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Posted in History by patriciahysell on August 17, 2012

North River Steamboat

August 17, 1807: The North River Steamboat leaves the dock. The ship would later be known as the Clermont and also given the name of Fulton’s Folly by detractors. Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston were the owners of the 150 foot long craft. The two men had built a smaller boat and tested on the Seine in France. In 1803, they obtained exclusive rights to steam navigation on the Hudson River. They went to builder Charles Browne for a larger ship to capitalize on this monopoly. The Fulton steam engine was built in Birmingham, England.

Fulton was an American engineer and inventor. Born in 1765 in Pennsylvania, he was educated in Quaker schools. He showed an early interest in mechanics and at age 13 designed a paddlewheel to go along side his father’s fishing boat. Napoleon commissioned Fulton in 1800 to design the Nautilus, the first practical submarine in history. He remained interested in water travel throughout his life and died at the age of 49 after falling into the icy waters of the Hudson River while trying to rescue a friend. He caught pneumonia and died on February 24, 1815.

Livingston was a wealthy American lawyer, politician, and diplomat. As one of the Founding Fathers, he was involved in world politics. He and his large family all lived along the Hudson River. It was while acting as US Minister to France that he met Fulton. They tested their prototype steam engine powered boat in France and found it satisfactory. However, to be truly successful, a larger ship was needed.

On her maiden voyage, the North River Steamship left her port in New York City and stopped briefly at Livingston’s family home called Clermont Manor in Clermont, New York. She then continued on to Albany. Her journey up the Hudson and back was completed in 62 hours – an improvement over the week needed to cover the distance by sloop. It was the first steamship to turn a profit and soon a second ship was commissioned. By the time Fulton died, he had built seventeen of these ships with another six under construction.

My steamboat voyage to Albany and back, has turned out rather more favorable than I had calculated. The distance from New York to Albany is one hundred and fifty miles; I ran it up in thirty-two hours, and down in thirty. – Robert Fulton

I had a light breeze against me the whole way, both going and coming, and the voyage has been performed wholly by, the power of the steam engine. I overtook many sloops and schooners beating to windward and parted with them as if they had been at anchor. The power of propelling boats by steam is now fully proved. – Robert Fulton

What sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you excuse me. I have no time to listen to such nonsense. – Napoleon Bonaparte

The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the clown. – Carl Sagan

Also on this day:

Good Grief – In 2002, the Charles M. Schultz Museum and Research Center opens.
The Eagle Has Landed – In 1978, the first successful crossing of the Atlantic in a balloon successfully concluded.
Quake Lake – In 1959, Quake Lake forms after an earthquake.