CHAPTER XIII. ROBERT FULTON.
One of the pleasantest as well as one of the most prominent places in the city of New York is the grave-yard of old Trinity Church. A handsome iron railing separates it from Broadway, and the thick rows of grave-stones, all crumbling and stained with age, present a strange contrast to the bustle, vitality, and splendor with which they are surrounded. They stare solemnly down into Wall Street, and offer a bitter commentary upon the struggles and anxiety of the money kings of the great city. Work, toil, plan, combine as you may, they seem to say, and yet it must all come to this.
Not far from the south door of the church, and shaded by a venerable tree, is a plain brown stone slab, bearing this inscription: "The vault of Walter and Robert C. Livingston, sons of Robert Livingston, of the manor of Livingston." A stranger would pass it by without a second glance; yet it is one of the Meccas of the world of science, for the mortal part of Robert Fulton sleeps in the vault below, without monument or legendary stone to his memory, but in sight of the mighty steam fleets which his genius called forth. Very few visitors ever see this part of the churchyard, and the grave of Fulton is unknown to nine out of ten of his countrymen. Yet this man, sleeping so obscurely in his grave without a name, did far more for the world than either Napoleon or Wellington. He revolutionized commerce and manufactures, changed the entire system of navigation, triumphed over the winds and the waves, and compelled the adoption of a new system of modern warfare. Now he lies in a grave not his own, with no monument or statue erected to his memory in all this broad land.
Robert Fulton was born in the township of Little Britain (now called Fulton), in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1765. He was of Irish descent, and his father was a farmer in moderate circumstances. He was the eldest son and third child of a family of five children. The farm upon which he was born was conveyed by his father in 1766 to Joseph Swift, in whose family it still remains. It contains three hundred and sixty-four acres, and is one of the handsomest farms in Lancaster County.
After disposing of his farm, Mr. Fulton, senior, removed to the town of Lancaster, where he died in 1768, and there young Robert grew up under the care of his mother. He learned to read and write quickly, but did not manifest much fondness for his books after mastering his elementary studies. He early exhibited an unusual talent for drawing, however, greatly preferring the employment of his pencil to the more serious duties of the school. His instructors and companions considered him a dull boy, though all admitted that he showed no disposition to be idle. All his leisure time was spent either in drawing, or in visiting the shops of the mechanics in the place and eagerly watching their operations. He displayed a remarkable talent for mechanism, which was greatly assisted by his skill in drawing, and his visits to the machine shops were always welcomed by both the apprentices and their employers, who recognized the unusual genius of the boy, and predicted great things for him in the future. But to his teacher, who seems to have been rather more belligerent than is usual with Quakers, Robert's neglect of his studies and visits to the machine shops were so many indications of growing worthlessness. The indignant pedagogue once took occasion to remonstrate with him upon his course, and, failing to convince him by argument, rapped him sharply over the knuckles with a ruler, telling him he would make him do something. Robert at once placed his arms akimbo, and, looking his tutor sternly in the face, replied: "Sir, I came here to have something beat into my brains, not into my knuckles."
Some time after this Mrs. Fulton, in conversation with the teacher, expressed her solicitude lest her son should "turn out nothing," since he neglected his books so entirely. The teacher frankly confessed that he had done all in his power for the boy, but that he was discouraged, and added: "Only yesterday, madam, Robert pertinaciously declared to me that his head was so full of original notions that there was no vacant chamber to store away the contents of any dusty books." The lad was only ten years of age at the time, and, as may be supposed, the good Quaker who directed his education was not a little dismayed by such a remark.
The boyhood of Fulton was passed during the stormy period of the Revolution, and in a section so close to the theater of war that he was in the midst of all the excitement engendered by the conflict. He was an ardent patriot from the first, and used his pencil freely to caricature all who showed the slightest leaning to the cause of the enemy.
In 1778 the supply of candles was so low in Lancaster that the town authorities advised the people to refrain from illuminating their houses on the 4th of July of that year, in order to save their candles. Robert, at this time but thirteen years old, was determined not to forego a patriotic display of some sort. He had prepared a quantity of candles for the occasion, and after the proclamation of the Town Council was issued, he took them to a Mr. John Fisher, who kept a store in the place, and sold powder and shot. Mr. Fisher was somewhat astonished at Robert's desire to part with the candles, which were at that time scarce articles, and asked his reason for so doing. The boy replied: "Our rulers have requested the citizens to refrain from illuminating their windows and streets; as good citizens we should comply with their request, and I prefer illuminating the heavens with sky-rockets." Having procured the powder, he left Mr. Fisher's, and entered a small variety store kept by a Mr. Cossart, where he purchased several sheets of large-sized pasteboard. As Mr. Cossart was about to roll them, the boy stopped him, saying he wished to carry them open. Mr. Cossart, knowing Robert's mechanical genius, asked him what he was about to invent.
