Ohio River, which streams westward from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
to Cairo, Illinois, is the largest tributary, by volume, of the
Mississippi River in the United States. At the confluence, the
considerably bigger than the
Ohio at Cairo:
281,500 cu ft/s (7,960 m3/s);
Mississippi at Thebes:
208,200 cu ft/s (5,897 m3/s)) and, thus, is
hydrologically the main stream of the whole river system.
The 981-mile (1,579 km) river flows through or along the border
of six states, and its drainage basin includes parts of
15 states. Through its largest tributary, the Tennessee River,
the basin includes many of the states of the southeastern U.S. It is
the source of drinking water for three million people.
It is named in Iroquoian or Seneca: Ohi:yó,
lit. "Good River" or Shawnee: Pelewathiipi and
Spelewathiipi. The river had great significance in the history of
the Native Americans, as numerous civilizations formed along its
valley. For thousands of years, Native
Americans used the river as a
major transportation and trading route. Its waters connected
communities. In the five centuries before European conquest, the
Mississippian culture built numerous regional chiefdoms and major
earthwork mounds in the
Ohio Valley, such as
Angel Mounds near
Evansville, Indiana, as well as in the
Mississippi Valley and the
Southeast. The Osage, Omaha,
Ponca and Kaw lived in the
but under pressure from the
Iroquois to the northeast, migrated west
Mississippi River to Missouri,
Oklahoma in the
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle led a French
expedition to the
Ohio River, becoming the first Europeans to see it.
European-American settlement, the river served as a border
Kentucky and Indian Territories. It was a primary
transportation route for pioneers during the westward expansion of the
early U.S. In his
Notes on the State of Virginia
Notes on the State of Virginia published in
Thomas Jefferson stated: "The
Ohio is the most beautiful
river on earth. Its current gentle, waters clear, and bosom smooth and
unbroken by rocks and rapids, a single instance only excepted."
During the 19th century, the river was the southern boundary of the
Northwest Territory. It is sometimes considered as the western
extension of the Mason–Dixon Line that divided
Maryland, and thus part of the border between free and slave
territory, and between the Northern and Southern
United States or
Upper South. Where the river was narrow, it was the way to freedom for
thousands of slaves escaping to the North, many helped by free blacks
and whites of the
Underground Railroad resistance movement.
Ohio River is a climatic transition area, as its water runs along
the periphery of the humid subtropical and humid continental climate
areas. It is inhabited by fauna and flora of both climates. In winter,
it regularly freezes over at
Pittsburgh but rarely farther south
Cincinnati and Louisville. At Paducah, Kentucky, in the south,
near the Ohio's confluence with the Mississippi, it is ice-free
year-round. Paducah was founded there because it is the northernmost
ice-free reach of the Ohio.
2 Geography and hydrography
2.1 Drainage basin
6 River depth
7 Cities and towns along the river
8 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
The Allegheny River, left, and
Monongahela River join to form the Ohio
River at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the largest metropolitan area on
Built between 1849 and 1851, the
Wheeling Suspension Bridge
Wheeling Suspension Bridge was the
first bridge across the river.
Louisville, Kentucky, The deepest point of the
Ohio River is a scour
hole just below Cannelton locks and dam (river mile 720.7). The widest
point of the river is at the confluence of the
Ohio and the
A barge hauls coal in the Louisville and Portland Canal, the only
artificial portion of the
Tall Stacks festival celebrates the riverboats of Cincinnati,
Ohio, every three or four years.
Geography and hydrography
Natural-color satellite image of the Wabash-
Ohio River is formed by the confluence of the Allegheny and
Monongahela rivers at
Point State Park
Point State Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
From there, it flows northwest through Allegheny and Beaver counties,
before making an abrupt turn to the south-southwest at the West
Pennsylvania triple-state line (near East Liverpool,
Ohio; Chester, West Virginia; and Midland, Pennsylvania). From there,
it forms the border between
West Virginia and Ohio, upstream of
Wheeling, West Virginia.
