Pittsburgh’s Lost Steamboat: Treasures of the Arabia
Travel back in time to when Pittsburgh was the Gateway to the West with the History Center’s new major exhibition, Pittsburgh’s Lost Steamboat: Treasures of the Arabia. By popular demand, the exhibit has been extended until Jan. 11. Visit today!
Explore an era when Pittsburgh was the steamboat center of America. The Arabia, built in the famed Pringle boatyard in Brownsville, Pa. and launched in Pittsburgh in 1853, was one of hundreds of steamboats that began life in the boat yards along the Monongahela and Ohio rivers. Sunk in the Missouri River in 1856 and sealed in an oxygen-free environment, the Arabia became a remarkable time capsule when she was rediscovered 150 years later by a group of modern-day treasure hunters deep below a Kansas cornfield.
Watch the Video
Join History Center President and CEO Andy Masich on a guided tour of the Treasures of the Arabia exhibition.
A treasure lost and found
The Arabia ran on the Ohio River for two years before owners sold her to Missouri interests in May 1855. The boat ended up on the Missouri River just as thousands of new settlers were heading west to the Kansas-Nebraska frontier. After surviving multiple trips on the treacherous Missouri—including an attempt to smuggle guns into Kansas for the antislavery cause—the Arabia struck a tree snag and sank near Kansas City, Mo. during its final journey in September 1856.
Packed with nearly one million objects, the boat gradually disappeared into the muddy bottom of the Missouri. As the years passed, the river changed course, leaving the Arabia buried 45 feet below a cornfield in what is now part of Kansas. Sealed in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, the Arabia’s frontier cargo remained perfectly preserved until the boat was unearthed in the late 1980s.
Now you can explore that discovery for yourself. Pittsburgh’s Lost Steamboat: Treasures of the Arabia features nearly 2,000 artifacts, including everything from coats and boots to fine china and a jar of 160-year-old pickles, still looking fresh and green, all in an immersive museum environment ideal for visitors of all ages.
Hop aboard to enjoy the largest time capsule of pre-Civil War items ever discovered as part of Pittsburgh’s Lost Steamboat: Treasures of the Arabia.
Artifact Spotlight: 160-Year-Old Pickles
Along with dry goods and building supplies, the Arabia’s cargo included a wide variety of canned and bottled food like these pickles, still preserved after more than 160 years.
- A jar of pickles from 1856, still intact after more than 160 years.
- Wool shirts, hats, and a pair of plaid pants, all destined for frontier stores in 1856.
- A rare Sharps Model 1853 Carbine and Ames bayonet, seized on the Arabia while being smuggled into Kansas by New England abolitionists.
- Beautiful blue and green glass scroll flasks from Christian Ihmsen & Sons and a balance scale from the Pittsburgh Novelty Works, just a few of the hundreds of Pittsburgh products shipped west in the 1850s.
- Barrel lid folk painting of the steamboat New Orleans, celebrating the first steamboat to travel down the western rivers in 1811.
Learn about Robert Fulton’s launch of the first steamboat from Pittsburgh in 1811 in this KQV Radio History Minute, History Center President and CEO Andy Masich