Robert Fulton was born on November 14, 1765 in Little Britain Township in the Pennsylvania colony. He is often the one who is credited with inventing the steamboat. However, he was the one who actually put the design into practice. When he was a young man, he traveled to Paris to study in becoming a painter. He later turned to engineering and inventions because his commisions were few.
For seven years, Fulton devoted his attention to submarine designs, and other devices of war. He first did his experiments for the French government and later Great Britain. He designed an experimental submarine which caught the attention of one Robert Livingstone who was the wealthy American ambassador to France. Livingstone was able to convince Fulton to come back to the United States and work on steamboat design.
Fulton's first steamboat was the Clermont. He built it with a small steam engine which had been sent to him from England. He placed the engine in a hull similar to that of of fast ocean ships and a primitive paddle wheel on either side. The boat was tested in the Hudson River in 1807 and initially failed. However, after a few modifications to teh engine, the Clermont sailed its way to Albany arriving in 32 hours. The average speed of the boat against Hudson current was 5 miles an hour. Fulton and Livingstone were excited about the success and planned to expand. They gained exclusive sailing rights to sail in New York rivers and at the lower end of the Mississippi River.
Later, Livingstone saw that steamboats were needed on the western rivers and not the Atlantic ones. The next large steamboat to be built was the New Orleans which was constructed in a Pittsburgh boatyard and was sent off in the fall of 1811 on the Ohio River. It sailed fairly well until it reached Louisville when the bottom began to scrape the ground. The hull of the New Orleans was too low in the water to sail in the western rivers with sandbars and snags. Three months after the boat left Pittsburgh, the boat finally arrived in New Orleans. When it tried to return back to Pittsburgh, the boat was unable to move against the current above Natchez. The New Orleans, unable to go anywhere spent the last two years of its days going between New Orleans and Natchez and finally ran aground and sank.
Robert Fulton died in February, 1815 because of exposure, and his death was mourned as a national calamity.
Search the entire site by entering a keyword below: