Winding 981 miles to Cairo, Illinois from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania head, the Ohio has been an Important force in American's history and its economy. Pioneers made it the highroad to western expansion after the American Revolution. The Ohio Valley's rich resources were carried to a growing nation on its waters, and the river still transports the abundant industrial and agricultural harvests produced along its banks. The busy Ohio and its thriving basin are the Lower Mississippi's eastern connection to commerce and transportation.
Two sophisticated Indian cultures flourished in the Ohio Valley in prehistoric times. The French first explored the Ohio in the mid-1600's and battled England for control of its headwaters until the British won in 1758. The American Revolution opened the way for settlers willing to persist against fierce Native American resistance. The Native American's defeat in 1784 and the steamboat's arrival in 1811 unleashed a flood of immigrants down the Ohio, which became the gateway to the West.
The Monongahela River and the Allegheny River meet head-on at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio. From there it runs downstream through rugged hilly forests and highlands into rolling hills and scenic floodplains on its southward Course. Three-fourths of America's bituminous coal is found in Ohio Valley states. It
fuels the steel-making plants and other heavy industries that dominate the river's eastern third. From Portsmouth, Ohio west to Cairo, Illinois it flows across farmland rich in corn, tobacco and soybeans. Twenty-five million people live and work in the 204,000 square mile Ohio Basin.
Cities and industry brought pollution, as well as, prosperity to the once clear Ohio. In 1948, valley states formed ORSANCO, a pollution control agency, and conditions have since improved. A new dam system begun in 1954 improved navigation and load capacity. Today, barge tows take less than a week to navigate the 981 miles to Cairo, where the Ohio crowds the muddier Mississippi against its west bank, and both flow downstream as the Mighty Lower Mississippi—Old Man River.