Robert Fulton was a major figure in the late 18th century. He transformed sail-based transport into steam-powered juggernauts in a span of a few decades. Although constantly facing rejection by several nations, he didn’t falter and kept going.
His work quite literally changed how ships are powered after thousands of years sailing ships had ruled the ocean. Here is how the Irishman changed how the world powered their ships.
The Irish Spirit
Robert Fulton was born on November 14th, 1765 in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. A son of poverty-stricken Irish immigrants, he lost his father when he was just 12 years old.
Born with an intellectual and diligent mind, he was able to learn how to read and write from home. When he finished school, he became an apprentice jeweler to support his family.
A Sudden Breakthrough of Fate
Once he gave his mom a farm to live in, Fulton went to Virginia to recover from a cough. He brought with him paintings he made while working, which was admired by many.
With many people’s support, he began to search for sponsorship to help him go to Europe. Many of the merchants saw his potential and gave him enough money to go to London.
His arrival in London in 1787 was met with a mediocre response. Although his art didn’t do as well as he thought, he acquires a new fascination: mechanically propelling boats.
The Inventor within Rises
There are many propelling means that fascinated Robert Fulton. One such invention was the water jet propelled paddle. It was powered by a steam pump and has only one paddle.
His observation of the water jet propeller was that using only one isn’t enough. There had to be several revolving paddles on the sides of the ship.
After utterly failing his art career, he tried creating plans in canal engineering. But after several proposals, his plans got rejected just like his art.
Then, he tried again to make a submarine. He proposed it would be useful for France to use against the British navy, but it was considered dishonorable and he yet again got rejected.
The Steamboats That Altered Sea Transportation
After several more proposals for war submarines are rejected, he decided to chime in the steamboat transportation monopoly. It was still a new market, thus why it was easily monopolized.
His monopoly earned him money and resources to be able to manufacture his own steamboat. He used these resources to also advance his plans to the British since the war was still raging.
After failing yet again to convince the British, he decided to focus on building steamboats for the American market. He tried submitting his submarine designs, but it came out utterly broken.
But, he got a breakthrough when one of his steamboats managed to catch interest by making a 32 hour trip from New York to Albany. A sloop sailing boat required 4 days to do this trip.
The Man Who Changed the Seas
His steamboat designs then got better and better. His boats are now everywhere, used commercially and by the military.
The Robert Fulton steamboats ruled the seas replacing the age-old sailboats. It was battle tested and became a staple of 19th-century transport until the invention of the combustion engine.