A steamboat or steamship, sometimes called a steamer, is a ship in which the primary method of propulsion is steam power, typically driving a propeller or paddlewheel.
The term steamboat is usually used to refer to smaller steam-powered boats working on lakes and rivers, particularly riverboats in the USA; steamship generally refers to steam powered ships capable of carrying a (ship's) boat. The term steamwheeler is archaic and rarely used.
Steamships gradually replaced sailing ships for commercial shipping through the 19th century, and they were in turn superseded by diesel-driven ships in the second half of the twentieth century. Most warships used steam propulsion until the advent of the gas turbine. Today, nuclear powered warships and submarines use steam to drive turbines, but are not referred to as steamships or steamboats.
Screw-driven steamships generally carry the ship prefix "SS" before their names. Paddle steamers usually carry the prefix "PS" and Steamships powered by the steam turbine may be prefixed "TS" (Turbine Ship). The term steamer is occasionally used, out of nostalgia, for diesel motor-driven vessels, prefixed "MV".
As Henry and Fitch had foreseen, steamboats on major American rivers soon followed Fulton's success. Mark Twain, in his Life on the Mississippi, described much of the operation of these vessels. For most of the 19th century and part of the early 20th century, trade on the Mississippi River would be dominated by paddle-wheel steamboats. Their success led to penetration deep into the continent, where Anson Northrup in 1859 became first steamer to cross the U.S.-Canadian border on the Red River. They would also be involved in major political events, as when Louis Riel seized International at Fort Garry, or Gabriel Dumont was engaged by Northcote at Batoche. Very few such craft survive to the present day, most destroyed by boiler explosions or fires. One of the few surviving Mississippi sternwheelers from this period, Julius C. Wilkie, is a museum ship at Winona, Minnesota.
The Belle of Louisville, out of Louisville, Kentucky is the oldest continually operating steamboat on the inland waterways of the United States: she was laid down as Idlewild in 1914. In Canada, the city of Terrace, British Columbia, celebrates "Riverboat Days" each summer.The Skeena River passes through Terrace and played a crucial role during the age of the steamboat. The first steamer to enter the Skeena was Union in 1864. In 1866 Mumford attempted to ascend the river but was only able to reach the Kitsumkalum River. It was not until 1891 Hudson's Bay Company sternwheeler Caledonia successfully negotiated Kitselas Canyon and reached Hazelton. A number of other steamers were built around the turn of the century, in part due to the growing fish industry and the gold rush.