The river then follows a roughly southwest and then west-northwest
course until Cincinnati, before bending to a west-southwest course for
most of its length. The course forms the northern borders of West
Virginia and Kentucky; and the southern borders of Ohio,
Illinois, until it joins the
Mississippi River near the city of Cairo,
Major tributaries of the river, indicated by the location of the
Allegheny River – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Monongahela River – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Saw Mill Run
Saw Mill Run – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Chartiers Creek – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Montour Run – Coraopolis, Pennsylvania
Beaver River – Rochester, Pennsylvania
Breezewood Creek – Beaver, Pennsylvania
Raccoon Creek – Center Township
Little Beaver Creek
Little Beaver Creek – East Liverpool, Ohio
Wheeling Creek – Wheeling, West Virginia
Middle Island Creek
Middle Island Creek – St. Marys, West Virginia
Little Muskingum River
Little Muskingum River – Ohio
Duck Creek – Marietta, Ohio
Muskingum River – Marietta, Ohio
Little Kanawha River
Little Kanawha River – Parkersburg, West Virginia
Hocking River – Hockingport, Ohio
Kanawha River – Point Pleasant, West Virginia
Guyandotte River – Huntington, West Virginia
Big Sandy River – Kentucky-
West Virginia border
Little Sandy River – Greenup, Kentucky
Scioto River – Sciotoville, Ohio
Scioto River – Portsmouth, Ohio
Kinniconick Creek – Vanceburg, Kentucky
Little Miami River
Little Miami River – Cincinnati, Ohio
Licking River – Newport-Covington, Kentucky
Mill Creek – Cincinnati, Ohio
Great Miami River
Great Miami River – Ohio-
Kentucky River – Carrollton, Kentucky
Salt River – West Point, Kentucky
Green River – near Henderson, Kentucky
Wabash River – Indiana-Illinois-
Saline River – Illinois
Cumberland River – Smithland, Kentucky
Tennessee River – Paducah, Kentucky
Cache River – Illinois
The Ohio's drainage basin covers 189,422 square miles
(490,600 km2), encompassing the easternmost regions of the
Mississippi Basin. The
Ohio drains parts of 15 states in four regions.
New York: a small area of the southern border along the headwaters of
Pennsylvania: a corridor from the southwestern corner to north central
Maryland: a small corridor along the
Youghiogheny River on the western
West Virginia: all but the Eastern Panhandle.
Kentucky: all but a small part in the extreme west drained directly by
Tennessee: all but a small part in the extreme west drained directly
by the Mississippi, and a very small area in the southeastern corner
which is drained by the Conasauga River.
Virginia: most of southwest Virginia.
North Carolina: the western quarter.
Ohio: the southern two-thirds
Indiana: all but the northern area.
Illinois: the southeast quarter.
Georgia: the far northwest corner.
Alabama: the northern portion.
Mississippi: the northeast corner.
South Carolina: less than 1 square mile in the northwest.
Glacial Lake Ohio
From a geological standpoint, the
Ohio River is young. The river
formed on a piecemeal basis beginning between 2.5 and 3 million
years ago. The earliest ice ages occurred at this time and dammed
portions of north-flowing rivers. The
Teays River was the largest of
these rivers. The modern
Ohio River flows within segments of the
ancient Teays. The ancient rivers were rearranged or consumed by
glaciers and lakes.
Ohio River formed when one of the glacial lakes overflowed
into a south-flowing tributary of the Teays River. Prior to that
event, the north-flowing Steubenville River (no longer in existence)
ended between New Martinsville and Paden City, West Virginia.
Likewise, the south-flowing Marietta River (no longer in existence)
ended between the present-day cities. The overflowing lake carved
through the separating hill and connected the rivers.
The resulting floodwaters enlarged the small Marietta valley to a size
more typical of a large river. The new large river subsequently
drained glacial lakes and melting glaciers at the end of the Ice Age.
The valley grew during and following the ice age.
Many small rivers were altered or abandoned after the upper
formed. Valleys of some abandoned rivers can still be seen on
satellite and aerial images of the hills of
Ohio and West Virginia
between Marietta, Ohio, and Huntington, West Virginia. As testimony to
the major changes that occurred, such valleys are found on
Ohio River formed in a manner similar to formation of the
Ohio River. A north-flowing river was temporarily dammed
southwest of present-day Louisville, creating a large lake until the
dam burst. A new route was carved to the Mississippi. Eventually the
upper and middle sections combined to form what is essentially the
Steamboat "Morning Star", a Louisville and Evansville mail packet, in
Pre-Columbian inhabitants of eastern North America considered the Ohio
part of a single river continuing on through the lower Mississippi.
The river's name comes from the Seneca (Iroquoian) Ohiːyo', a proper
name derived from ohiːyoːh, meaning "good river". The combined
Ohio river is 1,310 miles (2,110 km) long and carries
the largest volume of water of any tributary of the Mississippi. The
Indians and early explorers and settlers of the region also often
considered the Allegheny to be part of the Ohio. The forks (the
confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers at what is now
Pittsburgh) was considered a strategic military location.
