Ohio River Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

The Ohio River is located in the eastern and central United States. It forms the border of many states as it runs from Pennsylvania to Illinois. Learn why the Ohio River was significant during the Civil War and how it has been used over the years.

The Ohio River

What's round on both ends and high in the middle? Answer: O-hi-o! Ohio is one of the fifty states that make up the United States of America. It has a big river that runs underneath it and forms its southern border called the Ohio River, so you might say that Ohio is high in the middle but wet on its bottom!


The Ohio River is about 981 miles long. So if you were driving along the course of the Ohio River at 55 miles per hour, it would take you more than 18 hours to go from one end to the other, and that's if you never stopped to go to the bathroom!


In spite of its name, the river doesn't start or end in Ohio. Instead, it starts in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania and ends in the state of Illinois.

The start of the river is near Pittsburgh, PA. It's at this location that two other rivers come together to form the Ohio River. Those two rivers are called the Monongahela (pronounced muh-nong-guh-hee-luh) and Allegheny (pronounced al-i-gey-nee) rivers.

The Ohio River starts in Pennsylvania.

The Ohio River ends near Cairo, Illinois, where it flows into the Mississippi River. It dumps more water by volume into the Mississippi River than any other tributary. (A tributary is a smaller river that empties into a bigger river.)

Except for a short northwest flow as the river leaves Pittsburgh, the general direction of flow for the Ohio River is southwest.

The Ohio River makes up the squiggly southern border of Ohio.

Did you ever notice that the borders of some states are squiggly lines? These squiggly lines often represent rivers that define the state's borders. The Ohio River is a great example of a river that defines state borders. If you follow its course from start to finish, you see that it helps to form the borders of Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois.

The Ohio River's location made it an important dividing line during the American Civil War, which was the war that helped bring an end to slavery in America. Because the river forms the southern border of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, it created a division between the free states of the North and the slave states of the South.

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