The invention and development of the steam engine revolutionized
water transportation. People no longer had to depend on the muscles
of rowers or the uncertain wind to propel their ships. In 1769,
James Watt, a Scottish engineer, patented a steam engine that
could do many kinds of work. Inventors in Europe and the United
States soon tried to use it to power boats.
In 1783, the Marquis Claude de Jouffroy d'Abbans, a French nobleman,
built a steam engine that made a 15 minute trip on the Saone River
near Lyon. But the marquis was never able to repeat his success.
In 1787, John Fitch, an American inventor, demonstrated the first
workable steamboat in the United States. Its engine powered a
series of paddles on each side of the boat. Fitch later developed
a vessel pushed by paddles at the stern. With this boat, he started
the nation's first commercial passenger and freight service during
the summer of 1790. He navigated the boat on schedule up and down
the Delaware River between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Trenton,
New Jersey. But Fitch lacked enough money to keepoperating. In
1802, William Symington, A British engineer, built a steam tug
that had a paddle wheel at the stern. The tug worked perfectly,
but Symington also ran out of money.
The Clemont became the first commercially sucessful steamboat.
Robert Fulton, an American, designed and built the vessel, which
was officially called the North River Steam Boat. Fulton
did not try to construct an engine himself, as earlier inventors
had done. Instead, he ordered one from Watt and adapted it to
his boat. In 1807, the Clemont ran 150 miles on the Hudson
river from New York City, NY to Albany, NY in a day and six hours,
including the overnight stop. After extensive rebuilding the boat
sailed on the Hudson with regular passenger service. The Clemont
was originally very long and slender- aabout 142 feet long and
14 feet wide. After the rebuilding, the Clemont was 149
feet long and18 feet wide.
In 1809 the Phoenix became the first steamboat to make
an ocean voyage . John Stevens built it. The Phoenix traveled
along the Atlantic coast and up the Delaware river from New York
City to Philadelphia. The trip took 13 days. Under perfect conditions
sailboats could do it in 2 days.
In 1819 the first steamboat to cross the Atlantic Ocean was the
Savannah. It was actually a full rigged sailing ship equippedwith
steam powered side paddle wheels. The ship took 29 days to travel
from New York City to Liverpool. Its engine lost hours using up
its entire fuel supply of 75 short tons of coal and 25 cords of
wood on the trip.
In 1858 Sirus the British side-wheeler became the first
ship to offer regularly scheduled service across the Atlantic
Ocean alone. This trip took only 18.5 days.
For almost 50 years the river steamboat was the prime mover of
goods - primarily cotton and sugar - and people in the central
United States, and small river towns grew into thriving cities
when steamboats began to make regular visits to their docks.