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Ohio River

Length: 981 miles (1,579 kilometers)

The Ohio Rriver is formed by the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers in southwest Pennsylvania, in downtown Pittsburgh. It then flows northwest to Monaca, where it receives the Beaver River from the north, then generally southwest whre it forms the Ohio-West Virginia state line and flows past Steubenville, Ohio, Wheeling and Huntington, West Virginia, continues north-northwest forming the Ohio-Kentucky state line, past Ashland, Kentucky, and Portsmouth and Cincinatti, Ohio, turns west-southwest and forms the Indiana-Kentucky and Illinois-Kentucky state line, flows past Louisville and Owensboro, Kentucky, Evansville, Indiana, and Paducah, Kentucky, enters the Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois, opposite Missouri. The Ohio is navigable for its entire length; a series of locks and dams improves its navigability and controls flooding. The Ohio’s course follows a portion of the south edge of the region covered by continental ice during the late Cenozoic era; glacial meltwater probably cut its original channel. The river is a major tributary of the Mississippi and supplies more water to it than does the Missouri River. The Ohio River basin covers approximately 204,000 square miles; the chief tributaries are the Tennessee, Cumberland, Wabash, and Kentucky. The Ohio is prone to spring flooding, and extensive flood-control and protection devices have been constructed along the river and its tributaries. These devices also improve the river’s navigability; a 9-foot channel is maintained along its entire length. A system of modern locks and dams, constructed since 1955 to replace older structures, speeds the transit of barges and leisure craft. A canal (1st opened in 1830) at Louisville bypasses the Falls of the Ohio, a 2.25-mile-long series of rapids having a 24-foot drop. Oil and steel account for most of the cargoes moved on the river. The principal river ports are Cincinnati, Louisville, and Pittsburgh. The Ohio River basin is one of the most populated and industrialized regions of the United States. Eight states (Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia) affected by the river’s industrial pollution ratified in 1948 the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Compact. Some results of their cleanup efforts have become discernible, and the river now supports marinas and recreational facilities.

Britain ceded the region to the United States at the end of the Revolutionary War (1783), and it was opened to settlement by the Ordinance of 1787, which established the Northwest Territory. Until the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, the Ohio R. was the main route to the newly opened West and the principal means of market transportation of the region’s growing farm output. Traffic declined on the river after the railroad was built in the mid-1800s, although it revived after World War II. The Ohio River remains a vital link in the river transportation system of the Midwest. Most shipping is done with barges pushed by towboats.

Tributaries of the Ohio River
Tennessee River

Outflows of the Ohio River
Mississippi River