Cynthia A. Kierner is a professor of history at George Mason University, where she teaches early American and women's history. She is the author or editor of seven books including the award-winning Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times (2012) and Scandal at Bizarre: Rumor and Reputation in Jefferson's America (2004). Kierner is also a past president of the Southern Association for Women Historians. Her current book project is entitled "Inventing Disaster: The Culture of Calamity from Jamestown to Johnstown."
The steamboat transformed American life, promoting settlement and prosperity of the West and making travel possible for more people. But when steamboat boilers exploded, they left a trail of burnt and disfigured corpses across the continent. The steamboat as a source of opportunity and pleasure, on the one hand, and as a cause of so much suffering and devastation, on the other, fascinated Americans. For that reason the steamboat—and especially steamboat explosions—figured prominently in the newspapers, images, literature, and commercial entertainments of the antebellum era.