|Fulton's Experiments with Steam||The Clermont||Warships||Robert Fulton|
The giving of monopolies was, in those days, before the introduction of the modern systems of patent law, a very common method of securing to inventors their full reward. John Fitch had been given a monopoly of this kind by the United States government for a period of fourteen years from March 19, 1787; which monopoly was later (1798) repealed by Congress; this repeal being, in turn, denied by the courts, March 13, 1798, and subsequently continued to June 1, 1819, meantime being transferred to Nicholas J. Roosevelt. The State Act in favour of Livingston was passed to take effect April 5, 1803, and was repealed as unconstitutional, and conflicting with the jurisdiction of the United States, June 17, 1817. The whole system went out of use at the latter date, as it was found to be dangerous and troublesome, and on the whole far inferior to that admirable patent-system which succeeded it, and which has done so much to promote the marvellous prosperity of the country since the first quarter of the nineteenth centuty.
Fulton went to Plombieres in the spring of 1802, and there made his drawings and completed his plans for the construction of his first steamboat. Many attempts had been made, and many inventors were at work contemporaneously with him. Every modern device, - the jet-system, the "chaplet" of buckets on an endless chain or rope, the paddle-wheel, and even the screw-propeller - had been already proposed, and all were familiar to the well-read man of science of the day. Indeed, as Mr. Benjamin H. Latrobe, a distinguished engineer of the time, wrote in a paper presented May 20, 1803, to the Philadelphia Society, "A sort of mania began to prevail" for propelling boats by means of steam-engines. Fulton was one of those taking this mania most seriously. He made a number of models which worked successfully, and justified the proprietors of the new arrangement in building on a larger scale. A model of the proposed steamboat was made during the year 1802, and was presented to the committee of the French legislature with the note of which a copy is given below.
Paris, 4 Pluviose, Year 11 (1803).
Fulton seems to have been considered, even at this early day, an authority on the subject of steam navigation. Admiral Preble, in his History of Steam Navigation, (p.35) quotes the following letter to a friend, written after his work on his own scheme for that season was over: -
Paris, the 20th Sept., 1802
The introduction of steam-navigation became a success; but that success came so slowly as to permit all nations to avail themselves of it, and none sooner or more completely than the two most active in the production of this revolution - Great Britain and the United States. The British navy became a steam-navy, and the other nations of the world followed her lead; so that the strife of the century, at sea, has been a struggle between, and for, steam-fleets. In this direction, the introduction of steam has resulted in the increased expenditure of money on fleets in such enormous amounts as to tax the people to the very limit of their endurance; while the relative order in naval power of the greater nations has been comparatively little altered.
With the encouragement of Chancellor Livingston, who urged upon Fulton the importance of the introduction of steam-navigation into their native country, the latter continued his experimental work. Their boat was finished and set afloat on the Seine in 1803, in the early spring. Its proportions had been determined by careful computation from the results of no less careful experiment on the resistance of fluids and the power required for propelling vessels; and its speed was, therefore, more nearly in accord with the expectations and promises of the inventor than was the usual experience in those days.
Guided by these experiments and calculations, therefore, Fulton directed the construction of his vessel. The hull was sixty-six feet long, of eight feet beam, and of light draught. But unfortunately the hull was too weak for its machinery, and it broke in two and sank to the bottom of the Seine. Fulton at once set about repairing damages. He was compelled to direct the rebuilding of the hull, but the machinery was but slightly injured. In June, 1803, the reconstruction was complete, and the vessel was set afloat in July.
August 9, 1803, this boat was cast loose in presence of an immense concourse of spectators, induding a committee of the National Academy, consisting of Bougainville, Bossuet, Carnot, and Perier. The boat moved but slowly, making only between three and four miles an hour against the current, the speed through the water being about 4.5 miles; but this was, all things considered, a great success.
Livingston wrote home, describing the trial and its results, and procured the passage of an Act by the legislature of the State of New York, exiending, nominally to Fulton, a monopoly granted the former in 1798 for the term of twenty years from April 5, 1803, - the date of the new law, - and extending the time allowed for proving the practicability of driving a boat four miles an hour by steam to- two years from the same date. A later act further extended the time to April, 1807.
In May, 1804, Fulton went to England, giving up all hope of success in France with either his steamboats or his torpedoes, and the chapter of his work in Europe practically ends here. He had already written to Boulton & Watt, ordering an engine to be built from plans which he furnished them; but he had not informed them of the purpose to which it was to be applied. This engine 1 was to have a steam-cylinder two feet in diameter and of four feet stroke. Its form and proportions were substantially those of the boat-engine of 1803.