French fur traders operated in the area, and France built forts along
the Allegheny River. In 1669, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La
Salle, led an expedition of French traders who became the first
Europeans to see the river. He traveled from
Canada and entered the
headwaters of the Ohio, traveling as far as the Falls of
present-day Louisville before turning back. He returned to explore the
river again in other expeditions. An Italian cartographer traveling
with him created the first map of the
Ohio River. La Salle claimed the
Ohio Valley for France.
In 1749, Great Britain established the
Ohio Company to settle and
trade in the area. Exploration of the territory and trade with the
Indians in the region near the Forks by British colonials from
Virginia – both of which claimed the territory –
led to conflict with the French. In 1763, following the Seven Years'
War, France ceded the area to Britain.
Treaty of Fort Stanwix
Treaty of Fort Stanwix opened
Kentucky to colonial settlement
and established the
Ohio River as a southern boundary for American
Indian territory. In 1774, the
Quebec Act restored the land east
Mississippi River and north of the
Ohio River to Quebec, in
effect making the
Ohio the southern boundary of Canada. This appeased
Canadien British subjects but angered the Thirteen Colonies. Lord
Dunmore's War south of the
Ohio river also contributed to giving the
land north to Quebec to stop further encroachment of the British
colonials on native land. During the American Revolution, in 1776 the
British military engineer John Montrésor created a map of the river
showing the strategic location of Fort Pitt, including specific
navigational information about the
Ohio River's rapids and tributaries
in that area. However, the
Treaty of Paris (1783)
Treaty of Paris (1783) gave the entire
Ohio Valley to the United States.
The economic connection of the
Ohio Country to the East was
significantly increased in 1818 when the
National Road being built
westward from Cumberland,
Maryland reached Wheeling,
West Virginia), providing an easier overland connection from the
Potomac River to the
Louisville was founded at the only major natural navigational barrier
on the river, the Falls of the Ohio. The Falls were a series of rapids
where the river dropped 26 feet (7.9 m) in a stretch of about 2
miles (3.2 km). In this area, the river flowed over hard,
fossil-rich beds of limestone. The first locks on the river – the
Louisville and Portland Canal
Louisville and Portland Canal – were built to circumnavigate the
falls between 1825 and 1830. Fears that Louisville's transshipment
industry would collapse proved ill-founded: the increasing size of
steamships and barges on the river meant that the outdated locks could
only service the smallest vessels until well after the Civil War. The
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers improvements were expanded again in the
1960s, forming the present-day McAlpine Locks and Dam.
Ohio River flowed westward, it became a convenient means
of westward movement by pioneers traveling from western Pennsylvania.
After reaching the mouth of the Ohio, settlers would travel north on
Mississippi River to St. Louis, Missouri. There, some continued on
Missouri River, some up the Mississippi, and some further west
over land routes. In the early 19th century, river pirates such as
Samuel Mason, operating out of Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, waylaid
travelers on their way down the river. They killed travelers, stealing
their goods and scuttling their boats. The folktales about Mike Fink
recall the keelboats used for commerce in the early days of European
Ohio River boatmen were the inspiration for performer
Dan Emmett, who in 1843 wrote the song "The Boatman's Dance".
Trading boats and ships traveled south on the
Mississippi to New
Orleans, and sometimes beyond to the
Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico and other ports in
the Americas and Europe. This provided a much-needed export route for
goods from the west, since the trek east over the Appalachian
Mountains was long and arduous. The need for access to the port of New
Orleans by settlers in the
Ohio Valley led to the Louisiana Purchase
Because the river is the southern border of Ohio, Indiana, and
Illinois, it was part of the border between free states and slave
states in the years before the American Civil War. The expression
"sold down the river" originated as a lament of
Upper South slaves,
especially from Kentucky, who were shipped via the
Mississippi to cotton and sugar plantations in the Deep South.
Before and during the Civil War, the
Ohio River was called the "River
Jordan" by slaves crossing it to escape to freedom in the North via
the Underground Railroad. More escaping slaves, estimated in the
thousands, made their perilous journey north to freedom across the
Ohio River than anywhere else across the north-south frontier. Harriet
Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, the bestselling novel that fueled
abolitionist work, was the best known of the anti-slavery novels that
portrayed such escapes across the Ohio. The times have been expressed
by 20th-century novelists as well, such as the Nobel Prize-winning
Toni Morrison, whose novel Beloved was adapted as a film of the same
name. She also composed the libretto for the opera Margaret Garner
(2005), based on the life and trial of an enslaved woman who escaped
with her family across the river.
