showboat. In the early 19th cent. entertainment was brought by boat to the pioneers that settled along the western rivers (especially the Mississippi and Ohio) of the United States. At first companies only traveled by boat, performing on land. Later the boats themselves, first paddle boats and finally steamboats, were equipped with stages. Docking near a town, they would herald their arrival with trumpets and flags. The companies presented popular melodramas, with vaudeville performances, called olios, between the acts; by day, the boats often served as museums. With the coming of the Civil War, their popularity dwindled. Edna Ferber's novel Show Boat is an interesting description of the life of its people.
See historical study by P. Graham (1951, repr. 1970).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.