Did you know that Robert Fulton was born today in 1765? He was an American inventor, engineer and artist. While living in Europe and Britain, Robert Fulton designed canals, bridges, construction equipment, submarines, and torpedoes. However, he is best known for designing the first successful steamboat in America. The North River Steamboat of Clermont travelled between New York City and Albany. The 150-mile trip took about 32 hours, much less than the previous 4-day trip by sailing ship.
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Initially Robert Fulton worked as an artist. He painted miniatures, portraits, and other paintings. Eventually, he gained enough prestige that local merchants financed a trip to London. There he continued to paint and study. He lived with Benjamin West, a family friend. However, he discovered that his artistic talents would probably never garner enough interest to be able to provide him with a sizable income. But, living in England did reacquaint him with another interest: steam engines and other feats of engineering.
Fulton’s steamship, The North River Steamboat of Clermont, was 150-feet long. It had two paddle wheels on the side of the ship, each about 15-feet in diameter. The 150-mile trip took about 32 hours, a vast improvement over the 4-day trip on a wind-powered sailing sloop. Aside from the expected mechanical difficulties that needed to be ironed out, the North River Steamboat was also harassed by the resentful crews of the sailing sloops; often these boats would ‘accidently’ ram the paddle wheels of the steamboat. Fulton constantly redesigned the boat to address mechanical and tactical issues, as well as to provide more comfortable accommodations for passengers.
Steamships and boats designed by Fulton were built and used in many areas including the Hudson River, Ohio River, and Mississippi River.
Robert Fulton was a proponent of building the Erie Canal.
Robert Fulton designed the first practical submarine, the Nautilus, for Napoleon Bonaparte. Later he designed naval torpedoes for the British Navy. Then, even later during the War of 1812, Fulton designed the world’s first steam warship for America. It was called the Demologos, and protected New York Harbor from the British Fleet.
5 US Navy ships have been named after Robert Fulton.
A statue of Robert Fulton is one of the two statues donated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol.
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