Robert Fulton

(1765-1815)

Early Life

Robert Fulton was born in the Little Britian Town (Fulton, Lancaster County, PA) in the year of 1765. His father came from Kilkenny, Ireland in the early 18th century and settled in Little Britian. At the age of 13 Robert created paddle wheels of which he applied with success to a fishing boat.

Teen Years

The years 1782-1785 were spent painting minuature portraits and landscape, mechanical and architetual drawing, and whatever came into his way in the line of artistic work, at Philidelphia, where he numbered Benjamin Franklin amoung his friends. In 1786 he went to London, and was recieved into the family of Benjamin West.

Occupation

He published a pamphlet on canals and patented a dredging machine and several other inventions. In 1797 he went to Paris where his fame as an inventor was well known. While in France he studied French, German, math, and Chemistry. He then began to design torpedoes and submarines.

Natalus

Fulton designed the first working submarine between 1793 and 1797. When he tested his submarine it went underwater for 17 minutes in 25 feet of water. He asked the government to subsidize its construction but was turned down twice. Eventually he approached the Minister of Marine himself and in 1800 was granted permission to build. The shipyard Perrier in Rouen built it and it sailed first in July 1800 on the Seine River in the same city.
In France, Fulton also met Robert R. Livingston, (1746-1813), who was appointed U.S. Ambassador to France in 1801, who was also of a scientifically curious mind, and they decided to build a steamboat together and try running it on the Seine. Fulton experimented with the water resistance of various hull shapes, made drawings and models, and had a steamboat constructed. At the first trial the boat ran perfectly, but the hull was later rebuilt and strengthened, and on August 9, 1803, this boat steamed up the River Seine, but sank. The boat was 66 feet (20.1 m) long, 8 feet (2.4 m) beam, and made between 3 and 4 miles per hour (4.8 and 6.4 km/h) against the current.