1875 Currier and Ives View of Steamboat Racing on the Mississippi River

Midnight Race on the Mississippi. - Main View

1875 Currier and Ives View of Steamboat Racing on the Mississippi River


End of the Era of Steamboat Racing.


Midnight Race on the Mississippi.
  1875 (dated)     9.5 x 13.25 in (24.13 x 33.655 cm)


A gorgeous 1872 Currier and Ives hand-colored lithograph of steamboats racing on the Mississippi River. By the time of its publication, steamboat racing and river steamboats were becoming less popular, imbuing the piece with a touch of nostalgia.
A Closer Look
The view depicts a nighttime scene, with two steamboats, the Memphis and the James Howard, racing neck-and-neck down the Mississippi River. In reality, given the times and distances involved and the potential dangers of collision, ships racing each other rarely came so close, but Currier and Ives have taken some artistic license to heighten the drama. An unknown artist has signed his initial (M.) in the bottom-left corner. Though both ships were well known in their time, there is scant record of their having raced each other aside from references to this print, suggesting the race was imagined (in the original 1860 printing of the view, the ships were named Natchez and Eclipse).
Steamboat Racing
Long before Americans enjoyed watching cars, planes, and other 20th century vehicles race, they were equally enthralled by horse, train, and steamboat races. Though there was unquestionably a sporting element to the races, they were also undertaken to spur and demonstrate improvements in shipbuilding technology. The result was that from the 1820s to the 1840s, trip times between Louisville and New Orleans on the Mississippi River were cut from several weeks to several days.

While these improvements in travel were a tremendous accomplishment, steamboat travel was extremely dangerous. Boilers were prone to explode, igniting cargo such as gunpowder and cotton, and crashes were common. Passenger steamboats often engaged in informal or illicit racing, needlessly putting dozens and hundreds of lives at risk, as is presumed to be the case with the boiler explosion and sinking of the Henry Clay near Yonkers in 1852, which killed some 80 passengers. River traffic was also often unregulated, especially in earlier years of steamboat travel, so that the first boat to reach a dock or pier would have first crack at any waiting passengers, encouraging fierce competition.

This work was published near the end of the golden age of river steamboats in the United States. In 1870, one of the last well-publicized and certainly the most gambled upon race of the era took place between the Robert E. Lee and Natchez. Dubbed the 'Great American Steamboat Race,' between New Orleans and St. Louis, the modern ships and crack crews demonstrated the highest potential of river steamboats, even as they were becoming obsolete due to an ever-expanding railroad network. The race was a media sensation, especially in the South, which was still reeling from the American Civil War (1861 - 1865). Wounded Southern pride was somewhat soothed by the history of the ships - while one was named after the Confederacy's best general, the Natchez had carried Jefferson Davis to Montgomery, Alabama for his 1861 swearing in as President of the Confederacy.
Publication History and Census
Currier and Ives originally published this print on a larger format in 1860, then issued it in a smaller format in 1875 (changing the ships' names in the process), while a third printing was undertaken in 1890 (changing the ships' names back to the Natchez and Eclipse). The present 1875 printing is held by the American Antiquarian Society, the D'Amour Museum of Fine Arts, the Legion of Honor (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), and the Museum of the City of New York.


Nathaniel Currier (March 27, 1813 - November 20, 1888) was an American lithographer best known as part of 'Currier and Ives'. Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Currier attended public schools until fifteen, when he apprenticed with the Boston lithographic firm of William and John Pendleton. The Pendletons were the first successful lithographers in the United States and were responsible for educating the next generation of lithographic printers. In 1833, Currier left the Pendleton's shop to work with M.E.D. Brown in Philadelphia. A year later, Currier moved to New York City, where he planned to start a business with John Pendleton. When Pendleton backed out, Currier found a new partner, founding 'Currier and Stodart', but the concern survived for just a year. Currier opened his own lithographic studio in 1835 as an eponymous sole-proprietorship. He initially printed the standard materials, including letterheads, sheet music, and handbills. Later in 1835, Currier began issuing current event imagery. Some of his news printers were issued in the New York Sun. By 1840, Currier had moved away from 'job printing' and further toward fine-print publishing. His Awful Conflagration of the Steam Boat 'Lexington', was published in the Sun that year, as well as being separately issued. James Ives (March 5, 1824 - January 3, 1895) began working under Currier in 1850 as a bookkeeper. Ives contributed greatly to the growth of the business, particularly as a manager, marketer, and businessman. Ives became a full partner in 1857, and the firm was renamed 'Currier and Ives'. Currier and Ives produced over 7,500 images and is best remembered for its popular art prints, particularly Christmas scenes and landscapes. They also produced banners, illustrations of current events, views, and historical scenes. Currier retired in 1880 and turned the business over to his son Edward. Currier married Eliza West Farnsworth in 1840, with whom he had one child Edward West Currier. Eliza died in 1843. Currier remarried to Lura Ormsbee in 1847. Other than being a lithographer, Currier also served as a volunteer New York City fireman during the 1850s, and he liked fast horses. More by this mapmaker...

James Merritt Ives (March 5, 1824 - January 3, 1895) was an American businessman, bookkeeper, and lithographer who oversaw the business side of the famed lithographic firm Currier and Ives. Born in New York City, Ives was a self-trained artist who began working at the age of twelve. He married Caroline Clark (1827 - 1896) on June 24, 1846, who was the sister-in-law of Nathaniel Currier's brother, Charles Currier. In 1852, Nathaniel Currier (March 27, 1813 - November 20, 1888) hired Ives as the bookkeeper for his firm N. Currier, Lithographer, on Charles's recommendation. Ives' talent for art and his knowledge of the artistic world soon became apparent to Currier, who valued his insights as well as the business acumen. Currier offered Ives a full partnership in 1857. They renamed the firm 'Currier and Ives' with Ives as the general manager. Ives began to play a role in selecting artists and prints to publish, and was responsible for pursuing publication of scenes of middle-class America that made the firm famous. After Ives died in 1895, his sons continued to work with Currier's son to manage the firm until it was liquidated in 1907. Learn More...


Good. Tear in middle left margin, extending half an inch into margin, professionally closed on verso. Three inch reinforcement on verso in upper left corner. Upper left margin corner facsimile done previously, professional repairĀ onĀ verso.


OCLC 191116402.