Mark Twain Begins Two-Year Apprenticeship to Become a River Pilot
On a voyage to New Orleans down the Mississippi, the steamboat pilot, Horace E. Bixby, inspired Twain to pursue a career as a steamboat pilot; it was a richly rewarding occupation with wages set at $250 per month, roughly equivalent to $155,000 a year today. A steamboat pilot needed a vast knowledge of the ever-changing river to be able to stop at the hundreds of ports and wood-lots along the river banks. Twain meticulously studied 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of the Mississippi for more than two years before he received his steamboat pilot license in 1859.
While training, Samuel convinced his younger brother Henry to work with him. Henry was killed on June 21, 1858, when the steamboat he was working on, the Pennsylvania, exploded. Twain had foreseen this death in a detailed dream a month earlier, which inspired his interest in parapsychology; he was an early member of the Society for Psychical Research. Twain was guilt-stricken and held himself responsible for the rest of his life. He continued to work on the river and served as a river pilot until the American Civil War broke out in 1861 and traffic along the Mississippi was curtailed.
Apprentice River Pilot
Samuel Clemens begins a successful two-year apprenticeship to become a licensed river pilot. He learns the lingo of the trade, including "mark twain," a phrase that refers to the river depth at which a boat is safe to navigate. He soon adopts it as his pen name.
At 17, he left Hannibal behind for a printer's job in St. Louis. While in St. Louis, Clemens became a river pilot's apprentice. He became a licensed river pilot in 1858. Clemens' pseudonym, Mark Twain, comes from his days as a river pilot. It is a river term which means two fathoms or 12-feet when the depth of water for a boat is being sounded. "Mark twain" means that is safe to navigate.
Because the river trade was brought to a stand still by the Civil War in 1861, Clemens began working as a newspaper reporter for several newspapers all over the United States.