The Moselle Riverboat Explosion
By James Donahue
About 160 people including Captain Isaac Perin were killed with the fast new riverboat Moselle exploded
its boilers in a spectacular blast on the Ohio River, near Cincinnati, on April 25, 1838.
The Moselle had just been launched and during the few weeks that it operated, set a record two-day,
sixteen hour trip between Cincinnati and St. Louis, thus making it among the fastest boats operating on the rivers.
Captain Perrin, who also owned the boat, was reportedly so determined to maintain the reputation of
operating "the swiftest steamboat in America" that he was constantly involved in races with other operating steamboats. And
that seems to be what he was doing on the day his ship blew up under him.
Tragically the Moselle had an estimated 300 passengers on its decks on that tragic day. People were
attracted to the vessel because it was not only a new steamboat, but it had already gained a reputation for speed.
The boat was racing another steamboat on a regular run between St. Louis and Cincinnati but had to
make a quick stop at Hillsboro to pick up a family traveling to Cincinnati.
Cecelina Westrich, a descendant of one of the survivors of that disaster, wrote that Perrin ordered
his chief engineer to maintain full steam in the boat’s four big boilers while the Moselle was stopped to take on those
passengers. "The Captain was determined that the stop was not going to cause him to lose the race," she wrote.
"Passengers who survived reported later that they felt the floorboards of the deck grow hot under
their feet, and many of the men tried to get the captain to cut back on his steam as they were afraid of what might happen.
But he refused, and even when he pulled into Cincinnati, he refused to shut down the steam that he had built up."
As the Moselle was pulling away from the dock all four boilers exploded at the same time, instantly
killing everyone on the deck directly above them. The blast was so powerful it destroyed the ship from its paddlewheels forward
to the bow. The stern drifted about 100 yards before sinking to the bottom of the Ohio River.
Fragments of the boilers and human bodies were found all along the river bank, on both sides of the
river. One man’s body crashed head first through the roof of a house. The survivors jumped into the water and swam to
Until the Sultana explosion some 30 years later, the Moselle disaster was regarded as the worse riverboat
disaster in American history.