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  • From:USA
  • Register:11/11/2008 8:17 AM

Date Posted:02/13/2009 8:16 PMCopy HTML

Up and down the rivers, lakes and canals of our country, the people depended on their horses, the power of their muscles, or the wind to move their boats. Then a group of men had an idea that the steam engine, which had been invented by James Watt of Scotland, could be used to move a boat.
The first of these men was John Fitch, who began his work on steamboats in 1785.  Fitch tried to get Congress to give him the money to build a steamboat, but Congress refused.  A group of business men from Philadelphia decided that they would help him, and with their money Fitch built a forty-five-foot steamboat with twelve paddles, six on each side.
Later Fitch built a sixty-foot steamboat which traveled many times between Philadelphia and Burlington, New Jersey.  He made a still larger steamboat, and then another; but this one was wrecked before it was completed.
Somehow the people did not realize the importance of what Fitch was doing, and they made fun of him. Finally he gave up his idea about building  steamboats and left the east coast for Kentucky, where he became a farmer.  
Meanwhile, Robert Fulton, who really was an artist, became interested in steamboats.  In Paris, he met Robert Livingston, our representative in France.
Robert Livingston, you may remember, was one of the two men who made the Louisiana Purchase for America.  He knew about the many rivers and lakes of this vast region and felt that the steamboat would be of great help in moving people to this land.  The trouble was that he had no time to plan and build such a boat.
The talks between Fulton and Livingston resulted in their becoming partners in getting the steamboat on the waterways of America.  Their first attempt at making a steamboat was in France, but the machinery was too heavy and the boat sank.
Robert Fulton returned to America and at once began work on a new steamboat.  In this one he corrected the mistakes which had been made in the boat that sank in France.
In 1807 the boat was completed and the people named it "Fulton's Folly."  They laughed at it just as they had laughed at John Fitch.  The real name of the steamboat was the Clermont, named after Livingston's home on the Hudson River.
The first trip of the Clermont was from New York to Albany and back, and it averaged about five miles an hour.  Following the success of the Clermont, other steamboats were built.
Some of them traveled on the inland waters and the people were not long in recognizing their usefulness.  With the steamboats they did not have to worry about the winds and the river currents.

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