Robert Fulton

   Robert Fulton (1765-1815) was an American inventor and engineer, born in Little Britain, Pa. He had little regular schooling but early showed an aptitude for drawing and invention. When he was 17 he went to Philadelphia and supported himself for four years by painting portraits, miniatures, and landscapes. Robert Fulton was also able to buy a farm for the support of his mother. His health undermined by intense application to work, he went to London to study with Benjamin West, a family friend. While he supported himself by painting, his attention was absorbed by mechanical inventions. He secured patents for a method of raising and lowering canal boats, and for machines for sawing marble, making rope, and spinning flax. He made plans for the building of cast-iron aqueducts and bridge structures.
   In 1797 Fulton went to Paris and for nine years experimented with a submarine mine and torpedo. In 1801 he successfully demonstrated the Nautilus, a "diving boat," but because of failure to destroy a British ship, he lost French interest and payment for his expenses. Though the British were interested for a time, he did not gain their support.
   Fulton agreed to build a steamboat for navigation on the Hudson between New York and Albany with the financial assistance of ROBERT R. LIVINGSTON, American minister to France, who had a monopoly on steamboat navigation in New York state. In 1803 he successfully demonstrated a steamboat on the Seine. In 1807 "Fulton's Folly," the Clermont, went from New York to Albany and back by steam in 62 hours. This was the beginning of successful steam navigation, since the cost was low enough to provide the owners a reasonable profit. The Clermont was the first of a "line" of boats between the two cities. He constructed 17 steamboats, a torpedo boat, and a ferryboat. Fulton did not live to see completion of the steam warship Fulton First, authorized in 1814 by Congress.