The vital importance of maritime commerce to the nation in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries created a fertile environment for maritime innovation. Spurred by the potential economic benefits, inventors sought faster and surer ways to deliver people and cargo across the ocean and over the nations expanding network of inland waterways. They sought ever more efficient and powerful engines, paddle wheels, and steering systems. They looked for hitherto unknown systems to make ships stronger and build them faster. They devised a mind-boggling array of boats, rafts, buoys, garments, and floating furniture to preserve lives from shipwreck.