US engineer and inventor who designed the first successful steamships. He produced a submarine, the Nautilus, for Napoleon's government in France in 1801, and experimented with steam navigation on the River Seine, then returned to the USA. There he built the first steam vessel of note, known as the Clermont, which appeared on the River Hudson in 1807, sailing between New York and Albany. He also designed and oversaw the building of the first steam warship, the USS Fulton (38 tonnes), in 1815.
Fulton was born in Pennsylvania and became a portrait painter in Philadelphia. He went to England in 1787 to study art but was so taken with the Industrial Revolution that from 1793 he devoted himself to engineering. He designed and patented a device for hauling canal boats over difficult country, and machines for sawing marble and twisting hemp (for rope), and he built a mechanical dredger for canal construction.
In 1796, Fulton went to France, where he experimented with fitting the British-built steam engine to his own design of riverboat, a side-wheeler. His steamships were based on prototypes by the US inventors James Rumsey and John Fitch. The Clermont (originally registered as the North River Steam Boat) had paddle wheels and a 18-kW/24-hp engine and travelled at an average speed of 8 kph/5 mph. After this success, a large boatworks was built in New Jersey, and steamboats came into use along the Atlantic Coast and later in the West.
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Full text Article Robert Fulton's steamboat the 'Clermont', on the Hudson River, New York, 1807 (litho)
Artist: American School, (19th century) Location: Private Collection Credit: Robert Fulton's steamboat the 'Clermont', on the Hudson River, New York