Rivers get People and Freight Inland
The Alaska Commercial Company's sternwheeler Yukon started its first voyage up the Yukon River on July 4, 1869. It was pushing two boats with supplies and carrying a government surveying party. It took the boat 23 days to go 1,000 miles upriver to Fort Yukon. Until 1878, the Yukon operated along the river between May and September. It carried supplies to trading posts on the river, took furs to markets, and moved freight, fur traders, and prospectors up and down the river. A competitor brought a steamboat to the river in 1878, and others followed, but in each case, the Alaska Commercial Company soon bought them out. After word spread about the Klondike's gold, 30 steamboat companies formed to operate boats on the Yukon River. A boat could pay for itself on a single trip upriver. The Leah took 300 passengers and 600 tons of freight on its first trip from St. Michael to Dawson and had a $41,000 profit. On other trips 20 days from St. Michael to Dawson and 10 days for the return the profit was $131,000. The gold rush era steamboats accounted for most of the nearly 300 steamboats known to have been used on the Yukon River.
River traffic slowed by 1901. In 1923 the Alaska Railroad began a riverboat service that lasted until 1954. Airplanes increasingly carried freight and passengers around Interior Alaska. A group of business people who had been operating small boats on the Yukon River formed the Yutana Barge Line and bought the railroad's river division. The company used modern, smaller boats and with the increased demand for bulk petroleum, was able to make a profit.