Before the Davis Island Lock & Dam were built, the flow of the Ohio River slowed to little more than a trickle during dry periods. For several months each year, the unreliable flow stranded Pittsburgh's steamboats, towboats, and barges.
The Davis Island Lock & Chanoine Dam experimental project was the first lock and dam ever constructed on the Ohio River. Its achievements also included the first rolling lock gates, the largest movable dam built in the 19th century, and the widest chamber in world history.
The lock and dam proved so successful that the concept was used as the prototype to create 50 additional locks and dams that spanned the entire length of the Ohio River. The reliable river depth created by the prototype led to the development of various marine engineering achievements, including the diesel towboat and the standard welded steel barge. The project provided a stimulus for waterborne commerce and motivated industrial and commercial development around the Port of Pittsburgh.