"Why," said the boy, "we are prohibited from illuminating our windows with candles, and I'm going to shoot my candles through the air."
"Tut, tut, tut," said Mr. Cossart, laughingly; "that's an impossibility."
"No, sir," said Robert, "there is nothing impossible."[G]
"Robert was known," says one of his biographers, "to purchase small quantities of quicksilver from Dr. Adam Simon Kuhn, druggist, residing opposite the market-house. He was trying some experiments that he did not wish to make public, and which the workmen in Mr. Fenno's and Mr. Christian Isch's shops were anxious to find out, but could not. He was in the habit almost daily of visiting those shops, and was a favorite among the workmen, who took advantage of his talent for drawing by getting him to make ornamental designs for guns, and sketches of the size and shape of guns, and then giving the calculations of the force, size of the bore and balls, and the distances they would fire; and he would accompany them to the open commons near by potter's field, to prove his calculations by shooting at a mark. On account of his expertness in his calculations, and of their ineffectual efforts to discover the use he was making of quicksilver, the shop-hands nicknamed him 'quicksilver Bob.'
"Mr. Messersmith and Mr. Christian Isch were employed by the Government to make and repair the arms for the troops; and on several occasions guards were stationed at their shops to watch and see that the workmen were constantly employed during whole nights and on Sunday, to prevent any delay. The workmen had so much reliance and confidence in 'quicksilver Bob's' judgment and mechanical skill, that every suggestion he would make as to the alteration of a gun, or any additional ornament that he would design, was invariably adopted by common consent.
"In the summer of 1779, Robert Fulton evinced an extraordinary fondness for inventions. He was a frequent visitor at Mr. Messersmith's and Mr. Fenno's gunsmith shops, almost daily, and endeavored to manufacture a small air-gun."
Among the acquaintances of Robert Fulton at this time was a young man, about eighteen years of age, named Christopher Gumpf, who used frequently to accompany his father in his fishing excursions on the Conestoga. Mr. Gumpf, Sen., being an experienced angler, readily consented to allow Robert to join himself and his son in these expeditions, and made the two boys earn their pleasure by pushing the boat about the stream, as he desired to move from point to point. As the means of propulsion was simply a pole, the labor was very severe, and Robert soon became tired of it. Not wishing, however, to give up his pleasant fishing trips, he determined to devise some means of lightening the labor.
"He absented himself a week, having gone to Little Britain township to spend a few days at his aunt's; and while there he planned and completed a small working model of a fishing boat, with paddle-wheels. On leaving his aunt's, he placed the model in the garret, with a request that it should not be destroyed. Many years afterward, that simple model was the attraction of friends, and became, instead of lumber in the garret, an ornament in the aunt's parlor, who prized it highly. That model was the result of Robert's fishing excursions with Christopher Gumpf; and when he returned from his aunt's he told Christopher that he must make a set of paddles to work at the sides of the boat, to be operated by a double crank, and then they could propel the old gentleman's fishing-boat with greater ease. Two arms or pieces of timber were then fastened together at right angles, with a paddle at each end, and the crank was attached to the boat across it near the stern, with a paddle operating on a pivot as a rudder; and Fulton's first invention was tried on the Conestoga River, opposite Rockford, in the presence of Peter and Christopher Gumpf. The boys were so pleased with the experiment, that they hid the paddles in the bushes on the shore, lest others might use and break them, and attached them to the boat whenever they chose; and thus did they enjoy very many fishing excursions."
This was the first experiment in the science of navigation attempted by the man who afterward became the author of a new system.
Having chosen the profession of an artist and portrait painter, young Fulton removed to Philadelphia at the age of seventeen, and remained there, pursuing his vocation, until the completion of his twenty-first year. He formed there the acquaintance of Benjamin Franklin, by whom he was much noticed. His success was rapid, and upon attaining his majority he was enabled to purchase and stock a farm of eighty-four acres in Washington County, Pennsylvania, which he gave to his mother for a home as long as she should live. Having thus insured her comfort, he went to England for the purpose of completing his studies in his profession. He took with him letters to Benjamin West, then at the height of his fame, and living in London. He was cordially received by Mr. West, who was also a native of Pennsylvania, and remained an inmate of his family for several years. West was then the President of the Royal Academy of Great Britain, and was thus enabled to extend to Fulton, to whom he became deeply attached, many advantages, both social and professional, of which the young artist was prompt to avail himself.
