November 14, 1765
|Died||February 24, 1815 49) (aged|
New York City, U.S.
|Resting place||Trinity Church Cemetery|
|Occupation||Engineer, inventor, businessman|
|Known for||Steamboat, Nautilus (1800 submarine)|
Robert Fulton (November 14, 1765 – February 24, 1815) was an American engineer and inventor who is widely credited with developing the world's first commercially successful steamboat, the North River Steamboat (also known as Clermont). In 1807, that steamboat traveled on the Hudson River with passengers from New York City to Albany and back again, a round trip of 300 miles (480 km), in 62 hours. The success of his steamboat changed river traffic and trade on major American rivers.
In 1800, Fulton had been commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte, leader of France, to attempt to design a submarine; he produced Nautilus, the first practical submarine in history.Fulton is also credited with inventing some of the world's earliest naval torpedoes for use by the Royal Navy.
Fulton became interested in steam engines and the idea of steamboats in 1777 when he was around age 12 and visited state delegate William Henry of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who was interested in this topic. Henry had learned about inventor James Watt and his Watt steam engine on an earlier visit to England.
Robert Fulton was born on a farm in Little Britain, Pennsylvania, on November 14, 1765. His father, Robert Fulton, married Mary Smith, daughter of Captain Joseph Smith and sister of Col. Lester Smith,a comparatively well off family. He had three sisters – Isabella, Elizabeth, and Mary, and a younger brother, Abraham.
For six years, he lived in Philadelphia, where he painted portraits and landscapes, drew houses and machinery, and was able to send money home to help support his mother. In 1785, Fulton bought a farm at Hopewell Township in Washington County near Pittsburgh for £80 (equivalent to $12708 in 2018), and moved his mother and family into it.
At the age of 23, Fulton traveled to Europe, where he would live for the next twenty years. He went to England in 1786, carrying several letters of introduction to Americans abroad from prominent individuals he had met in Philadelphia. He had already corresponded with artist Benjamin West; their fathers had been close friends. West took Fulton into his home, where Fulton lived for several years and studied painting. Fulton gained many commissions painting portraits and landscapes, which allowed him to support himself. He continued to experiment with mechanical inventions.
Fulton became caught up in the enthusiasm of the "Canal Mania". In 1793 he began developing his ideas for tugboat canals with inclined planes instead of locks. He obtained a patent for this idea in 1794, and also began working on ideas for the steam power of boats. He published a pamphlet about canals and patented a dredging machine and several other inventions. In 1794, he moved to Manchester to gain practical knowledge of English canal engineering. While there he became friendly with Robert Owen, a cotton manufacturer and early socialist. Owen agreed to finance the development and promotion of Fulton's designs for inclined planes and earth-digging machines; he was instrumental in introducing the American to a canal company, which awarded him a sub-contract. But Fulton was not successful at this practical effort and he gave up the contract after a short time.
As early as 1793, Fulton proposed plans for steam-powered vessels to both the United States and British governments. The first steamships had appeared considerably earlier. The earliest steam-powered ship, in which the engine moved oars, was built by Claude de Jouffroy in France. Called Palmipède, it was tested on the Doubs in 1776. In 1783, de Jouffroy built Pyroscaphe, the first paddle steamer, which sailed successfully on the Saône. The first successful trial run of a steamboat in America had been made by inventor John Fitch, on the Delaware River on August 22, 1787. William Symington had successfully tried steamboats in 1788, and it seems probable that Fulton was aware of these developments.
In Britain, Fulton met the Duke of Bridgewater, Francis Egerton, whose canal, the first to be constructed in the country, was being used for trials of a steam tug. Fulton became very enthusiastic about the canals, and wrote a 1796 treatise on canal construction, suggesting improvements to locks and other features. Working for the Duke of Bridgewater between 1796 and 1799, Fulton had a boat constructed in the Duke's timber yard, under the supervision of Benjamin Powell. After installation of the machinery supplied by the engineers Bateman and Sherratt of Salford, the boat was duly christened Bonaparte in honour of Fulton having served under Napoleon. After expensive trials, because of the configuration of the design, the team feared the paddles might damage the clay lining of the canal and eventually abandoned the experiment. In 1801, Bridgewater instead ordered eight vessels for his canal based on Charlotte Dundas, constructed by Symington.
