“Fulton’s Folly” Makes First Commercially Successful Steamboat Voyage
At the behest of his critics, Robert Fulton launched his steamboat from New York harbor on August 17, 1807.
Robert Fulton had begun his career as an artist. While studying in Europe, he realized his ambitions might not be fruitful and began exploring another passion – engineering. He then designed an experimental submarine that impressed American ambassador Robert Livingston, who encouraged Fulton to start designing steamboats.
In the early 1800s, steamboats were often considered dangerous and nothing more than a novelty. But Fulton believed it could prove to be a successful business venture, and built a 150-foot-long ship that would make him famous. Critics dubbed the boat “Fulton’s Folly,” believing it wouldn’t make the trip.
On the afternoon of August 17, 1807, Fulton and a group of passengers boarded his ship (later named the Clermont) in New York City, bound for Albany, 150 miles up the Hudson River. Shortly after leaving the dock, the boat stopped suddenly. Passengers and spectators willingly shared their doubt in the boat’s abilities. Fulton calmly went below the deck, found the problem, and easily fixed it. The boat then chugged along at a leisurely five miles per hour without any other incidents. They arrived in Albany (after a stopover at Livingston’s home, Clermont) in a record 32 hours.
While many had their doubts, Fulton proved the commercial viability of steam boats, which would rule American waterways for the next half-century.
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