Upon leaving the family of Mr. West, Fulton commenced a tour for the purpose of examining the treasures of art contained in the residences of the English nobility, and remained for two years in Devonshire. There he became acquainted with the Duke of Bridgewater, to whom England is indebted for the introduction of the canal system within her limits; and it is said that he was induced by this nobleman to abandon the profession of an artist, and enter upon that of a civil engineer. This nobleman being devoted to mechanical investigations, proved a very congenial acquaintance to Fulton. He was engaged at the time on a scheme of steam navigation by a propeller, modeled after the foot of a water fowl. His plan did not commend itself to Fulton's judgment, and he addressed him a letter, setting forth its defects, and advancing some of the views upon which he acted himself in after life. Here he also met with Watt, who had just produced the steam-engine, which Fulton studied enthusiastically. His own inventive genius was not idle, and while living in Devonshire, he produced an improved mill for sawing marble, which won him the thanks and medal of the British Society for the Promotion of the Arts and Commerce; a machine for spinning flax and making ropes; and an excavator for scooping out the channels of canals and aqueducts, all of which were patented. He published a number of communications on the subject of canals in one of the leading London journals, and a treatise upon the same subject. Having obtained a patent in England for canal improvements, he went to France in 1797, with the design of introducing them in that country.
Upon reaching Paris, he took up his residence with Mr. Joel Barlow, and thus was laid the foundation of a friendship between these two gentlemen which lasted during their lives. He remained in Paris seven years, residing during that time with Mr. Barlow, and devoting himself to the study of modern languages, and engineering and its kindred sciences.
His work was continuous and severe in Paris. He invented and painted the first panorama ever exhibited in that city, which he sold for the purpose of raising money for his experiments in steam navigation; he also designed a series of splendid colored illustrations for The Columbiad, the famous poem of his friend Mr. Barlow. Besides these, he invented a number of improvements in canals, aqueducts, inclined planes, boats, and guns, which yielded him considerable credit, but very little profit.
In 1801, he invented a submarine boat which he called the "Nautilus," which is thus described by M. de St. Aubin, a member of the Tribunate:
"The diving-boat, in the construction of which he is now employed, will be capacious enough to contain eight men and provision for twenty days, and will be of sufficient strength and power to enable him to plunge one hundred feet under water, if necessary. He has contrived a reservoir of air, which will enable eight men to remain under water eight hours. When the boat is above water, it has two sails, and looks just like a common boat; when it is to dive, the mast and sails are struck.
"In making his experiments, Mr. Fulton not only remained a whole hour under water, with three of his companions, but had the boat parallel to the horizon at any given distance. He proved that the compass points as correctly under water as on the surface, and that while under water the boat made way at the rate of half a league an hour, by means contrived for that purpose.
"It is not twenty years since all Europe was astonished at the first ascension of men in balloons: perhaps in a few years they will not be less surprised to see a flotilla of diving-boats, which, on a given signal, shall, to avoid the pursuit of an enemy, plunge under water, and rise again several leagues from the place where they descended!
"But if we have not succeeded in steering the balloon, and even were it impossible to attain that object, the case is different with the diving-boat, which can be conducted under water in the same manner as upon the surface. It has the advantage of sailing like the common boat, and also of diving when it is pursued. With these qualities, it is fit for carrying secret orders, to succor a blockaded fort, and to examine the force and position of an enemy in their harbors."
In connection with this boat, Fulton invented a torpedo, or infernal machine, for the purpose of destroying vessels of war by approaching them under water and breaking up their hulls by the explosion. He offered his invention several times to the French Government, and once to the Ambassador of Holland at Paris, without being able to induce them to consider it. Somewhat later, he visited London, at the request of the British Ministry, and explained his invention to them. Although he succeeded in blowing up a vessel of two hundred tons with one hundred and seventy pounds of powder, and in extorting from Mr. Pitt the acknowledgment that, if introduced into practice, the torpedo would annihilate all navies, his invention was rejected, through the influence of Lord Melville, who feared that its adoption might injure England more than it would benefit her. At the first, when it was thought that England would purchase Fulton's invention, it was intimated to him that he would be required to pledge himself not to dispose of it to any other power. He replied promptly:
"Whatever may be your award, I never will consent to let these inventions lie dormant should my country at any time have need of them. Were you to grant me an annuity of twenty thousand pounds, I would sacrifice all to the safety and independence of my country."
In 1806, Mr. Fulton returned to New York, and in the same year he married Miss Harriet Livingston, a niece of Chancellor Livingston, by whom he had four children. He offered his torpedo to the General Government, but the trial to which it was subjected by the Navy Department was unsuccessful for him, and the Government declined to purchase the invention.
But it was not as the inventor of engines of destruction that Robert Fulton was to achieve fame. A still nobler triumph was reserved for him—one which was to bring joy instead of sorrow to the world. From the time that Fulton had designed the paddle-wheels for his fishing-boat, he had never ceased to give his attention to the subject of propelling vessels by machinery, and after his acquaintance with Watt, he was more than ever convinced that the steam-engine could, under proper circumstances, be made to furnish the motive power.