In 1797, Fulton went to Paris, where he was well known as an inventor. He studied French and German, along with mathematics and chemistry. In Paris, Fulton met James Rumsey, an inventor from Virginia with an interest in steamboats, who in 1786, ran his own first steamboat up the Potomac River. Fulton also exhibited the first panorama painting to be shown in Paris, Pierre Prévost's Vue de Paris depuis les Tuileries (1800), on what is still called Rue des Panoramas (Panorama Street) today.While living in France, Fulton designed the first working muscle-powered submarine, Nautilus, between 1793 and 1797. He also experimented with torpedoes. When tested, his submarine operated underwater for 17 minutes in 25 feet of water. He asked the government to subsidize its construction, but he was turned down twice. Eventually, he approached the Minister of Marine and, in 1800, was granted permission to build. The shipyard Perrier in Rouen built it, and the submarine sailed first in July 1800 on the Seine River in the same city.
In France, Fulton met Robert R. Livingston, who was appointed U.S. Ambassador to France in 1801. He also had a scientifically curious mind, and the two men decided to collaborate on building a steamboat and to try operating it on the Seine. Fulton experimented with the water resistance of various hull shapes, made drawings and models, and had a steamboat constructed. At the first trial the boat ran perfectly, but the hull was later rebuilt and strengthened. On August 9, 1803, when this boat was driven up the River Seine, it sank. The boat was 66 feet (20.1 m) long, with an 8-foot (2.4 m) beam, and made between 3 and 4 miles per hour (4.8 and 6.4 km/h) against the current.
In 1804, Fulton switched allegiance and moved to Britain, where he was commissioned by Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger to build a range of weapons for use by the Royal Navy during Napoleon's invasion scares. Among his inventions were the world's first modern naval "torpedoes" (modern "mines"). These were tested, along with several other of his inventions, during the 1804 Raid on Boulogne, but met with limited success. Although Fulton continued to develop his inventions with the British until 1806, the crushing naval victory by Admiral Horatio Nelson at the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar greatly reduced the risk of French invasion. Fulton was increasingly sidelined as a result.
In 1806, Fulton returned to the United States. In 1807, he and Robert R. Livingston built the first commercially successful steamboat, North River Steamboat (later known as Clermont). Livingston's shipping company began using it to carry passengers between New York City and up the Hudson River to the state capital Albany. Clermont made the 150-mile (240 km) trip in 32 hours. Passengers on the maiden voyage included a lawyer Jones and his family from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His infant daughter Alexandra Jones later served as a Union nurse on a steamboat hospital in the American Civil War.
From 1811 until his death, Fulton was a member of the Erie Canal Commission, appointed by the Governor of New York.
Fulton's final design was the floating battery Demologos. This first steam-driven warship in the world was built for the United States Navy for the War of 1812. The heavy vessel was not completed until after Fulton's death and was named in his honor.
From October 1811 to January 1812, Fulton, along with Livingston and Nicholas Roosevelt (1767–1854), worked together on a joint project to build a new steamboat, New Orleans, sturdy enough to take down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans, Louisiana. It traveled from industrial Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where it was built, with stops at Wheeling, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; past the "Falls of the Ohio" at Louisville, Kentucky; to near Cairo, Illinois, and the confluence with the Mississippi River; and down past Memphis, Tennessee, and Natchez, Mississippi, to New Orleans some 90 miles (140 km) by river from the Gulf of Mexico coast. This was less than a decade after the United States had acquired the Louisiana Territory from France. These rivers were not well settled, mapped, or protected. By achieving this first breakthrough voyage and also proving the ability of the steamboat to travel upstream against powerful river currents, Fulton changed the entire trade and transportation outlook for the American heartland.
Fulton was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1814.
On January 8, 1808, Fulton married Harriet Livingston (1786–1824), the daughter of Walter Livingston and niece of Robert Livingston, prominent men in the Hudson River area, whose family dated to the colonial era.Harriet, who was nineteen years his junior, was well educated and was an accomplished amateur painter and musician. Together, they had four children:
Fulton died in 1815 in New York City from tuberculosis (then known as "consumption"). He had been walking home on the frozen Hudson River when one of his friends, Addis Emmet, fell through the ice. In the attempt to rescue his friend, Fulton got soaked with icy water. He is believed to have contracted pneumonia. When he got home, his sickness worsened. He was diagnosed with consumption and died at 49 years old. After his death, his widow remarried to Charles Augustus Dale on November 26, 1816.
