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Robert Fulton

Inventor of the Steamboat

Robert Fulton

Much like Henry Ford, Robert Fulton didn't actually invent the machine he is most commonly associated with (the invention of the first steamboat is generally credited to John Fitch). But, like Ford, Fulton's efforts and innovations are what helped to successfully shape and commercialize the steamboat invention.

Born in Pennsylvania, inventor Robert Fulton's initial aspirations were to become a portrait painter – gaining fame and recognition after painting his friend Benjamin Franklin. Then, while studying art in London, Fulton's focus shifted to canal and shipbuilding. Though he started out designing steam-powered ships, Fulton ended up making a name for himself by constructing submarines for the British and French navies.

Upon returning to the US, Fulton went back to work on his idea for the steamboat invention. He took a special English steam engine, made some improvements to it, and tested models to develop the ideal shape. Ultimately, Fulton's ship, the Clermont, made its debut in 1807 – steaming upriver from New York to Albany. After obtaining his patent in 1809, Robert Fulton was soon running steamboat services on six major rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

For more information on Robert Fulton and the invention of the steamboat, please visit:

Who Made America? Innovators: Robert Fulton

Robert Fulton 1765-1815

Robert Fulton: Inventor of the Commercial Steamboat