xxxxxThe American engineer Robert Fulton invented his submarine Nautilus in 1801. It was a marked improvement on The Turtle, David Bushnell’s submersible of 1775, but it was seen as an “inhuman” weapon and no country was interested. He then experimented with a steamboat on the Seine in Paris and, on returning to New York, launched his Clermont (as it came to be called) on the River Hudson in 1807. At a speed of nearly 5 mph, it proved a great success, and was soon plying a regular passenger service from New York City to Albany. He went on to make steamboats for the rivers Mississippi and Potomac, and a number of city ferries. His last vessel was the Fulton (or the Demologos), the world’s first steam warship. It was built to defend New York against the British, but it never saw active service. Fulton’s inventions gave the impetus to steam navigation, but he was not the first to invent the steamboat. That honour goes to the French nobleman the Marquis de Jouffroy d'Abbans. In 1783 his steamboat, the Pyroscaphe, travelled for 15 minutes on the River Saone at Lyons before breaking up. And the American John Fitch launched a steamboat on the Delaware River in 1786 and, four years later, established the world’s first steamboat service from Philadelphia to Burlington. But the enterprise was not a commercial success, and did not attract the publicity later enjoyed by Fulton’s undertaking in New York.
ROBERT FULTON 1765 -
Fulton: by the American painter Charles Willson Peale (1741-
xxxxxAs we have seen, the American inventor Robert Fulton was the engineer who built the first practical submarine. Constructed in 1801, the Nautilus was a marked improvement upon The Turtle, the submersible constructed by the American inventor David Bushnell in 1775 and used unsuccessfully in the American War of Independence. However, no government appeared interested in Fulton’s “atrocious and dishonourable” war machine, and he therefore renewed his efforts on designing and building a steamship. In 1803 he carried out trials on the River Seine in Paris and then, returning to America, produced one of the world’s first successful steamships. Named the Steamboat, and, subsequently, the Clermont, it was launched on the Hudson River in 1807 and, proving commercially viable, was soon sailing between New York and Albany -
xxxxxFulton was born in Pennsylvania and started his working life as a portrait painter in Philadelphia, specialising in miniature portraits, painted on ivory for lockets and rings. To further his art studies he journeyed to England in 1787 to work with the American painter Benjamin West. Here, however, he became interested in the technical innovations of the Industrial Revolution, and within a few years had turned his attention to civil engineering. It was at this time that he designed a device for hauling canal boats from one level to another, devised machines for producing rope and sawing through marble, and constructed a mechanical dredger for making canals. His book A Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation was published in 1796, but his ideas were not widely adopted.
xxxxxHe went to France in 1796, and during the next five years spent much time on developing the Nautilus, assisted by a grant from Napoleon. Constructed of metal in the shape of a fish -
xxxxxFinding no takers for his submersible, Fulton returned to his earlier project, fitting steam engines to ships. Contracted to make a steamboat to operate on the Hudson river, in 1803 he carried out some successful trials on the River Seine in Paris -
xxxxxFollowing this success, Fulton designed steamboats for other rivers, such as the Potomac and Mississippi, and ferryboats for river crossings in the cities of New York, Boston and Philadelphia. In October 1814 he completed the first steam warship, fittingly named the Fulton but sometimes called the Demologos. A veritable floating gun platform, it was designed to protect New York Harbour against the British, but peace came in the December so it never saw action.
xxxxxFulton’s Clermont was the first steamboat to gain a large measure of commercial success, thereby ushering in the age of steam navigation, but it was by no means the first steamboat. As early as 1776 the French nobleman the Marquis de Jouffroy d'Abbans, had fitted an engine manufactured by James Watt into a small paddle steamer some 42ft long. This proved a failure, but, as we have seen, in a second attempt in 1783, his Pyroscaphe, propelled by two paddle wheels on the River Saone at Lyons, travelled for fifteen minutes before the pounding of the engine caused it to break up.
xxxxxAndxone of the earliest recorded uses of steam power afloat was in 1786, achieved by the American inventor John Fitch (1743-
xxxxxInxEurope, the Scottish engineer William Symington (1763-
xxxxxInxthese early days, however, steamboats were confined to inland and coastal waters. For example, the Scottish engineer Henry Bell (1767-
xxxxxIncidentally, while Fulton was in England, working on plans for a steamship, he was helped by Edmund Cartwright. He was the English engineer who invented a wool combing machine in 1789 and later devised a steam engine fuelled by alcohol. ……
xxxxx…… We owe the word “torpedo” to Fulton. Having made an underwater contact mine -
xxxxx…… Fulton’s Nautilus -
Xxxxx…… Thexfirst submarine in the modern sense of the word was the Gymnote, a cigar-