32¢ Robert E. Lee
Issue Date: August 22, 1996
City: Orlando, FL
Printed By: Avery Dennison
Printing Method: Photogravure
Perforations: 11 x11.1
Some of the finest, most glamorous steamboats ever built sailed the mighty Mississippi. None is more celebrated than the Robt. E. Lee, winner of a fearsome race with the Natchez, immortalized in Roy Barkhau’s “The Great Steamboat Race,” and in a Currier & Ives’ painting.
Mississippi boats were broad but required shallow keels and powerful engines to navigate the strong but shallow currents. The Robt. E. Lee was 285 feet long, 47 feet wide, and weighed over 1,450 tons. Each of its eight boilers was 42 inches high and 28 feet long. Together the eight engines produced the 120 pounds of steam necessary to turn the Lee’s two 30-foot sidewheels.
In 1866, Captain John Cannon of New Orleans commissioned Hoosiers in New Albany, Indiana to build this steamboat, but delayed christening it until it was safe in a Kentucky port. Because it was to operate between New Orleans and Vicksburg, he named it the Robt. E. Lee.
Though fire and shifting sandbars quickly destroyed many western steamboats, they were nonetheless enormously profitable, paying for themselves in 22 weeks. Like others, the Lee was short-lived, hitting a sandbar in 1874. Two years later, the boat was dismantled and replaced by a larger Robt. E. Lee. The competition was on with railroads – a competition steamboats would lose.