Several eminent and ingenious men, previous to this, had proposed to propel vessels by steam power, among whom were Dr. Papin, of France, Savery, the Marquis of Worcester, and Dr. John Allen, of London, in 1726. In 1786, Oliver Evans, of Philadelphia, and about the same time Dr. Franklin, proposed to accomplish this result by forcing a quantity of water, by means of steam power, through an opening made for that purpose in the stern of the hull of the boat.
In 1737, Jonathan Hulls issued a pamphlet proposing to construct a boat to be moved by steam power, for the purpose of towing vessels out of harbors against tide and winds. In his plan the paddle-wheel was used, and was secured to a frame placed far out over the stern of the boat. It was given this position by the inventor because water fowls propelled themselves by pushing their feet behind them.
In 1787, Mr. James Rumsey, of Shepherdstown, Virginia, constructed and navigated the first steamboat in actual use. His boat was eighty feet in length, and was propelled by means of a vertical pump in the middle of the vessel, by which the water was drawn in at the bow and expelled at the stern through a horizontal trough in her hull. The engine weighed about one third of a ton, and the boat had a capacity of about three tons burthen. When thus laden, a speed of about four miles an hour could be attained. The boiler held only five gallons of water, and needed but a pint at a time. Rumsey went to England to exhibit his plan on the Thames, and died there in 1793.
About the same time the Marquis de Joffrey launched a steamer one hundred feet long on the Loire, at Lyons, using paddles revolving on an endless chain, but only to find his experiment a failure.
In December, 1786, John Fitch published the following account of a steamer with which he had made several experiments on the Delaware, at Philadelphia, and which came nearer to success than any thing that had at that time been invented:
"The cylinder is to be horizontal, and the steam to work with equal force at each end. The mode by which we obtain what I term a vacuum is, it is believed, entirely new, as is also the method of letting the water into it, and throwing it off against the atmosphere without any friction. It is expected that the cylinder, which is of twelve inches diameter, will move a clear force of eleven or twelve cwt. after the frictions are deducted: this force is to be directed against a wheel of eighteen inches diameter. The piston moves about three feet, and each vibration of it gives the axis about forty revolutions. Each revolution of the axis moves twelve oars or paddles five and a half feet: they work perpendicularly, and are represented by the strokes of a paddle of a canoe. As six of the paddles are raised from the water, six more are entered, and the two sets of paddles make their strokes of about eleven feet in each revolution. The crank of the axis acts upon the paddles about one-third of their length from their lower ends, on which part of the oar the whole force of the axis is applied. The engine is placed in the bottom of the boat, about one-third from the stern, and both the action and reaction turn the wheel the same way."
Fitch was unfortunate in his affairs, and became so disheartened that he ceased to attempt to improve his invention, and finally committed suicide by drowning himself in the Alleghany River at Pittsburgh.
In 1787, Mr. Patrick Miller, of Dalwinston, Scotland, designed a double vessel, propelled by a wheel placed in the stern between the two keels. This boat is said to have been very successful, but it was very small, the cylinder being only four inches in diameter. In 1789, Mr. Miller produced a larger vessel on the same plan, which made seven miles per hour in the still water of the Forth and Clyde Canal, but it proved too weak for its machinery, which had to be taken out.
It was in the face of these failures that Fulton applied himself to the task of designing a successful steamboat. During his residence in Paris he had made the acquaintance of Mr. Robert R. Livingston, then the American minister in France, who had previously been connected with some unsuccessful steamboat experiments at home. Mr. Livingston was delighted to find a man of Fulton's mechanical genius so well satisfied of the practicability of steam navigation, and joined heartily with him in his efforts to prove his theories by experiments. Several small working models made by Fulton convinced Mr. Livingston that the former had discovered and had overcome the cause of the failure of the experiments of other inventors, and it was finally agreed between them to build a large boat for trial on the Seine. This experimental steamer was furnished with paddle wheels, and was completed and launched early in the spring of 1803. On the very morning appointed for the trial, Fulton was aroused from his sleep by a messenger from the boat, who rushed into his chamber, pale and breathless, exclaiming, "Oh, sir, the boat has broken in pieces and gone to the bottom!" Hastily dressing and hurrying to the spot, he found that the weight of the machinery had broken the boat in half and carried the whole structure to the bottom of the river. He at once set to work to raise the machinery, devoting twenty-four hours, without resting or eating, to the undertaking, and succeeded in doing so, but inflicted upon his constitution a strain from which he never entirely recovered. The machinery was very slightly damaged, but it was necessary to rebuild the boat entirely. This was accomplished by July of the same year, and the boat was tried in August with triumphant success, in the presence of the French National Institute and a vast crowd of the citizens of Paris.
