Robert Fulton

Fulton at Hall of Fame

Fulton's Steamboat

"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," said Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte. A few years later, in 1807, Fulton and Robert Livingston launched the first commercially viable steamship: the North River Steamboat, later known as the Clermont. It ferried passengers between New York City and Albany. Fulton wrote:

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. 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. - Fulton, letter of 8/22/1807

Canals, torpedoes, submarines, paintings: Fulton's interests and accomplishments were varied and impressive.

Favorite Fulton quotes & stories

The fear of meeting the opposition of envy, or the illiberality of ignorance is, no doubt, the frequent cause of preventing many ingenious men from ushering opinions into the world which deviate from common practice. Hence for want of energy, the young idea is shackled with timidity and a useful thought is buried in the impenetrable gloom of eternal oblivion.

As the component parts of all new machines may be said to be old[,] it is a nice discriminating judgment, which discovers that a particular arrangement will produce a new and desired effect. ... Therefore, the mechanic should sit down among levers, screws, wedges, wheels, etc. like a poet among the letters of the alphabet, considering them as the exhibition of his thoughts; in which a new arrangement transmits a new idea to the world.