Ohio River is considered to separate Midwestern
Great Lakes states
Upper South states, which were historically border states in
the Civil War.
The colonial charter for
Virginia defined its territory as extending
to the north shore of the Ohio, so that the riverbed was "owned" by
Virginia. Where the river serves as a boundary between states today,
Congress designated the entire river to belong to the states on the
east and south, i.e.,
West Virginia and
Kentucky at the time of
admission to the Union, that were divided from Virginia. Thus Wheeling
Island, the largest inhabited island in the
Ohio River, belongs to
West Virginia, although it is closer to the
Ohio shore than to the
West Virginia shore.
Kentucky brought suit against
Indiana in the
early 1980s because of the building of the Marble Hill nuclear power
plant in Indiana, which would have discharged its waste water into the
The U.S. Supreme Court held that Kentucky's jurisdiction (and,
implicitly, that of West Virginia) extended only to the low-water mark
of 1793 (important because the river has been extensively dammed for
navigation, so that the present river bank is north of the old
low-water mark.) Similarly, in the 1990s,
Illinois' right to collect taxes on a riverboat casino docked in
Metropolis, citing its own control of the entire river. A private
casino riverboat that docked in Evansville, Indiana, on the
opened about the same time. Although such boats cruised on the Ohio
River in an oval pattern up and down, the state of
protested. Other states had to limit their cruises to going forwards,
then reversing and going backwards on the
Indiana shore only. Since
Indiana has allowed its riverboat casinos to be permanently
In the early 1980s, the Falls of the
Ohio National Wildlife
Conservation Area was established at Clarksville, Indiana.
The confluence of the
Ohio rivers is at Cairo,
Carl D. Perkins Bridge
Carl D. Perkins Bridge in Portsmouth,
Ohio River and Scioto
River tributary on right.
Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant,
West Virginia which collapsed into
Ohio River on December 15, 1967, killing 46 persons.
Mouth of the Ohio, as it feeds into the Mississippi.
Cave-in-rock, view on the
Ohio (circa 1832, Cave-In-Rock, Illinois):
Karl Bodmer from the book Maximilian, Prince of Wied's
Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832–1834
Ohio River as a whole is ranked as the most polluted river in the
US based on 2009 and 2010 data although the more industrial and
Ohio tributary, Monongahela River, ranked behind 16 other
American rivers for pollution at number 17.
Ohio River was polluted with hundreds of thousands of pounds of
DuPont chemical company, from an outflow pipe, for several
decades beginning in the 1950s.
Lawrenceburg, Indiana, is one of many towns that use the
Ohio as a
Ohio River is a naturally shallow river that was artificially
deepened by a series of dams. The natural depth of the river varied
from about 3 to 20 feet (0.91 to 6.10 m). The dams raise the
water level and have turned the river largely into a series of
reservoirs, eliminating shallow stretches and allowing for commercial
navigation. From its origin to Cincinnati, the average depth is
approximately 15 feet (5 m). The largest immediate drop in water
level is below the
McAlpine Locks and Dam
McAlpine Locks and Dam at the Falls of the
Louisville, Kentucky, where flood stage is reached when the water
reaches 23 feet (7 m) on the lower gauge. However, the river's
deepest point is 168 feet (51 m) on the western side of
Louisville, Kentucky. From Louisville, the river loses depth very
gradually until its confluence with the
Mississippi at Cairo,
Illinois, where it has an approximate depth of 19 feet (6 m).
Water levels for the
Ohio River from Smithland Lock and
Pittsburgh are predicted daily by the National Oceanic and
Ohio River Forecast Center. The water
depth predictions are relative to each local flood plain based upon
predicted rainfall in the
Ohio River basin in five reports as follows:
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Hannibal Locks and Dam,
the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers)
Willow Island Locks and Dam, Ohio, to Greenup Lock and Dam, Kentucky
(including the Kanawha River)
Portsmouth, Ohio, to Markland Locks and Dam, Kentucky
McAlpine Locks and Dam, Kentucky, to Cannelton Locks and Dam, Indiana
Newburgh Lock and Dam, Indiana, to Golconda, Illinois
The water levels for the
Ohio River from Smithland Lock and
Cairo, Illinois, are predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Mississippi River Forecast Center.