This steamer was very defective, but still so great an improvement upon all that had preceded it, that Messrs. Fulton and Livingston determined to build one on a larger scale in the waters of New York, the right of navigating which by steam vessels had been secured by the latter as far back as 1798. The law which granted this right had been continued from time to time through Mr. Livingston's influence, and was finally amended so as to include Fulton within its provisions. Having resolved to return home, Fulton set out as soon as possible, stopping in England on his return, to order an engine for his boat from Watt and Boulton. He gave an exact description of the engine, which was built in strict accordance with his plan, but declined to state the use to which he intended putting it.
Very soon after his arrival in New York, he commenced building his first American boat, and finding that her cost would greatly exceed his estimate, he offered for sale a third interest in the monopoly of the navigation of the waters of New York, held by Livingston and himself, in order to raise money to build the boat, and thus lighten the burdens of himself and his partner, but he could find no one willing to risk money in such a scheme. Indeed, steam navigation was universally regarded in America as a mere chimera, and Fulton and Livingston were ridiculed for their faith in it. The bill granting the monopoly held by Livingston was regarded as so utterly absurd by the Legislature of New York, that that wise body could with difficulty be induced to consider it seriously. Even among scientific men the project was considered impracticable. A society in Rotterdam had, several years before Fulton's return home, applied to the American Philosophical Society to be informed whether any and what improvements had been made in the construction of steam-engines in America. A reply to this inquiry was prepared, at the request of the Society, by Mr. Benjamin H. Latrobe, a distinguished engineer. The following extracts from this paper will show the reader how Fulton's scheme was regarded by one who was confessedly one of the most brilliant engineers of his day, and who has since accomplished so much for the improvement of steam travel:
During the general lassitude of mechanical exertion which succeeded the American Revolution, We utility of steam-engines appears to have been forgotten; but the subject afterward started into very general notice in a form in which it could not possibly be attended with success. A sort of mania began to prevail, which, indeed, has not yet entirely subsided, for impelling boats by steam-engines. Dr. Franklin proposed to force forward the boat by the immediate application of the steam upon the water. Many attempts to simplify the working of the engine, and more to employ a means of dispensing with the beam in converting the libratory into a rotatory motion, were made. For a short time, a passage-boat, rowed by a steam-engine, was established between Borden-town and Philadelphia, but it was soon laid aside. The best and most powerful steam-engine which has been employed for this purpose—excepting, perhaps, one constructed by Dr. Kinsey, with the performance of which I am not sufficiently acquainted—belonged to a gentleman of New York. It was made to act, by way of experiment, upon oars, upon paddles, and upon flutter-wheels. Nothing in the success of any of these experiments appeared to be sufficient compensation for the expense and the extreme inconvenience of the steam-engine in the vessel.
There are, indeed, general objections to the use of the steam-engine for impelling boats, from which no particular mode of application can be free. These are:
First. The weight of the engine and of the fuel.
Second. The large space it occupies.
Third. The tendency of its action to rack the vessel, and render it leaky.
Fourth. The expense of maintenance.
Fifth. The irregularity of its motion, and the motion of the water in the boiler and cistern, and of the fuel-vessel in rough water.
Sixth. The difficulty arising from the liability of the paddles and oars to break, if light, and from the weight, if made strong.
Nor have I ever heard of an instance, verified by other testimony than that of the inventor, of a speedy and agreeable voyage having been performed in a steamboat of any construction.
I am well aware that there are still many very respectable and ingenious men who consider the application of the steam-engine to the purpose of navigation as highly important, and as very practicable, especially on the rapid waters of the Mississippi, and who would feel themselves almost offended at the expression of an opposite opinion. And, perhaps, some of the objections against it may be avoided. That founded on the expense and weight of the fuel may not, for some years, exist on the Mississippi, where there is a redundance of wood on the banks; but the cutting and loading will be almost as great an evil.
Scientific men and amateurs all agreed in pronouncing Fulton's scheme impracticable; but he went on with his work, his boat attracting no less attention and exciting no less ridicule than the ark had received from the scoffers in the days of Noah. The steam-engine ordered from Boulton and Watt was received in the latter part of 1806; and in the following spring the boat was launched from the ship-yard of Charles Brown, on the East River. Fulton named her the "Clermont," after the country-seat of his friend and partner, Chancellor Livingston. She was one hundred and sixty tons burthen, one hundred and thirty feet long, eighteen feet wide, and seven feet deep. Her engine was made with a single cylinder, two feet in diameter, and of four feet stroke; and her boiler was twenty feet long, seven feet deep, and eight feet broad. The diameter of the paddle-wheels was fifteen feet, the boards four feet long, and dipping two feet in the water. The boat was completed about the last of August, and she was moved by her machinery from the East River into the Hudson, and over to the Jersey shore. This trial, brief as it was, satisfied Fulton of its success, and he announced that in a few days the steamer would sail from New York for Albany. A few friends, including several scientific men and mechanics, were invited to take passage in the boat, to witness her performance; and they accepted the invitation with a general conviction that they were to do but little more than witness another failure.