He is buried in the Trinity Church Cemetery for Trinity Church (Episcopal) at Wall Street in New York City, near other notable Americans such as former U.S. Secretaries of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin. His descendants include Cory Lidle, a former Major League Baseball pitcher.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania donated a marble statue of Fulton to the National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol. Fulton was also honored for his development of steamship technology in New York City's Hudson-Fulton Celebration of the Centennial in 1909. A replica of his first steam-powered steam vessel, Clermont, was built for the occasion.
Five ships of the United States Navy have borne the name USS Fulton in honor of Robert Fulton.
Fulton Hall at the United States Merchant Marine Academy houses the Department of Marine Engineering and included laboratories for diesel and steam engineering, refrigeration, marine engineering, thermodynamics, materials testing, machine shop, mechanical engineering, welding, electrical machinery, control systems, electric circuits, engine room simulators and graphics.
Bronze statues of Fulton and Christopher Columbus represent commerce on the balustrade of the galleries of the Main Reading Room in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. They are two of 16 historical figures, each pair representing one of the 8 pillars of civilization.
The Guatemalan government in 1910 erected a bust of Fulton in one of the parks of Guatemala City.
In 2006, Fulton was inducted into the "National Inventors Hall of Fame" in Alexandria, Virginia.
Many places in the U.S. are named for Robert Fulton, including:
20th Century-Fox's 1940 film, Little Old New York , based on a 1920 play by Rida Johnson Young, is a fictionalized version of Fulton's life from his arrival in New York to the first sailing of Clermont. British actor Richard Greene starred as Fulton with Brenda Joyce as Harriet Livingston. Alice Faye and Fred MacMurray played wharf friends who help Fulton overcome problems to realize his dream.
A fictionalized account of Fulton's role was produced by BBC television during the 1960s. In the first serial, Triton (1961,re-made in 1968), two British naval officers, Captain Belwether and Lieutenant Lamb, are involved in spying on Fulton while he is working for the French. In the sequel, Pegasus (1969), they are surprised to find themselves working with Fulton, played by Robert Cawdron. In the 1961 version, Fulton was played by Reed De Rouen.
A Robert Fulton cartoon character appears in the 1955 Casper the Friendly Ghost short film Red, White, and Boo.
Author James McGee used Fulton's experiments in early submarine warfare (against wooden warships) as a major plot element in his 2006 novel Ratcatcher
Invasion (2009),the tenth novel in the "Kydd" naval warfare series by Julian Stockwin, uses Fulton and his submarine as an important plot element.
Until 2016, Disney Springs at Walt Disney World had a restaurant named Fulton's Crab House with a building in the shape of a steamboat.
A steamboat is a boat that is propelled primarily by steam power, typically driving propellers or paddlewheels. Steamboats sometimes use the prefix designation SS, S.S. or S/S or PS ; however, these designations are most often used for steamships.
Robert Robert Livingston was an American lawyer, politician, diplomat from New York, and a Founding Father of the United States. He was known as "The Chancellor", after the high New York state legal office he held for 25 years. He was a member of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence, along with Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Roger Sherman. Livingston administered the oath of office to George Washington when he assumed the Presidency in 1789. He was elected a member to the American Philosophical Society in 1801.
Samuel Morey was an American inventor, who worked on early internal combustion engines and was a pioneer in steamships who accumulated a total of 20 patents.
Henry Miller Shreve was the American inventor and steamboat captain who opened the Mississippi, Ohio, and Red rivers to steamboat navigation. Shreveport, Louisiana, is named in his honor.
John Fitch was an American inventor, clockmaker, entrepreneur and engineer. He was most famous for operating the first steamboat service in the United States. The first boat was 45 feet long it was tested on the Delaware River by Fitch and his design assistant Steven Pagano.
The Clermont State Historic Site, also known as the Clermont estate, the Clermont Manor or just Clermont, is a New York State Historic Site in southwestern Columbia County, New York, United States. It protects the former estate of the Livingston family, seven generations of whom lived on the site over more than two centuries.
