The kinematics and hydrodynamics of routine linear accelerations were studied in American eels, Anguilla rostrata, using high-speed video and particle image velocimetry. Eels were examined both during steady swimming at speeds from 0.6 to 1.9 body lengths (L) per second and during accelerations from -1.4 to 1.3 L s(-2). Multiple regression of the acceleration and steady swimming speed on the body kinematics suggests that eels primarily change their tail-tip velocity during acceleration. By contrast, the best predictor of steady swimming speed is body wave speed, keeping tail-tip velocity an approximately constant fraction of the swimming velocity. Thus, during steady swimming, Strouhal number does not vary with speed, remaining close to 0.32, but during acceleration, it deviates from the steady value. The kinematic changes during acceleration are indicated hydrodynamically by axial fluid momentum in the wake. During steady swimming, the wake consists of lateral jets of fluid and has minimal net axial momentum, which reflects a balance between thrust and drag. During acceleration, those jets rotate to point downstream, adding axial momentum to the fluid. The amount of added momentum correlates with the acceleration, but is greater than the necessary inertial force by 2.8+/-0.6 times, indicating a substantial acceleration reaction.