For Educators

For Educators

“When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman. We had transient ambitions of other sorts… These ambitions faded out, each in its turn; but the ambition to be a steamboatman always remained.” Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi.

Historical Background

The call of the whistle, the turn of the paddlewheel, the roar of steam engines: Mark Twain felt the magnetism of the steamboat. People of all ages still feel that magnetism as soon as they get on board a steamboat – especially children.

The advent of steamboat transportation in 1787 changed the history of our country. A “river pathway” opened new frontiers and allowed those seeking new adventures a way to get there. Over the decades that followed, commerce and populations exploded on every navigable waterway in North America. Steam transportation allowed products to access major markets more rapidly and in larger quantities than ever before. Until the 1870s it was still more efficient to ship goods by river than by land; but even as roads and railroads became more reliable, the steamboat still played an important economic role.

The Belle of Louisville was built in 1914, just two years after the sinking of the Titanic. World War I had begun, and most American homes did not have indoor plumbing or electricity. The largest industry in the country was agriculture, and most children typically had limited formal education.

Like the Belle, most steamboats were built as packets (freight boats), and could carry everything needed in towns, cities, and farms along our waterways. By the 1880s, the steam towboats appeared. Tows were capable of transporting larger loads more economically, leading to a decline in packet boat transportation. The last packet boat was built in the early 1940s, and by the 1960s the last steam packets still remaining had been converted to leisure service.

Learning about the steamboat era can help children see America’s history from a whole new perspective – and there’s no better way than by being on board!

Our Riverboats

Today, the Belle is the last river steamboat operating that was built as a packet. She has had three names and an adventurous life, and is now the oldest remaining river steamboat. She is living history, and a cruise on board is a return to a time when traveling by steamboat was commonplace.

The Mary M. Miller, a diesel-powered riverboat, is an example of the recent revival of interest in the steamboat era. She was built after most river steamboats were long gone, when cities began to re-examine their river history.

Although she is now called the Mayor Andrew Broaddus, our wharf-boat is actually the third version of Life-Saving Station #10. In the mid-19 century, the Federal government established a life-saving service with stations along the coastal and Great Lakes regions of the country. By the late 1870s the need for an inland life-saving service had become clear; and the first station was established at the most hazardous location on all the inland waterways, at Louisville across the river from the Falls of the Ohio. LSS #10 is now the last of her kind.


Some activity ideas can be included for visiting school groups upon request, but we highly recommend making your own plans to take a ride with your children as well.

Please note that during some seasons of the year the Belle’s schedule is limited or cruises are not available. Our smaller riverboat, the Mary M. Miller, is available for cruises most of the year. Please refer to our website schedule (through the Cruise Calendar option), or call the Belle office for specific information.

KET Electronic Field Trip to the Belle of Louisville

Experience the many fun and educational features of the Belle of Louisville at this rich website. Within the website, you and your students have options to:

  • Watch the complete field trip video.
  • Take a virtual tour of the boat via galleries of high quality photos that teachers and students have full rights to download for educational, not-for-profit use.
  • Play the fun and interactive “How Well Do You Know the Belle?” challenge.
  • Explore an extensive dictionary of steamboat vocabulary.
  • Learn about steamboat-related career options.
  • Find events in the history of steam river travel.
  • Utilize teacher resources, including lesson plans and a variety of related instructional resources.
  • Use the Links page to find related websites.

Check out this new website and experience the Belle of Louisville in a whole new way!

KET Electronic Field Trip to the Belle of Louisville