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Robert Fulton

Robert Fulton was an American inventor best known for his construction of the first practical boat powered by steam. Fulton was born on November 14, 1765, in Little Britain, Pennsylvania, now called Fulton. His father immigrated from Ireland in the early part of the century. Fulton showed early talent for mechanical devices. Like Samuel F.B. Morse in the next century, Robert Fulton was an artist as well as an inventor. Working first as an artist in Philadelphia, he went to London in 1786 to study under Benjamin West. While in England, he encountered the earl of Stanhope and the Duke of Bridgewater, both of whom were active in engineering developments and provided Fulton with contacts through which his active experimentation began. The Duke of Bridgewater was well known for his role in the construction of a canal from Worsley to Manchester. Fulton himself developed a number of new ideas, including a double inclined plane to raise and lower boats in canals from one level to another. Fulton sent letters to George Washington and other Americans, describing the advantages of canal navigation to the new country. In 1797, Fulton moved to France, where he began experiments with submarines. In the winter of 1800-1801, Fulton's experimental sub had successful trial runs off Le Havre. The French government provided him with more money and offered to pay him for any British shipping destroyed, but the submarine was not a military success. The English decided it was better to have him working on their side, so Fulton left France for Britain in 1804. The British eventually concluded that the submarine was not workable, and Fulton returned to America in 1806. The United States Congress provided him with funds for further submarine research, but the project was never a success. Fulton had shown an interest in using steam power for navigation as early as 1793. With the support of Robert Livingston, Fulton launched his first steam ship on the river Seine in France, but it sank immediately. His luck was better on the Hudson, and on August 17, 1807, his ship the Clermont steamed up the river from New York City on its way to Albany. The New York legislature granted Fulton and Livingston a 30-year monopoly on the Hudson River. Steam powered boats quickly multiplied. Fulton was never able to clearly establish his patents are the original inventor and was constantly involved in litigation. Traveling in connection with one such lawsuit, he became ill and died on February 24, 1815 in New York City.