The Steamboat Era began with the steamboat Alabama launched in 1818 and built in St. Stephens, Alabama on the Tombigbee River, 97 miles upstream from Mobile. This first steamboat didn’t even have enough power to return home after arriving in Mobile. The next boat was the Mobile that traveled upstream to Tuscaloosa on a long journey requiring many stops to cut wood for the furnaces. The Harriet started her voyage from Mobile to Montgomery shortly thereafter. The steamboats had begun, and with them a new way of life.
In 1826 the U.S. Congress authorized money for the development of a navigable channel in Mobile Bay.
A navigational depth of 45 feet is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers from the Gulf of Mexico to the mouth of the Mobile River.
Alabama State Docks is a somewhat unique entity. As a self-supporting enterprise agency of the Executive Branch, Alabama State Docks has assisted water commerce by centralizing efforts to develop and operate port facilities across the state. The organization was formed with the passage of a constitutional amendment in 1922 followed by the development of a world class seaport on 548 acres of swamp and marshland. Major General William Sibert of the US Army Corps of Engineers built the facilities for 10 million dollars.
Alabama State Docks employs about 375 individuals to operate, maintain and market their facilities. In 1999, the Port of Mobile was the 14th largest port in the nation in total tonnage, ahead of other well known ports such as Tampa, Seattle, Charleston and Savannah. The economic impact to Alabama is estimated to be over $3 billion statewide. Tax payments of $467 million were made from activities in the International Trade sector. The Alabama State Docks supports the jobs of more than 118,000 Alabama citizens. (AL State Docks)