While Fulton was still abroad, John Fitch and Oliver Evans were pursuing a similar course of experiment, as were his contemporaries on the other side the Atlantic, and with more success. Fitch had made a number of fairly successful ventures, and had shown beyond question that the project of applying steam to ship-propulsion was a promising one; and he had only failed through lack of financial backing, and inability to appreciate the amount of power that must be employed to give his boats any considerable speed. Evans had made his "Oruktor Amphibolis," - a flat-bottomed vessel which he built at his works in Philadelphia, and impelled by its own engines, on wheels, to the bank of the Schuylkill, and then afloat, down the stream to its berth, by paddle-wheels driven by the same engines. Other inventors were working on both sides the ocean with apparently good reason to hope for success, and the times evidently were ripe for the man who should best combine all the requirements in a single experiment. The man to do this was Fulton.
Immediately on his arrival, in the winter of 1806-7, Fulton started on his boat, selecting Charles Brown as the builder, a well-known ship-builder of that time, and the builder of many of
Fulton's later steam-vessels. The hull of this steamer, which was the first to establish a regular route and regular transportation of passengers and merchandise in America, - Fulton's first boat
in his native country, - was 133 feet long, 18 feet beam, and 7 feet depth of hold. The engine was of 24 inches diameter of cylinder, 4 feet stroke of piston; and its boiler was 20 feet long, 7 feet
high, and 8 feet wide. The tonnage was computed at 160. After its first season, its operation having satisfied all concerned of the promise of the venture, its hull was lengthened to 140 feet, and
widened to 16.5 feet, thus being completely rebuilt; while its engines were altered in a number of details, Fulton furnishing the drawings for the alterations. Two more boats, the "Raritan" and
the "Car of Neptune" were added to form the fleet of 1807, and steam-navigation was at last fairly begun in America, some years in advance of its establishment in Europe. The Legislature
were so much impressed with this result that they promptly extended the monopoly previously given Fulton and Livingston, adding five years for every boat to be built and set in operation, up
to a maximum not to exceed a total of thirty years.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE "AMERICAN CITIZEN."
Fulton gives the following account of the same voyage in a letter to his friend, Mr. Barlow :
"My steamboat voyage to Albany and back has turned out rather more favourably 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. 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.
Professor Renwick, describing the "Clermont" of 1807 as she appeared on her first trip, says: "She was very unlike any of her successors, and very dissimilar from the shape in which she appeared a few months afterward. With a model resembling a Long Island skiff, she was decked for a short distance at stem and stern. The engine was open to view, and from the engine aft a house like that of a canalboat was raised to cover the hoiler and the apartment for the officers. There were no wheel-guards. The rudder was of the shape used in sailing-vessels, and moved by a tiller. The boiler was of the form then used in Watt's engines, and was set in masonry. The condenser was of the size used habitually in land engines, and stood, as was the practice in them, in a large cold-water cistern. The weight of the masonry and the great capacity of the cold-water cistern diminished very materially the buoyancy of the vessel. The rudder had so little power that she could hardly be managed. The skippers of the river craft, who at once saw that their business was doomed, took advantage of the unwieldiness of the vessel to run foul of her as soon as they thought they had the law on their side. Thus, in several instances, the steamer reached one or the other termini of the route with but a single wheel."
The "American Citizen" of August 17, 1807, says: - "Mr. Fulton's ingenious steamboat, invented with a view to the navigation of the Mississippi, from New Orleans upward, sails today from the North River, near State's Prison, to Albany. The velocity of the steamboat is calculated at four miles an hour. It is said it will make a progress of two against the current of the Mississippi, and if so it will certainly be a very valuable acquisition to the commerce of Western States."
What would this sanguine editor have thought, had he been assured that the "Clermont " was the pioneer of a fleet that should include steamships of ten thousand tons, or even as the "Great Eastern," of thirty thousand tons displacement; ships that should make a speed of twenty miles an hour at sea; small torpedo boats carrying out the idea of Fulton, and pursuing their enemy with their destructive little weapons at speeds approaching thirty miles an hour; and river boats passing over the very route chosen for Fulton's first trial-trip at the speed of twenty-seven miles an hour, and at their "slow speeds," running from New York to Albany in ten hours or less? What would he have thought, had he dreamed of steaming from New York to Newport, to Fall River, or to Providence in ten to twelve hours? Of going from St. Louis to New Orleans in four days? Of crossing the Atlantic in six?