Smithland Lock and Dam, Illinois, to Cairo, Illinois
Panorama of the
Ohio at its widest point, just west of downtown
Cities and towns along the river
Cities along the
Ohio River include:
Geography of the United States
Islands of the Midwest
List of crossings of the
List of islands of
West Virginia (including islands on
List of locks and dams of the
List of rivers of Indiana
List of rivers of Kentucky
List of rivers of Ohio
List of rivers of Pennsylvania
List of variant names of the
Ohio and Erie Canal
Ohio River Bridges Project
Ohio River flood of 1937
Watersheds of Illinois
List of longest rivers of the
United States (by main stem)
Ohio River Valley AVA
Ohio Valley in Kentucky
Ohio River Trail
Ohio River Water Trail
^ Leeden, Frits van der; Troise, Fred L.; Todd, David Keith (1990).
The Water Encyclopedia (2nd ed.). Chelsea, Mich.: Lewis Publishers.
p. 126. ISBN 0-87371-120-3.
^ Frits van der Leeden, Fred L. Troise, David Keith Todd: The Water
Encyclopedia, 2nd edition, p. 126, Chelsea, Mich. (Lewis
Publishers), 1990, ISBN 0-87371-120-3 (long term mean discharge)
^ USGS stream gage 07022000
Mississippi River at Thebes, IL (long term
Ohio River Facts".
^ Bright, William (2004). Native American Placenames of the United
States. University of
Oklahoma Press. p. 344.
ISBN 9780806135984. OHIO River ō hī′ ō. From
Seneca (Iroquoian) ohi:yo’, a proper name derived from ohi:yo:h
^ "Shawnees Webpage". Shawnee's Reservation. 1997. Retrieved April 26,
^ Jefferson, Thomas, 1743–1826. Notes on the State of Virginia
Archived August 29, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.; the single instance
refers to the former rapids near Louisville.
^ Bright, William (2004). Native American placenames of the United
States. University of
Oklahoma Press. p. 344.
ISBN 978-0-8061-3598-4. Retrieved April 11, 2011.
^ "History of Seneca County: Containing a Detailed Narrative of the
Principal Events That Have Occurred Since Its First Settlement Down to
the Present Time; a History of the Indians That Formerly Resided
Within Its Limits; Geographical Descriptions, Early Customs,
Biographical Sketches, &c., &c., With an Introd., Containing a
Brief History of the State, From the Discovery of the Mississippi
River Down to the Year 1817, to the Whole of Which Is Added an
Appendix, Containing Tabular Views, &c". Mocavo.
^ *Taylor, Alan (2006). The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the
Northern Borderland of the American Revolution. New York: Alfred A.
Knopf. p. 44, see map on 39. ISBN 0-679-45471-3.
^ Montrésor, John (1776). "Map of the
Ohio River from Fort Pitt".
World Digital Library. Pennsylvania. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
^ Fowler, Thaddeus Mortimer (1906). "Bird's Eye View of Cumberland,
Maryland 1906". World Digital Library. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
^ mginter. "KET's
Underground Railroad – Behind the Scenes – Guy
^ "Put in Master's Pocket: Interstate Slave Trading and the Black
Appalachian Diaspora" Archived August 18, 2007, at the Wayback
^ mginter. "KET's
Underground Railroad – Community Research".
Ohio River most polluted in U.S."
Times. March 23, 2012. Retrieved April 24, 2012.
^ Rich, Nathaniel (January 6, 2016). "The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's
Worst Nightmare". New York Times.
Ohio RFC". US Department of Commerce, NOAA, National Weather
Service. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
Mississippi RFC". US Department of Commerce, NOAA, National
Weather Service. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
Hay, Jerry (2010).
Ohio River Guidebook, 1st Edition
Dunn, J. P. (December 1912). "Names of the
Ohio River". The Indiana
Quarterly Magazine of History. 8 (4): 166–70. doi:10.2307/27785389
(inactive 2017-03-10). JSTOR 27785389.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
Ohio River Flows and Forecasts
U.S. Geological Survey: PA stream gauging stations
Ohio River Forecast Center, which issues official river forecasts for
Ohio River and its tributaries from Smithland Lock and Dam
Mississippi River Forecast Center, which issues official river
forecasts for the
Ohio River and its tributaries downstream of
Smithland Lock and Dam
Texts on Wikisource:
Ohio River". Encyclopædia Britannica. 20 (11th ed.). 1911.
Ohio River". The American Cyclopædia. 1879.
Ohio River". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
"Ohio, a river of the United States". The New Student's Reference
"Ohio, a river of the United States". Collier's New Encyclopedia.
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