In 1825, a Secretary of the Treasury warned that politicians would be engaging in "calculated mischief” if they enacted legislation that would impose safety restrictions on the young steamboat industry upon which so much of America's commerce and hopes were riding. A series of maritime disasters, two random examples of which are the Sultana and Morro Castle tragedies, facing page, occurred over the next 120 years before the Coast Guard assumed enforcement responsibility.
From the first application of the steam engine for the purpose of propelling vessels, the risk of boiler explosions had been recognized. And the recognized risk was not without its sad satisfaction over the loss of the riverboat Moselle and about 200 passengers and crew members. Her boiler explosion on the Ohio River in April 1838 was only one of a long series of major steamboat disasters. Only a few days earlier, the steamer Oronoko suffered a similar fate on the Mississippi River from a boiler explosion which cost the lives of 100 persons.