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Fulton, Robert 1765-1815

Inventor; born in

Robert Fulton.

Little Britain, Lancaster co., Pa., in 1765; received a common-school education; became a miniature painter; and, at the age of twenty, was practising that profession in Philadelphia, by which he made

Fulton's Clermont

enough money to buy a small farm in Washington county, on which he placed his mother. Then he went to England; studied painting under Benjamin West; became a civil engineer; and made himself familiar with the steam engine, then just improved by Watt. He devised various machines, among them an excavator for scooping out the channels of aqueducts. He wrote and published essays on canals and canal navigation in 1795-96. He went to Paris in 1797, and remained there seven years with Joel Barlow, studying languages and sciences, and invented a torpedo. This he offered to the French and English governments, but both rejected the invention, and in December, 1806, he arrived in New York. He went to Washington, where the models and drawings of his torpedo made a favorable impression. In 1807 he perfected his steamboat for navigating the Hudson, having been aided by Robert R. Livingston, with whom he had been acquainted in Paris. Livingston had made experiments in steamboating as early as 1798, when he was granted the exclusive privilege of navigating the waters of the State by steam. Fulton was finally included in the provisions of the act, and in September, 1807, the Clermont, the first steamboat that navigated the Hudson, made a successful voyage from New York to Albany and back. She travelled at the rate of 5 miles an hour. See Livingston, R. R. [489]

At this time, Fulton regarded his torpedo as the greater and more beneficial invention, as he believed it would establish the “liberty of the seas.” The government, in 1810, appropriated $5,000 to enable him to try further experiments with his torpedo; but a commission decided against it, and he was compelled to abandon his scheme. Steam navigation was a success. He built ferry-boats to run across the North (Hudson) and East rivers, and built vessels for several steamboat companies in different parts of the United States. In 1814 he was appointed by the government engineer to superintend the construction of one or more floating batteries. He built a war steamer (the first ever constructed), which he called the Demologos. She had a speed of 2 1/2 miles an hour, and was deemed a marvel; she was named Fulton the First, taken to the Brooklyn navy-yard, and there used as a receiving-ship until January, 1829, when she was accidentally blown up (see torpedoes). Fulton died in New York, Feb, 24, 1815. See steamboat, invention of.

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