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Robert Fulton

Robert Fulton

Robert Fulton (1765-1815), American inventor, civil engineer, and artist, established the first regular and commercially successful steamboat operation.

Robert Fulton was born November 14, 1765, in Lancaster County, Pa. His father worked at farming, among other jobs, and died when Robert was a small boy. By the age of 10 Robert showed promise as an artist and was employed by local gunsmiths to make designs for their work. At 17 he went to Philadelphia, the cultural center of the Atlantic seaboard, and spent 4 years making portraits and doing miniatures. Financially successful, he was able to buy a farm near the city for his mother.

In 1786 Fulton went to London to study painting with Benjamin West, who had been a family friend and was by this time one of the leading American painters living in England. England was already in the midst of its industrial revolution, and Fulton was fascinated by the new engineering enterprises—canals, mines, bridges, roads, and factories. His interest became professional, and after about 1793 he gave up painting as a vocation, pursuing it only for his own amusement.

As early as 1794 Fulton considered using steam power to drive a boat. Seven years earlier John Fitch had successfully demonstrated his steamboat on the Delaware River at Philadelphia, but in the interim no one had been able to make both a mechanical and commercial success of the idea. Though the British government had banned the export of steam engines, Fulton wrote to the firm of Boulton and Watt about the possibility of buying a ready-made engine to be applied to boat propulsion.

Most of Fulton's energy during these years was devoted to more conventional problems of civil and mechanical engineering. He patented in England a "double-incline plane" for hauling canal boats over difficult terrain and machines to saw marble, to spin flax, and to twist hemp for rope. He built a mechanical dredge to speed the construction of canals and in 1796 published his illustrated pamphlet, A Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation.

For the next 10 years Fulton devoted himself to the development of underwater warfare through the invention and improvement of a submarine and explosive torpedoes. It is thought that he believed that if warfare were made sufficiently destructive and horrible it would be abandoned—a fallacy often invoked by inventors of military devices. He tried to interest the French government in his experiments, and he obtained the promise of prizes for any British ships he might destroy with his devices. In 1801 he proceeded with his submarine, the Nautilus, against various ships but was unsuccessful. By 1804 his failure to win French money for destroying British ships led him to offer to destroy French ships for the British government. Once again he failed in combat, although he was able to blow up one ship during an experiment.

In 1802 Fulton had met Robert R. Livingston, formerly a partner in another steamboat venture but recently appointed U.S. minister to the French government. Despite the failure of Fulton's earlier ventures, Livingston agreed to support Fulton's old idea of building a steamboat. In 1803 an engine was ordered (disassembled and with many duplicate parts) from Boulton and Watt, to be delivered in New York City. But it was 1806 before permission to export the engine was obtained, the parts were assembled, and Fulton was able to sail for America.

The engine was put together in New York and set aboard a locally built vessel. One of the problems was to determine the proper proportions for a steamboat. Fulton was convinced that science dictated a very long and narrow hull, though experience later proved him wrong. Although Livingston had been an advocate of a kind of jet propulsion for steamboats (that is, a jet of water forced out the back of the boat under high pressure), the two now settled on paddle wheels as the best method. On Aug. 17, 1807, the Clermont (as it was later named) began its first successful voyage up the Hudson River to Albany, N.Y. Under way it averaged 5 miles per hour.

After the voyage of the Clermont, steamboats appeared up and down the Atlantic Coast, and Fulton himself introduced the first steamboat on the western waters. Before his death on February 24, 1815 he had erected a large boat works in New Jersey and directed the building of one ferryboat, a torpedo boat, and 17 regular steamboats.

Fulton's success, where at least a dozen other American inventors had failed, had many causes. In Livingston he had a rich and politically powerful patron who was able to obtain a lucrative monopoly on the steam navigation of the state's waters. Fulton also began his work with a first-class engine, purchased from Boulton and Watt, the world's leading engine builders. Previous inventors, including John Fitch, had had to build their own engines. Also, Fulton was able to employ mechanics and experimenters who had, over the past 2 decades, gained considerable experience with steam engines. It was Fulton's luck and genius to be able to combine these elements into a commercially successful steamboat venture.

Further Reading

The first, and still useful, biography of Fulton is Cadwallader D. Colden, The Life of Robert Fulton (1817). The best biography is H. W. Dickinson, Robert Fulton, Engineer and Artist: His Life and Works (1913). Also useful is George Dangerfield, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston of New York, 1746-1813 (1960). For the prehistory of steamboats see James Thomas Flexner, Steamboats Come True: American Inventors in Action (1944). □

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"Robert Fulton." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Fulton, Robert

FULTON, ROBERT


Robert Fulton (17651815) was not the first inventor to turn his attention to the concept of the steam boat. He was the first, however, to successfully couple steam engines with a boat that could be commercially viable. Robert Fulton was a multitalented individual who began his adult career as an artist, but he showed inventive talent for most of his life.

Robert Fulton was born on November 14, 1765, on a farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, near the town of Little Britain. He grew up in Lancaster, and was a clever child, showing an inventive trait by fashioning lead pencils, household utensils, and skyrockets. For his rowboat, he put together a handoperated paddle wheel. He also designed and built a rifle with an original bore and sight. Moving to Philadelphia at age 17, Fulton apprenticed to a jeweler and did well painting miniatures and portraitswell enough to buy a farm for his mother just outside of Philadelphia.

Fulton moved to England in 1786 to study painting with Benjamin West. He made a moderate living in England as an artist. But his true interest was in science and engineering. After 1793 he devoted his efforts to science and engineering, and relegated his painting to that of a hobby. Water transport was his main interest, and Fulton studied the problems of canals and shipping. He worked on the design of canal boats, and a system of inclined planes to replace canal locks. At the same time, Fulton invented machines for rope making and spinning flax. He made a device that cut marble, and he invented a dredging machine for cutting canal channels. In 1796, he published a work on his canal investigations, A Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation.