Monday, September 10, 1807, came at length, and a vast crowd assembled along the shore of the North River to witness the starting. As the hour for sailing drew near, the crowd increased, and jokes were passed on all sides at the expense of the inventor, who paid little attention to them, however, but busied himself in making a final and close inspection of the machinery. Says Fulton, "The morning I left New York, there were not, perhaps, thirty persons in the city who believed that the boat would ever move one mile per hour, or be of the least utility; and while we were putting off from the wharf, which was crowded with spectators, I heard a number of sarcastic remarks."
One o'clock, the hour for sailing, came, and expectation was at its highest. The friends of the inventor were in a state of feverish anxiety lest the enterprise should come to grief, and the scoffers on the wharf were all ready to give vent to their shouts of derision. Precisely as the hour struck, the moorings were thrown off, and the "Clermont" moved slowly out into the stream. Volumes of smoke and sparks from her furnaces, which were fed with pine wood, rushed forth from her chimney, and her wheels, which were uncovered, scattered the spray far behind her. The spectacle she presented as she moved out gradually from her dock was certainly novel to the people of those days, and the crowd on the wharf broke into shouts of ridicule. Soon, however, the jeers grew silent, for it was seen that the steamer was by degrees increasing her speed. In a little while she was fairly under weigh, and making a steady progress up the stream at the rate of five miles per hour. The incredulity of the spectators had been succeeded by astonishment, and now this feeling gave way to undisguised delight, and cheer after cheer went up from the vast throng. Many people followed the boat for some distance up the river shore. In a little while, however, the boat was observed to stop, and the enthusiasm of the people on the shore at once subsided. The scoffers were again in their glory, and unhesitatingly pronounced the boat a failure. Their chagrin may be imagined when, after a short delay, the steamer once more proceeded on her way, and this time even more rapidly than before. Fulton had discovered that the paddles were too long, and took too deep a hold on the water, and had stopped the boat for the purpose of shortening them.
Having remedied this defect, the "Clermont" continued her voyage during the rest of the day and all night, without stopping, and at one o'clock the next day ran alongside the landing at Clermont, the seat of Chancellor Livingston. She lay there until nine the next morning, when she continued her voyage toward Albany, reaching that city at five in the afternoon, having made the entire distance between New York and Albany (one hundred and fifty miles) in thirty-two hours of actual running time, an average speed of nearly five miles per hour. On her return trip, she reached New York in thirty hours running time—exactly five miles per hour. Fulton states that during both trips he encountered a head wind.
The river was at this time navigated entirely with sailing vessels, and large numbers of these were encountered by the "Clermont" during her up and down trips. The surprise and dismay excited among the crews of these vessels by the appearance of the steamer was extreme. These simple people, the majority of whom had heard nothing of Fulton's experiments, beheld what they supposed to be a huge monster, vomiting fire and smoke from its throat, lashing the water with its fins, and shaking the river with its roar, approaching rapidly in the very face of both wind and tide. Some threw themselves flat on the deck of their vessels, where they remained in an agony of terror until the monster had passed, while others took to their boats and made for the shore in dismay, leaving their vessels to drift helplessly down the stream. Nor was this terror confined to the sailors. The people dwelling along the shore crowded the banks to gaze upon the steamer as she passed by. A former resident of the neighborhood of Poughkeepsie thus describes the scene at that place, which will serve as a specimen of the conduct of the people along the entire river below Albany:
"It was in the early autumn of the year 1807 that a knot of villagers was gathered on a high bluff just opposite Poughkeepsie, on the west bank of the Hudson, attracted by the appearance of a strange, dark-looking craft, which was slowly making its way up the river. Some imagined it to be a sea-monster, while others did not hesitate to express their belief that it was a sign of the approaching judgment What seemed strange in the vessel was the substitution of lofty and straight black smoke-pipes, rising from the deck, instead of the gracefully tapered masts that commonly stood on the vessels navigating the stream, and, in place of the spars and rigging, the curious play of the working-beam and pistons, and the slow turning and splashing of the huge and naked paddle-wheels, met the astonished gaze. The dense clouds of smoke, as they rose wave upon wave, added still more to the wonderment of the rustics.
"This strange-looking craft was the 'Clermont,' on her trial trip to Albany; and of the little knot of villagers mentioned above, the writer, then a boy in his eighth year, with his parents, formed a part. I well remember the scene, one so well fitted to impress a lasting picture upon the mind of a child accustomed to watch the vessels that passed up and down the river.
