother and a cousin. They built a flatboat and took it down the Mississippi with a load of cargo. The pay was $60 plus 50 cents a day. According to legend, Lincoln saw his first slave auction there in New Orleans and said about slavery, “If I ever get a chance to hit that thing, I’ll hit it hard.”
Lincoln was the only President to have a U.S. Patent and that patent was for a shoal water device to be used by boats in shallow waters. The model of the patent is in the Smithsonian Institution.
Lincoln was involved in the famous case of the collision of the steamboat Effie Afton with the first bridge to cross the Mississippi. During the trial, in which Lincoln represented the railroad, Lincoln showed his knowledge of the current, speeds, eddies, and the traffic of the river, including the survey of the river done by Robert E. Lee. For fourteen days, engineers, pilots, boat owners, rivermen, and bridge builders were subjected to examination and cross-examination. After both sides had rested, Lincoln rose to make an eloquent argument in favor of the bridge. Even though he was a former riverman and understood the romance of the Mississippi River and its boat life, he carried the day for the railroad by concluding that one man had as good a right to cross a river as another had to sail up or down it.
Lincoln called the Mississippi River the key to victory in the west during the Civil War. Although he was not the first to use the term “Father of Waters,” his usage is perhaps the most eloquent and well known. When he learned of General Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, he wrote, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”