Robert Fulton Essay

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Robert Fulton

"the Most Lucrative Patent": Robert Fulton's Idea

In an 1807 letter, Robert Fulton wrote about his new invention and stated "the patent in contemplation will be the most lucrative that was ever obtained" (Sylla 44). He was referring to his steam engine, which not only revolutionized transportation but forever changed commerce in the United States and all over the world. Fulton wrote the letter to Robert R. Livingston, a wealthy New Yorker who was interested in Fulton's work and who became his partner and financier.

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Fulton originally intended to become a painter. He went to London as a young man and actually had a showing of his work at the Royal Academy. He found it difficult to support himself on an artist's salary and so became a canal engineer. He went to Paris in 1797 and built a submarine called the Nautilis, he had to promise the British would not be used against them ("Robert Fulton's Paddlesteamer"). While in Paris, he met Robert Livingston, who was Minister to France. He also held the exclusive right to operate steamships in the U.S. And hoped, with Fulton's help, to claim use of the Hudson River.

When Fulton returned to the United States in 1806, he built the North River Steam Boat, a sidewheeling paddleboat with auxiliary sails that was just twelve feet wide. The flat-bottomed boat, one hundred forty-six feet long, was driven by a coal-fired steam engine and drew just two feet of water ("Robert Fulton's Paddlesteamer"). The boat was renamed the Clermont after the Livingstons' family estate in upstate New York. The Clermont made a trial run in August, 1807, traveling one hundred fifty miles from New York City to Albany. The maiden voyage took thirty-two hours. By September, the Clermont was running regularly between the two cities. In a letter to a friend, Fulton wrote, [These boats] will give a cheap and quick conveyance to the merchants on the Mississippi, Missouri, and other great rivers which are now laying open their treasures to the enterprise of our countrymen" ("Robert Fulton's Paddlesteamer"). Rival operators claimed that Fulton and Livingston's monopolies on the Hudson and Mississippi were illegal and the courts eventually agreed. By the time the Supreme Court made a ruling, however, the year was 1824 and both Livingston and Fulton had been dead for nearly a decade. Fulton's premature death, from pneumonia at the age of forty-nine, was considered a national tragedy ("Robert Fulton's Paddlesteamer").

As writer and mechanical engineer Robert O. Woods (44) pointed out, "[T]he man who gets most of the credit for an invention is typically not the innovator, but the one who makes the idea pay." So it was with…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Gordon, John Steele. "The Steamboat Monopoly." American Heritage 44.7 (1993): 20-21.

Online. 2 May 2011.

"Newcomen Steam Engine." Wikipedia. 5 Apr. 2011. Web. 3 May 2011.

"Robert Fulton's Paddlesteamer: August 17th, 1807." History Today 57.8 (2007): 58-59. Online.

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