Daniel French (1770–1853), a "Yankee" inventor, was born in Berlin, Connecticut. From an early age French strove to become a "mechanician," an artisan trained in the theory of mechanics and skilled in the working of metals at increasing levels of precision. His friend Oliver Evans, an accomplished engineer, described French as an "original and ingenious inventor." French's most significant invention was the horizontally mounted, high-pressure, non-condensing, directly connected steam engine for mills, boats, etc. French was awarded a patent for his steam engine in 1809. This type of engine became standard on the western steamboat.
Nicholas Jacobus Roosevelt or Nicholas James Roosevelt was an American inventor, a major investor in Upstate New York land, and a member of the Roosevelt family. His primary invention was to introduce vertical paddle wheels for steamboats.
The North River Steamboat or North River, colloquially known as the Clermont, is widely regarded as the world's first vessel to demonstrate the viability of using steam propulsion for commercial water transportation. Built in 1807, the North River Steamboat operated on the Hudson River – at that time often known as the North River – between New York City and Albany, New York. She was built by the wealthy investor and politician Robert Livingston and inventor and entrepreneur Robert Fulton (1765–1815).
The Monongahela and Ohio Steam Boat Company was the second company to engage in steamboat commerce on the rivers west of the Allegheny Mountains. The company was founded in 1813 under the leadership of Elisha Hunt and headquartered in his store which was located close to the boat landing in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. Daniel French designed and built the engines and power trains for both the Despatch, or Dispatch, and the Enterprise. During the Battle of New Orleans the shareholders of the Monongahela and Ohio Steam Boat Company sent the Enterprise to aid the American cause. In 1815, the Enterprise demonstrated for the first time by her epic 2,200-mile voyage from New Orleans to Brownsville that steamboat commerce was practical on America's western rivers.
The steamboat Enterprise demonstrated for the first time by her epic 2,200-mile (3,500 km) voyage from New Orleans to Brownsville, Pennsylvania that steamboat commerce was practical on the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
The Robert Fulton Birthplace is a historic house museum at 1932 Robert Fulton Highway south of Quarryville, Pennsylvania. Built in the mid-18th century and reconstructed after a fire demolished it in 1822, it was the birthplace of inventor Robert Fulton (1765–1815). Fulton is best known for the development of commercially viable steamboats as a means of transportation. The house was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964. The property is owned by the Southern Lancaster Historical Society which gives weekend tours of the house from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Little Old New York is a 1940 American black-and-white historical drama from 20th Century Fox, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, directed by Henry King, that stars Alice Faye, Fred MacMurray, and Richard Greene. The film is based on a play by Rida Johnson Young, which opened on Broadway on September 8, 1920, and starred Genevieve Tobin, Douglas Wood, and Donald Meek.
New Orleans was the first steamboat on the western waters of the United States. Owned by Robert Fulton and Robert R. Livingston, and built by Nicholas Roosevelt, its 1811–1812 voyage from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to New Orleans, Louisiana, on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers ushered in the era of commercial steamboat navigation on the western and mid-western continental rivers.
Steamboats played a major role in the 19th-century development of the Mississippi River and its tributaries by allowing the practical large-scale transport of passengers and freight both up- and down-river. Using steam power, riverboats were developed during that time which could navigate in shallow waters as well as upriver against strong currents. After the development of railroads, passenger traffic gradually switched to this faster form of transportation, but steamboats continued to serve Mississippi River commerce into the early 20th century. A small number of steamboats are used for tourist excursions into the 21st century.
The Binghamton was a ferryboat that transported passengers across the Hudson River between Manhattan and Hoboken from 1905 to 1967. Moored in 1971 at Edgewater, Bergen County, New Jersey, United States, the ship was operated as a floating restaurant from 1975 to 2007. In 2017, following ten years of damage that effectively rendered the boat unrestorable, the ferry was dismantled. No structural components were salvaged.
William Longstreet was an inventor. He made a steamboat and improved the cotton gin.
Teviotdale is a historic home located at Linlithgo in Columbia County, New York. It was built about 1773 by Walter Livingston (1740–1797). It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
The steamboat Comet was the second steamboat to navigate the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Comet's owner was Daniel D. Smith and she was launched in 1813 at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With an engine and power train designed and built by Daniel French, the Comet was the first of the Western steamboats to be powered by a horizontal high-pressure engine with its piston rod connected to a stern paddle wheel. Smith was the first to defy the steamboat monopoly in Orleans Territory granted to Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton.
Isaac Briggs was an American engineer, surveyor and manufacturer. He lived much of his adult life with his family in Brookeville, Maryland.
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