Robert Fulton


History shows that as the need arises, invention will follow. But, we have to remember that this concept apply only on territories and
nations populated with creative men and women. We say so, because a lot of nations are always in need and they develop nothing, and
rarely see an inventor born on their soil. It also shows that when people become accustomed to an idea, the invention based on it will
be more readily accepted. Probably nothing so hastened public acceptance of the steamboat as the Lousiana purchase and the building
of the Erie Canal. The indians believe that the land beyond the Mississippi River was populated by devils and that the white man would
never be able to live there. But president Thomas Jefferson (1801-09) was not superstitious. When learned that Spain had ceded
Lousiana to France, he decided to try to secure at least the port of New Orleans for The United States.

The general feeling at the time was that without this port the Midwestern farmers would be bottled up and unable to engage in trade.
Congress granted Jefferson two millions dollars for the purchase. Jefferson sent James Monroe to France to join Robert Livingston,
then U.S. minister, to negotiate the purchase. Napoleon, first consul of france, could see no advantage to France in keeping Lousiana.
He had no idea of the richness and size of the territory. Great Britain was supreme on the high seas and Napoleon realized that in the
event of war between France and Englnd, France would not be able to protect New Orleans. He decided that it would be better
to sell the land to Americans.

When Monroe and Livingston heard Napoleon's offer to sell the whole territory of Lousiana for $19,000,000, they were speechless.
Both knew that the Lousiana territory was over a million square miles, and that if acquired it would more than double the size of the
United States. After a short period of bargaining, Napoleon dropped the price to $15,000,000. The astonished Jefferson, on
hearing the news, lost little time in accepting the offer even though it might be considered "unconstitutional" for him to do so without
the permission of congress. He felt, however, that such a bargain would never be offered again, and he feared that the western
farmers would set up a nation of their own if they remained cut off from the eastern part of the country and from Washington.

With the purchase of Lousiana territory, the country could be united. The Lewis and Clark expedition went over the new territory and
mapped out the land. Mighty rivers fed into the Mississippi. It was evident that two-way traffic on the Mississippi river was now
more essential than ever, if the country was going to be developed. It was realized then that the steamboat was the only solution.

Robert Fulton was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. At an early age he took up portrait painting. His work led him to Philadelphia
where he met Benjamin Franklin, who was always ready to help young men of talent. Franklin suggested that Fulton go to London
to study under the great English painter, Benjamin West. While in London, Fulton painted portraits of members of the nobility.
They have not been regarded as good paintings. The Duke of Bridgewater, one of Fulton's friend in London, suggested that Fulton
apply his mechanical talent to invention. He recognized that Fulton had a brilliant mind. Fulton took the suggestion and studied
enginneering. Almost immediately, he became successful. His models were drawn to scale with mathematical precision. Several
inventions followed: one was a machine for twisting rope; another, for spinning hemp. He used the income derived from them to
further his interest in canals.

The "canal craze" had hit England, and Fulton visualized a system of canals for North-America. Underwater boats and torpedoes
also claimed his interest. To test his ideas he went to France. There he met the wealthy Robert Livingston, who saw quckly that
Fulton had great ability. No man knew better than Robert Livingston the importance of the steamboat. He felt that this was the
time to develop it. The two men met at an opportune time. Fulton had been working on an idea for a submarine and torpedo
which would end naval warfare, but with both France and England turned down. This, together with the fact that Livingston
was interested in developing steamboats for North-America, made Fulton drop his submarine idea. Fulton set to work making
model after model until he found the right one. Through his connection in England he was able to procure a steam engine.

Although he was not an engine man, Fulton knew that the success of the steamboat would depend upon a superior engine which
was being built in England. The first attempt at launching a boat took place in France. But a violent storm arose and the boat broke
in two and sank in the Saine river. Fulton start all over again, this time in America. Before leaving Europe he negotiated for the
building of an engine that could later be shipped to him from England. In America, Fulton hired a famous shipbuilder on the East River
to build the hull of a boat one hundred and fifty feet long, and thirteen feet wide, with a draft of two feet. He was forced to have
a watch posted around his boat, or it might have been destroyed. The seamen who looked on while the work was being done
saw the end of their jobs if steamboats were used on the Hudson river. Still others made fun of it and said it would never run.
They called it "Fulton's Folly".

When the boat, which Fulton named the Clermont, was finished, it was a strange-looking sight compared to the graceful sailing ship
of the time. There was a mast at each end of the Clermont, but these carried very small sails. A little to the front of the center
stood the smokestack, and projecting from the center on each side, was a great paddlewheel. She looked, according to one man,
"like a backwoods sawmill mounted on a scow and set afire."

Fulton is said to have remarked that probably not thirty people in New York city believed the steamboat would ever get to Albany.
He, however, never doubted that it would. The engine was the finest that could be made and it had taken the mechanics three
years to build. Of course, the Clermont did get to Albany. The trip took thirty-two hours and the return trip took thirty hours.
Sailing craft usually took forty-eight hours. But the watchers along the banks saw only the destruction of their fishing grounds
and felt that bad luck would follow. Their fears were not realized. The Clermont was rebuilt in order to carry passengers as well
as freight, and the ship became a model for steamboats used later on the Mississippi. When the steamboat was first used on
lake Erie, the indians called it "The boat-pulled-by-fishes".

Other inventors saw no reason why they shoud not follow Fulton's ideas of a boat run by steam. After all, hadn't Fulton copied
the work of men like Fitch and Stevens?. Although Fulton and Livingston spent their profits trying to defend their monopoly,
competitors continued to cut rates with steamboats that were modeled on the original Clermont.

In 1811, when Nicholas Roosevelt took his steamboat to New Orleans down the Mississippi river, a new era began for the
farmers of the middle west. Gone was the one-way traffic on the Mississippi. The farmers of the western states could now send
their products east, and the eastern states could send their products to the western states. The steamboat, and later the railroad,
turned a wilderness into a nation. More than any other inventions, they were the means by which the different parts of the country
were drawn together.

There is not doubt that this man contribute to the molding of the great North America.

The men who molded North America

Julio Duran

Click here for questions or comment.