Robert Fulton

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Robert Fulton, Jr.
BirthplaceLittle Britain, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Fulton, Robert,

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 steamshipsteamship,
watercraft propelled by a steam engine or a steam turbine. Early Steam-powered Ships

Marquis Claude de Jouffroy d'Abbans is generally credited with the first experimentally successful application of steam power to navigation; in 1783 his Pyroscaphe
..... Click the link for more information.
), 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).

Fulton, Robert


Born Nov. 14, 1765, in Little Britain (now in Fulton township), Pa.; died Feb. 24, 1815, in New York City. American inventor, originator of the first practical steamboat.

In his early years, Fulton worked as a gunsmith, a jeweler’s apprentice, and a painter. In 1786 he went to Great Britain, where he studied painting under B. West. After becoming interested in engineering, he helped design canals, locks, and aqueducts. He also designed machines for sawing marble, spinning flax, and twisting hemp rope. In the 1790’s he became interested in the problem of using steam to power ships. He moved to Paris in 1797, where in 1800 he built and successfully tested a self-propelled torpedo and the submersible Nautilus, which possessed the major characteristics of modern-day submarines. In 1803, Fulton gave a demonstration on the Seine River of the first steamboat, which had a speed of about 7.5 km/hr. Receiving no support for his inventions from the French government, he returned to Great Britain in 1804. In 1806, Fulton returned to the USA, where he built the paddle steamboat Clermont, using a steam engine with a capacity of 20 hp (14.7 kilowatts). In August 1807 the Clermont made its first trip up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany; regular steamship service was later established over this section of the Hudson.

Fulton subsequently built several paddle steamboats, including the world’s first steam warship, the Demologos, which had been intended for use in the war against Great Britain. In the last years of his life, Fulton worked on a design for a canal between the Great Lakes and New York harbor.


Wilson, M. Amerikanskie uchenye i izobretateli. Moscow, 1964. (Translated from English.)


Fulton, Robert

(1765–1815) engineer, inventor, artist; born in Lancaster County, Pa. He worked as a jeweler's apprentice, gunsmith, and a painter in Philadelphia before he went to England in 1786 to study under the artist Benjamin West. He remained abroad for the next 20 years, abandoning painting for his interest in mechanical and engineering inventions. Fascinated by water transport systems, he published A Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation (1796). During a long stay in France (1797–1806), he got some encouragement from Napoleon and developed the Nautilus diving boat (1800). Failing to receive research funds from either the French or British governments, he returned to the United States, and with the support of Robert R. Livingston, completed the steamboat Clermont, which made its first trial run on the Hudson River in August 1807; although not really the inventor of the steamboat, his was the first to be commercially successful in America. He later developed the New Orleans, the first steamboat on the Mississippi River, and constructed a steam-powered warship to defend New York harbor during the War of 1812.
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The Fire of His Genius - Robert Fulton and the American Dream, by Kirkpatrick Sale, published by Simon & Schuster, 2001.
Simms scores heavily against those who would say that imagination has no practical applications by pointing to how the inventions of Robert Fulton and Samuel Morse affected the Industrial Age.
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Robert Fulton agreed, cheekily writing: "No wonder Andy looked knackered at the end of the tennis season.