The engine of the "Clermont" was similar to that of Fulton's French boat, and of rather peculiar construction, the piston, E, being coupled to the crank-shaft, 0, by a bell-crank, I H P, and a connecting-rod, P Q, the paddle-wheel shaft, M N; being separate from the crank-shaft, and connected with the latter by gearing, O O. The paddle-wheels had buckets four feet long, with a dip of two feet.
The voyage of the "Clermont" to Albany was attended by some ludicrous incidents. Mr. Colden says that she was described "as a monster, moving on the waters, defying wind and tide, and breathing flames and smoke."
This boat used dry pine wood for fuel, and the flames rose to a considerable distance above the smoke-pipe; and mingled smoke and sparks rose high in the air. "This uncommon light first attracted the attention of the crews of other vessels. Notwithstanding the wind and tide were averse to its approach, they saw with astonishment that it was rapidly coming toward them; and when it came so near that the noise of the machinery and paddles was heard, the crews (if what was said in the newspapers of the time be true) in some instances shrank beneath their decks from the terrific sight, and left their vessels to go on shore; while others prostrated themselves, and besought Providence to protect them from the approach of the horrible monster which was marching on the tides, and lighting its path by the fires which it vomited."
Fulton used several of the now familiar features of the American river boat, and subsequently introduced others.
The success of the "Clermont" on the trial-trip was such that Fulton soon after advertised the vessel as a regular passenger boat between New York and Albany.
"The traveller of to-day, as he goes on board the great steamboats 'St. John' or 'Drew,' can scarcely imagine the difference between such floating palaces and the wee-bit punts on which our fathers were wafted sixty years ago. We may, however, get some idea of the sort of thing then in use by a perusal of the steamboat announcements of that time two of which are as follows : -
The "Fulton the First," as she was called, was then considered an enormous vessel. The hull was double, 156 feet long, 56 feet wide, and 20 feet deep, measuring 2,475 tons. In May the ship was ready for her engine, and in July was so far completed as to steam, on a trial-trip, to the ocean at Sandy Hook and back, 53 miles, in eight hours and twenty minutes. In September, with armament and stores on board, the ship made for sea and for battle; the same route was traversed, the vessel making 5.5 miles an hour. Her engine, having a steam-cylinder 48 inches in diameter and of 5 feet stroke of piston, was furnished with steam by a copper boiler 22 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 8 feet high, and turned a wheel, between the two halls, 16 feet in diameter, with "buckets" 14 feet long, and a dip of 4 feet. The sides were 4 feet 10 inches thick, and her spar-deck was surrounded by musket-proof bulwarks. The armament consisted of 30 32-pounders, intended to discharge red-hot shot. There was one mast for each hull, fitted with lateen sails. Large pumps were carried, intended to throw streams of water on the decks of the enemy, with a view to disabling him by wetting his ordnance and ammunition. A submarine gun was to have been carried at each bow, to discharge shot weighing one hundred pounds, at a depth of ten feet below water.
This, for the time, tremendous engine-of-war was constructed in response to a demand from the citizens of New York for a means of harbour defence. They appointed what was called a Coast
and Harbour Defence Committee; and this committee examined Fulton's plans, and called the attention of the General Government to them. The Government appointed a Board of Experts
from among its most famous naval officers, induding Commodore Decatur, Captains Paul Jones, Evans, and Biddle, Commodore Perry; and Captains Warrington and Lewis. They reported
unanimously in favour of the proposed construction, and set forth her advantages over all previously known forms of war-vessel. The citizens' committee offered to guarantee the expense of
building the ship; and the construction was undertaken under the supervision of a committee appointed for the purpose, consisting of several then distinguished men, both military and naval.
Congress authorized the building of coast-defence vessels by the President, in March, 1814, and Fulton at once started the work of construction, Messrs. Adam and Noah Brown building the
hull, and the engines being placed on board and in working order within a year.
Robert Fulton died in the service of the United States government; and although engaged for years in devoting time and talents to the best interests of our country, still the public records show that the Government was indebted to his estate upwards of $100,000 for moneys actually expended and services rendered by him, agreeably to contract.
When the legislature, then in session at Albany, heard of the death of Mr. Fulton, they expressed their sentiments of regret by resolving that the members of both houses should wear mourning for six weeks. This is the only instance, According to Colden, up to that time, of such pubhc testimonials of regret, esteem, and respect being offered on the death of a private citizen, who was only distinguished by his virtues, his genius, and his talents.
He was buried February 25, 1815. His funeral was attended by all the oflicers of the National and State governments then in the city, by the magistracy, the common council, a number of societies, and a greater number of citizens than had ever been collected on any similar occasion. When the procession began to move, and until it arrived at Trinity Church, minute-guns were fired from the steam-frigate and the Battery. His body is deposited in a vault belonging to the Livingston family.
