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Major Rivers, Ohio River
American Midwest, Erie Canal, Appalachian Mountains, Mississippi River, major rivers
The Ohio River is one of the main tributaries of the Mississippi River, draining the northern portions of the Appalachian Mountains and the Midwest. At a length of 1,580 km (981 mi), the Ohio River is relatively short compared with other major rivers in the United States, yet it played a major role in the opening of the American Midwest to settlement. It became the main transportation route leading westward from the eastern portion of the United States, and until the opening of the Erie Canal, it was the safest, cheapest, and most convenient way to ship freight to and from the interior regions of the continent.
As settlers moved westward along the Ohio River, urban centers began to develop along these routes. These centers included cities such as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Louisville, Kentucky. The river provided the means for moving the Appalachian coal that fueled Pittsburgh’s steel industry, as well as for transporting the finished steel to market. More than 800 km (500 mi) of the Middle Ohio Valley developed as a major heavy-manufacturing district, centered on the inexpensive transportation offered by the river.
Originally, the Ohio River was too shallow in many places for transportation during the dry months of late summer. To correct this, the federal government built a network of more than 40 dams along the river’s course, creating a waterway deep enough to sustain reliable navigation. As a source of inexpensive and dependable transportation, the Ohio has become one of America's leading carriers of bulk commodities, such as coal, iron ore, sand, steel, and gravel.
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