Biography of Robert Fulton
Celebrated American Biographies





ROBERT FULTON. - Although Fulton is best known as the inventor of the first successful steamboat, yet his claims to distioction do not rest alone upon that, for he was an inventor along other lines, a painter and an author. He was born at Little Britain, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, in 1765, of Scotch Irish ancestry. At the age of seventeen he removed to Philadelphia, and there and in New York engaged in miniature painting with success both from a pecuniary and artistic point of view. With the rosults of his labors he purchased a farm for the support of his mother. He went to London and studied under the great painter, Benjamin West, and all through life retained his fondness for art and gave evidence of much ability in that line. While in England he was brought in contact with the Duke of Bridgewater, the father of the English canal system; Lord Stanhope, an eminent mechanican, and James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine. Their influence turned his mind to its true field of labor, that of mechanical invention. Machines for flax spinning, marble sawing, rope making, and for removing earth from excavations, are among his earliest ventures. His "Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation," issued in 1796, and a series of essays on canals were soon followed by an English patent for canal improvements. In 1797 he went to Paris, where he resided until 1806, and there invented a submarine torpedo boat for maritime defense, but which was rejected by the governments of France, England and the United States. In 1803 he offered to construct for the Emperor Napoleon a steamboat that would assist in carrying out the plan of invading Great Britain then meditated by that great captain. In pursuance he constructed his first steamboat on the Seine, but it did not prove a full success and the idea was abandoned by the French government. By the aid of Livingston, then United States minister to France, Fulton purchased, in 1806, an engine which he brought to this country. After studying the defects of his own and other attempts in this line he built and launched in 1807 the Clermont, the first successful steamboat. This craft only attained a speed of five miles an hour while going up North river. His first patent not fully covering his invention, Fulton was engaged in many law suits for infringement. He constructed many steamboats, ferryboats, etc., among these being the United States steamer "Fulton the First," built in 1814, the first war steamer ever built. This craft never attained any great speed owing to some defects in construction and accidentally blew up in 1829. Fulton died in New York, February 21, 1815.


FROM:
A Biographical Record
Of Schuyler County, New York
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
New York and Chicago 1903.


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