Mr. Fulton is described as a tall man, about six feet in height, slender, but well proportioned. "Nature had made him a gentleman, and bestowed upon him ease and gracefulness." He had too much good sense to exhibit affectation, and confidence in his own worth and talents gave him a pleasing deportment in all companies. His features were strong and handsome; he had large dark eyes, a projecting brow, and features expressive of intelligence and thought; his disposition was mild yet lively, and he was fond of society. He conversed with energy, fluency, and correctness; and, owing more to experience and reflection than to books, he was often interesting in his originality.
In all his social relations he was kind, generous, and affectionate. His only use for money was to make it an aid to charity, hospitality, and the promohon of science. He was especially distinguished by constancy, industry, and that union of patience and persistence which overcame every difficulty.
Robert Fulton has never, even yet, received either in kind or degree the credit that is justly his due. Those members of the engineering profession who have become familiar with his work through the ordinary channels of information generally look upon him as a talented artist and fortunate amateur engineer, whose fancies led him into many strange vagaries, and whose enthusiastic advocacy of a new method of transportation - the success of which was already assured by the ingenuity and skill of James Watt, Oliver Evans, and John Fitch, and by the really intelligent methods of those early professional engineers, the Messrs. Stevens - gave him the opportunity of grasping the prize of which Chancellor Livingston had secured the legal control. By such engineers as know only of his work on the Seine and the Hudson in the introduction of the steamboat, he is not considered as an inventor, but simply as one who profited by the inventions of others, and who, taking advantage of circumstances, and gaining credit which was not of right wholly his own, acquired a reputation vastly out of proportion to his real merits.
The layman, judging only from the popular traditions, and the incomplete historical accounts that have come to him, supposes Robert Fulton to have been the inventor of the steamboat, and on that ground regards him as one of the greatest mechanics and engineers that the world has seen.
The truth undoubtedly is, as we have now seen, that Fulton was not "the inventor of the steamboat," and that the reputation acquired by his successful introduction of steam-navigation is largely accidental, and is principally due to the possession, in company with Livingston, of a monopoly which drove from this most promising field those original and skilful engineers, Evans and the Stevenses. No one of the essential devices successfully used by Fulton in the "Clermont," his first North River steamboat, was new; and no one of them differed, to any great extent, from devices successfully adopted by earlier experimenters. Fulton's success was a commercial success purely. John Stevens had, in 1804, built a successful screw steam-vessel; and his paddle-steamer of 1807, the "Phoenix," was very possibly a better piece of engineering than the "Clermont." John Fitch had, still earlier, used both screw and paddle. In England, Miller and Symmington and Lord Dundas had antedated even Fulton's earliest experiments on the Seine. Indeed, it seems not at all unlikely that Papin, a century earlier (in 1707), had he been given a monopoly of steam-navigation on the Weser or the Fulda, and had he been joyfully hailed by the Hanoverians as a public benefactor, as was Fulton in the United States, instead of being proscribed and assaulted by the mob who destroyed his earlier "Clermont," might have been equally successful; or it may be that the French inventor, Jouffroy, who experimented on the rivers of France twenty-five years before Fulton, might, with similar encouragement, have gained an equal success.
Yet although Fulton was not in any true sense "the inventor of the steamboat," his services in the work of introducing that miracle of our modern time cannot be overestimated; and, aside from his claim as the first to grasp success among the many who were then bravely struggling to place steam-navigation on a permanent and safe basis, he is undeniably entitled to all the praise that has ever been accorded him on such different ground.
Relationships are made up of two parts - the "cousinhood" and the amount removed. The first identifies how
close the families were - first cousins, for example, would be the children of siblings. The amount removed can
be thought of as the difference in generations. Henry Livingston was born in 1748, making him two years younger
than Chancellor Livingston, his second cousin. The Chancellor's parents were of Henry's parents' generation, and
are once removed from Henry. The Fultons were closer to the age of Henry's children, and Harriet is Henry's 2nd
cousin, once removed the other direction.
Relationships are made up of two parts - the "cousinhood" and the amount removed. The first identifies how close the families were - first cousins, for example, would be the children of siblings. The amount removed can be thought of as the difference in generations. Henry Livingston was born in 1748, making him two years younger than Chancellor Livingston, his second cousin. The Chancellor's parents were of Henry's parents' generation, and are once removed from Henry. The Fultons were closer to the age of Henry's children, and Harriet is Henry's 2nd cousin, once removed the other direction.
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