Fulton, Robert

Fulton, Robert
SUBJECT AREA: Ports and shipping
b. 14 November 1765 Lancaster, Pennsylvania, USA
d. 24 February 1815 New York, USA
American pioneer of steamships and of North American steam navigation.
The early life of Fulton is documented sparsely; however, it is clear that he was brought up in poor circumstances along with three sisters and one brother by a widowed mother. The War of Independence was raging around them for some years, but despite this it is believed that he spent some time learning the jeweller's trade in Philadelphia and had by then made a name for himself as a miniaturist. Throughout his life he remained skilled with his hands and well able to record technical detail on paper. He witnessed many of the early trials of American steamboats and saw the work of William Henry and John Fitch, and in 1787 he set off for the first time to Europe. For some years he examined steamships in Paris and without doubt saw the Charlotte Dundas on the Forth and Clyde Canal near Glasgow. In 1803 he built a steamship that ran on the Seine at 4 1/2 mph (7.25 km/h), and when it was lost, another to replace it. All his designs were based on principles that had been tried and proved elsewhere, and in this respect he was more of a developer than an inventor. After some time experimenting with submersibles and torpedoes for the British and French governments, in 1806 he returned to the United States. In 1807 he took delivery of the 100 ton displacement paddle steamer Clermont from the yard of Charles Browne of East River, New York. In August of that year it started the passenger services on the Hudson River and this can be claimed as the commencement of world passenger steam navigation. Again the ship was traditional in shape and the machinery was supplied by Messrs Boulton and Watt. This was followed by other ships, including Car of Neptune, Paragon and the world's first steam warship, Demolgos, launched in New York in October 1814 and designed by Fulton for coastal defence and the breaking of the British blockade. His last and finest boat was named Chancellor Livingston after his friend and patron Robert Livingston (1746–1813); the timber hull was launched in 1816, some months after Fulton's death.
Further Reading
H.P.Spratt, 1958, The Birth of the Steamboat, London: Griffin. J.T.Flexner, 1978, Steamboats Come True, Boston: Little, Brown.
"Robert Fulton and the centenary of steam navigation", Engineer (16 August 1907).

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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