"The forms of four persons were distinctly visible on the deck as she passed the bluff—one of whom, doubtless, was Robert Fulton, who had on board with him all the cherished hopes of years, the most precious cargo the wonderful boat could carry.
"On her return trip, the curiosity she excited was scarcely less intense. The whole country talked of nothing but the sea-monster, belching forth fire and smoke. The fishermen became terrified, and rowed homewards, and they saw nothing but destruction devastating their fishing-grounds; while the wreaths of black vapor, and rushing noise of the paddle-wheels, foaming with the stirred-up waters, produced great excitement among the boatmen, which continued without abatement, until the character of that curious boat, and the nature of the enterprise which she was pioneering, had been understood."
The alarm of the sailors and dwellers on the river shore disappeared as the character of the steamer became better known; but when it was found that the "Clermont" was to run regularly between New York and Albany, as a packet-boat, she became the object of the most intense hatred on the part of the boatmen on the river, who feared that she would entirely destroy their business. In many quarters Fulton and his invention were denounced as baneful to society, and frequent attempts were made by captains of sailing vessels to sink the "Clermont" by running into her. She was several times damaged in this way, and the hostility of the boatmen became so great that it was necessary for the Legislature of New York to pass a law declaring combinations to destroy her, or willful attempts to injure her, public offenses punishable by fine and imprisonment.
It had been supposed that Fulton's object was to produce a steamer capable of navigating the Mississippi River, and much surprise was occasioned by the announcement that the "Clermont" was to be permanently employed upon the Hudson. She continued to ply regularly between New York and Albany until the close of navigation for that season, always carrying a full complement of passengers, and more or less freight. During the winter she was overhauled and enlarged, and her speed improved. In the spring of 1808 she resumed her regular trips, and since then steam navigation on the Hudson has not ceased for a single day, except during the closing of the river by ice.
In 1811 and 1812, Fulton built two steam ferry-boats for the North River, and soon after added a third for the East River. These boats were the beginning of the magnificent steam ferry system which is to-day one of the chief wonders of New York. They were what are called twin-boats, each of them consisting of two complete hulls, united by a deck or bridge. They were sharp at both ends, and moved equally well with either end foremost, so that they could cross and re-cross without being turned around. These boats were given engines of sufficient power to enable them to overcome the force of strong ebb tides; and in order to facilitate their landing, Fulton contrived a species of floating dock, and a means of decreasing the shock caused by the striking of the boat against the dock. These boats could accommodate eight four-wheel carriages, twenty-nine horses, and four hundred passengers. Their average time across the North River, a mile and a half wide, was twenty minutes.
The introduction of the steamboat gave a powerful impetus to the internal commerce of the Union. It opened to navigation many important rivers (whose swift currents had closed them to sailing craft), and made rapid and easy communication between the most distant parts of the country practicable. The public soon began to appreciate this, and orders came in rapidly for steamboats for various parts of the country. Fulton executed these as fast as possible, and among the number several for boats for the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Early in 1814, the city of New York was seriously menaced with an attack from the British fleet, and Fulton was called on by a committee of citizens to furnish a plan for a means of defending the harbor. He exhibited to the committee his plans for a vessel of war to be propelled by steam, capable of carrying a strong battery, with furnaces for red-hot shot, and which, he represented, would move at the rate of four miles an hour. These plans were also submitted to a number of naval officials, among whom were Commodore Decatur, Captain Jones, Captain Evans, Captain Biddle, Commodore Perry, Captain Warrington, and Captain Lewis, all of whom warmly united in urging the Government to undertake the construction of the proposed steamer. The citizens of New York offered, if the Government would employ and pay for her after she was built, to advance the sum ($320,000) necessary for her construction. The subject was vigorously pressed, and in March, 1814, Congress authorized the building of one or more floating batteries after the plan presented by Fulton. Her keel was laid on the 20th of June, 1814, and on the 31st of October, of the same year, she was launched, amid great rejoicings, from the ship-yard of Adam and Noah Brown. In May, 1815, her engines were put on board, and on the 4th of July of that year she made a trial trip to Sandy Hook and back, accomplishing the round trip—a distance of fifty-three miles—in eight hours and twenty minutes, under steam alone. Before this, however, peace had been proclaimed, and Fulton had gone to rest from his labors.
