Robert Fulton

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Robert Fulton (November 14, 1765 – February 24, 1815) was an American engineer and inventor who is widely credited with developing the first commercially successful steamboat. In 1800 he was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte to design the Nautilus, which was the first practical submarine in history.[1]

Fulton became interested in steamboats in 1777 when he visited William Henry of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who had earlier learned about James Watt's steam engine on a visit to England. Robert Fulton died from exposure in 1815.


Early life

Robert Fulton was born on a farm in Little Britain, Pennsylvania, on November 14th, 1765. His father, Robert Fulton, was born in Ireland and emigrated to Philadelphia where he married Mary Smith. The father moved the family to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where the younger Fulton attended a Quaker elementary school. Fulton showed an early interest in mechanical things. At the early age of 13, he invented paddle wheels to go along side his fathers fishing boat. He especially favored gunsmiths and even offered some suggestions that were adopted by the workmen. As a boy he built rockets and experimented with mercury and bullets. His friends nicknamed him “Quicksilver Bob.”[2]

He learned to sketch early on and by age 17 he decided to become an artist. His father, who had died when Robert was three, had been a close friend to the father of painter Benjamin West. Fulton later met West in England and they became friends.[2]

Fulton stayed in Philadelphia for six years, where he painted portraits and landscapes, drew houses and machinery, and was able to send money home to help support his mother. In 1785 he bought a farm at Hopewell, Pennsylvania for £80 Sterling and moved his mother and family onto it. While in Philadelphia, he met Benjamin Franklin and other prominent Revolutionary War figures. At age 23 he decided to visit Europe.[2]

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