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Robert Fulton's Steamship

Painter, inventor and engineer, Robert Fulton was a man of many talents. Fulton achieved his place in history by producing the first commercially successful steamboat. Fulton's success raised the curtain for the commercial development of America's waterways, particularly the Ohio and the Mississippi.

In 1802 Fulton contracted with Robert Livingstone,
the United States minister to France, to build a steamboat that would ply the Hudson River.  Livingstone held the rights for steamboat navigation on the waterway. 

Fulton directed the construction of the steamboat in New York in 1807.  Registered as the North River Steam Boat, the ship was called the Clermont after the Hudson River home of Robert Livingston.  Fulton didn’t invent the steamship, but in the Clermont, he built a sturdy boat with a durable engine (ordered from Watt), one strong enough to become a commercial success.  By hiding the boiler and engine, adding awnings and cabins, Fulton made steamship travel acceptable to the swells.

On the afternoon of Monday August 17, the vessel was moored on the East River off Greenwich Village.  Aboard were Fulton, Livingston and numerous adventurous friends eager to make the historic voyage.  The boat was an odd looking craft 150 feet long and 13 feet wide.  Amidships was her engine, a steam boiler that belched flame and smoke as it powered two paddle wheels placed on either side of the hull.  From the shoreline of the Hudson River, spectators witnessed a shocking sight.  There in the river was a mechanical monster spewing flames and smoke.  It was 'Mr. Fulton's Folly'! Most of the people all thought the steam thingy would blow up and explode to the high heavens or roll over like a log that would sink fast. 

At one o'clock Fulton cast off and began his journey into history.  Trouble reared its head almost immediately as the ship's engine stopped shortly after leaving the dock. “I heard a number of sarcastic remarks,” Fulton later wrote.  “This is the way in which ignorant men compliment what they call philosophers and projectors.”  Fulton rolled up his sleeves and—missing out on the opportunity to invent the word “glitch”—soon rectified “a slight maladjustment of some of the work,” and off the needle-like vessel went, clanking and hissing, every bit a monster. 

Twenty-four hours and 110 miles later, she stopped at Livingston’s estate, from which the boat takes its popular name, the Clermont.  The next day it ventured on to Albany, having finished in about a day and a half a trip that took the better part of a week by sloop. “We saw the inhabitants collect; they waved their handkerchiefs and hurrahed for Fulton,” wrote one passenger, the French botanist François André Michaux. 

So the Clermont made her first successful trip 150 miles up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany, in about 30 hours, including an overnight stop.

The Clermont was not the first steamboat to be built, but it was the very first to become a practical, financial, and commercially successful steamboat.  Part of Fulton's success was due to his concern for passenger comfort. His handbills announced: Dinner will be served at exactly 2 o'clock...Tea with meats...Supper at 8 in the evening and a shelf has been added to each berth, on which gentlemen will please put their boots, shoes, and clothes, that the cabin will not be encumbered.

After the success of the Clermont, Fulton became occupied with building and operating other boats.  During the War of 1812, while canvas-sailed frigates battled in Lake Erie, Fulton was developing a steam-driven warship for the defense of New York Harbor.  He never saw it realized; he caught a chill and died on February 24, 1815.  When completed, the ship was presented to the United States Navy.  The USS Fulton became the first steam-powered vessel in the American fleet. 



This 30" long x 16" tall x 7" wide model of the Clermont riverboat features:

  • Scratch-built

  • Hollow hull (very important)

  • All parts are wooden or metal

  • Color and features are at the time when the ship surprised the public with its appearance, June 26th, 1897. 

    $2,300   S & H is $90   Lighting is included