The ship was a complete success, and was the first steam vessel of war ever built. She was called the "Fulton the First," and was for many years used as the receiving ship at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She was an awkward and unwieldy mass, but was regarded as the most formidable vessel afloat; and as the pioneer of the splendid war steamers of to-day is still an object of great interest. The English regarded her with especial uneasiness, and put in circulation the most marvelous stories concerning her. One of these I take from a treatise on steam navigation published in Scotland at this period, the author of which assures his readers that he has taken the utmost pains to obtain full and accurate information respecting the American war steamer. His description is as follows:
"Length on deck three hundred feet, breadth two hundred feet, thickness of her sides, thirteen feet, of alternate oak plank and corkwood; carries forty-four guns, four of which are 100-pounders, quarter-deck and forcastle guns, 44-pounders; and further, to annoy an enemy attempting to board, can discharge one hundred gallons of boiling water in a minute, and by mechanism brandishes three hundred cutlasses, with the utmost regularity, over her gunwales; works also an equal number of heavy iron pikes of great length, darting them from her sides with prodigious force, and withdrawing them every quarter of a minute!"
Fulton followed up the "Clermont," in 1807, with a larger boat, called the "Car of Neptune," which was placed on the Albany route as soon as completed. The Legislature of New York had enacted a law, immediately upon his first success, giving to Livingston and himself the exclusive right to navigate the waters of the State by steam, for five years for every additional boat they should build in the State, provided the whole term should not exceed thirty years. "In the following year the Legislature passed another act, confirmatory of the prior grants, and giving new remedies to the grantees for any invasion of them, and subjecting to forfeiture any vessel propelled by steam which should enter the waters of the State without their license. In 1809 Fulton obtained his first patent from the United States; and in 1811 he took out a second patent for some improvement in his boats and machinery. His patents were limited to the simple means of adapting paddle wheels to the axle of the crank of Watt's engine.
"Meanwhile the power of the Legislature to grant the steamboat monopoly was denied, and a company was formed at Albany to establish another line of steam passage boats on the Hudson, between that city and New York. The State grantees filed a bill in equity, and prayed for an injunction, which was refused by Chancellor Lansing, on the ground that the act of the State Legislature was repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, and against common right. This decree was unanimously reversed by the Court of Errors, and a compromise was effected with the Albany company by an assignment to them of the right to employ steam on the waters of Lake Champlain.
"Legislative aid was again invoked, and an act was passed directing peremptorily the allowance of an injunction on the prayer of the State grantees, and the seizure of any hostile boat at the commencement of the suit. Litigation was thus effectually arrested in New York, though by an arbitrary and unconstitutional enactment, and the waters of the State remained in the exclusive possession of Fulton and his partner during the lifetime of the former. A similar controversy with Colonel Aaron Ogden, of New Jersey, was compromised by advantageous concessions, which converted the opponent of the monopoly into its firmest friend, and left him many years afterward the defeated party in the famous suit of Gibbons and Ogden, in the Supreme Court of the United States."
In January, 1815, Fulton was summoned to Trenton, New Jersey, as a witness in one of the numerous suits which grew out of the efforts to break down his monopoly. During his examination he was very much exposed, as the hall of the Legislature was uncommonly cold. In returning home, he crossed the Hudson in an open boat, and was detained on the river several hours. This severe exposure brought on an attack of sickness, which for a short time confined him to his bed. The steam frigate, then almost ready for her engines, occasioned him great anxiety at the time, and before he had fairly recovered his strength he went to the ship-yard to give some directions to the workmen employed on her, and thus exposed himself again to the inclemency of the weather. In a few days his indisposition prostrated him again, and, growing rapidly worse, he died on the 24th of February, 1815, at the age of fifty years. His death was universally regarded as a national calamity, and appropriate honors were paid to his memory by the General Government and by many of the State and municipal governments of the Union. He was buried from his residence, No. 1 State Street, on the 25th of February, and his body was placed in the vault of the Livingston family, in Trinity church-yard.
He left a widow and four children. By the terms of his will he bequeathed to his wife an income of nine thousand dollars a year, and five hundred dollars to each of his children until they were twelve years old, after which they were each to receive one thousand dollars a year until they should attain the age of twenty-one years.
In person, Fulton was tall and handsome. His manner was polished, cordial, and winning. He made friends rapidly, and never failed in his efforts to enlist capital and influence in support of his schemes. He was manly, fearless, and independent in character, and joined to a perfect integrity a patience and indomitable resolution which enabled him to bear up under every disappointment, and which won him in the end a glorious success. His name and fame will always be dear to his countrymen, for while we can not claim that he was (nor did he ever assume to be) the inventor of steam navigation, or even the inventor of the means of such navigation, we do claim for him the honor of being the first man to cross the gulf which lies between experiment and achievement, the man whose skill and perseverance first conquered the difficulties which had baffled so many others, and made steam navigation both practicable and profitable. The Committee of the London Exhibition of 1851 gave utterance in their report to a declaration which places his fame beyond assault, as follows:
"Many persons, in various countries, claim the honor of having first invented small boats propelled by steam, but it is to the undaunted perseverance and exertions of the American Fulton that is due the everlasting honor of having produced this revolution, both in naval architecture and navigation."