Next Fulton turned his attention to the development of underwater warfare devices and equipment. He worked on the submarine and explosive torpedoes. Like many idealists, Fulton believed the development of efficient warfare appliances would make warfare so terrible it would no longer be pursued. This rather naive idea has been held by many who dabbled in instruments of war. Fulton was successful in some torpedo development, and built a semi-functional submarine. In 1801 his Nautilus diving boat could descend 25 feet underwater and return to the surface. Fulton attempted to enlist the patronage of the French government for his research, but was unable to demonstrate success in sinking British ships. He then attempted the same deal with the British, but failed for the same reason.

The problem of underwater propulsion frustrated Fulton and many others who came before him. For centuries sail or oar had propelled ships along the water's surface. Several men had experimented with placing steam engines on ships for propulsion, but unsuccessfully. In 1802 Fulton partnered with Robert R. Livingston (17461813) to work towards a practical and commercial application of steam engines on boats. Livingston was to be a key supporter and benefactor. Fulton's experimental boat sank in Paris in 1803 because of problems with the weight of the engine. But he was more successful with a second attempt.

Finally, in 1806 Fulton ordered a quality steam engine from the British firm of Boulton & Watt. Previous attempts at coupling steam engines with boats had failed, Fulton believed, because of the lack of a well-designed engine. Previous inventors had attempted to build the steam engine as well as the boat. Fulton decided to purchase a quality engine from a reputable firm and couple it with a decent boat. The result of this effort was the construction of the first successful steamboat in New York in 1807.

The ship was registered as the North River Steam Boat but it was popularly called the Claremont after Robert Livingston's home. On August 17, 1807, the paddle wheel driven steamboat made its maiden voyage up the Hudson River to Albany at an average speed of five miles per hour. The Claremont was a technical success, but more importantly, a commercial success. Fulton insisted that the ship be well attended and that the needs of its passengers be tended to.

Fulton set about expanding the steamboat business. He obtained monopolies from state legislatures. His steamboat New Orleans was the first steamboat on the Mississippi River. He erected a large shipyard in New Jersey, which built 17 steamboats as well as a ferryboat and a torpedo boat. Fulton had designed and was building a steam powered warship, Fulton the First when he died on February 24, 1815.


See also: Steamboats

FURTHER READING


Bowman, John S., ed. The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995, s.v. "Fulton, Robert."

Dickinson, H.W., Robert Fulton, Engineer and Artist: His Life and Works. New York: John Lane Company, 1913.


Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998, s.v. "Fulton, Robert."

Flexner, James T. Steamboats Come True: American Inventors in Action. Boston: Little, Brown, 1944.

Philip, Cynthia Owen. Robert Fulton, A Biography. New York: Franklin Watts, 1985.

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Fulton, Robert

Fulton, Robert (1765–1815), inventor.Best known for his development of the first commercially successful steamboat in 1807, Fulton also made important contributions in portrait painting, canal engineering, and naval warfare. Born in Pennsylvania, he lived most of his adult life in Europe. His first naval project was the submarine Nautilus, manually driven underwater and tested successfully in French waters in 1800. Shifting to mine warfare, Fulton successfully blew up two brigs with floating mines in tests off Dover, England, in 1805 and New York in 1807. His grand vision was to promote freedom of the seas and free trade, using naval weapons to prevent war. He offered these weapons alternately to Napoleon and the British with little success. Returning to America, Fulton continued developing steamboats and naval weapons until his death. His American‐developed weapons concepts stressed harbor defense, and included the moored mine, the sub marine gun, use of the steamboat for troop transport in the War of 1812, and the construction of the first steam warship in history, USS Fulton the First. His Nautilus was the first cigar‐shaped submarine, and he was the first to conceive of the moored mine. Fulton's emphasis on the submarine, on mines, and on the deterrent effect have particular relevance for the modern era.

Bibliography

Alex Roland , Underwater Warfare in the Age of Sail, 1978.
Wallace S. Hutcheon, Jr. , Robert Fulton: Pioneer of Undersea Warfare, 1981.
Cynthia Owen Philip , Robert Fulton: A Biography, 1985.

Wallace S. Hutcheon, Jr.

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"Fulton, Robert." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Fulton, Robert." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fulton-robert

"Fulton, Robert." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fulton-robert

Fulton, Robert

Robert Fulton, 1765–1815, American inventor, engineer, and painter, b. near Lancaster, Pa. He was a man remarkable for his many talents and his mechanical genius. An expert gunsmith at the time of the American Revolution, he later turned to painting (1782–86) landscapes and portraits in Philadelphia. In England and France his painting gained some notice, but he became interested in canal engineering and the invention of machinery. He worked at making underwater torpedoes and submarines as well as other mechanical devices. In 1802 he contracted to build a steamboat for Robert R. Livingston, who held a monopoly on steamboat navigation on the Hudson. In 1807 the Clermont, equipped with an English engine, was launched. A number of men had built steamboats before Fulton (see steamship), including John Fitch and William Symington. Fulton's steamship, however, was the first to be commercially successful in American waters, and Fulton was therefore popularly considered the inventor of the steamboat. He also designed other vessels, among them a steam warship.

See biographies by B. Richnak (1984) and C. O. Philip (1985).

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"Fulton, Robert." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Fulton, Robert

Fulton, Robert (1765–1815) US inventor and engineer. Designing torpedoes and other naval weapons, his main interest was in navigation and, as early as 1796, he was urging the USA to build canals. In 1807, he pioneered the use of steamboats for carrying passengers and freight, when his craft, Clermont, travelled between New York City and Albany.

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"Fulton, Robert." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/fulton-robert