WORCESTER in his "Century of Inventions," speaks
of the capacity for the rowing of his engine, used in raising
Savary proposed to make the water raised by his engine turn
a water-wheel within his vessel, which should carry paddle wheels
acting on the outside; and Watt, as we are well assured, stated
in conversation that, had he not been prevented by the pressure
of other business, he would have made a steamboat.
In truth, before the time of Watt's improvement in his steam
engine, no modification by which steam was applied to useful purposes,
as raising water, would have been able to propel vessels successfully.
This is exemplified by evidences found recently in an ancient
record, in which we have a description of a vessel propelled by
steam. Blasco de Garay, an officer in the service of the Emperor
Charles V., made, at Barcelona, in Spain, in the year 1543, an
experiment in a vessel, which he forced through the water by apparatus,
of which a large kettle with boiling water formed a conspicuous
De Garay was, therefore, not only the first inventor of a steamboat,
but the first (not even excepting Savary) who was successful in
applying steam to useful purposes. De Garay, however, was too
far in advance of the spirit of the age to be able to introduce
his invention into practice. His machinery was imperfect, and
the recollection of his experiment would have been lost had not
the record been accidentally found among the ancient archives
of the province of Catalonia.
This experiment was, therefore, without any practical results
and may be looked upon as a piece of curious antiquarian research
rather than as an event filling a space in the history of steamboats.
Among the early prime movers in seeking for the means of applying
steam to vessels, we will name Genevois and the Comte deAuxiron.
The first of these, whose attempts date as early as 1759, is chiefly
remarkable for the peculiarity of his apparatus, which resembled
the feet of a duck, opening when moved through the water in the
act of propulsion, and closing on its return.
The latter, D'Auxiron, also made an experiment in 1774, but
his boat moved so slowly and irregularly that it was at once abandoned.
In 1775 the elder Perrier, who afterward introduced the manufacturing
of steam-engines into France, made an attempt in a steamboat,
but was unsuccessful.
The Marquis de Jouffroy continued the pursuit of the same object.
His first attempt was made in 1778, at Baume les Dames, and in
1781 he built upon the Saone a steam-vessel one hundred and fifty
feet long and fifteen feet wide. The report of his experiment
was made to the French Academy of Sciences, and was said to be
No successful experiment could be looked for until Watt made
public his double-acting engine, and the improvements made in
1784 to keep up a continuous and regular rotary motion. To America,
then, we are now to look for the first successful steamboat.
Conspicuous in the list of early experimenters in steamboats
are the names of Rumsey and Fitch. Both constructed boats propelled
by steam as early as 1783, and models were exhibited to General
Fitch was the first to try his plan, and in 1780 he succeeded
in moving a boat upon the Delaware; and it was not until 1786
that Rumsey got his boat in motion on the Potomac. Fitch's plan
was a system of paddles. Rumsey at first used a kind of pump,
which drew in water at the bow and forced it out at the stern
of his boat. He soon abandoned this plan of the pump, and employed
poles set in motion by cranks on the axis of the fly-wheel of
his engine, and intended to press against the bottom of the river.
Fitch's boat was propelled through the water at the rate of four
miles an hour. Rumsey's invention never came to any valuable results.
Next, after Fitch and Rumsey, came an ingenious gentleman named
Miller, of Dolswinton, in Scotland,who, in 1787, made a substitute
for oars, and applied wheels worked by men upon a crank; afterward
steam was substituted by an engineer named Symington.
This boat was a double pleasure-boat upon a lake in his grounds
at Dolswinton. The trial was so successful that Miller built a
boat sixty feet long, and it is said that it moved upon the Forth
and Clyde Canal at the rate of seven miles an hour; but the vessel
suffered so much by the strain of the machinery that it soon became
unsafe and in danger of sinking, and was set aside, and Mr. Miller's
experiments were never resumed.
John Stevens, of Hoboken, next experimented in steam-vessels,
in 1791. His first attempt was made in a boat with a rotary engine,
but he soon substituted one of Watt's machines, and navigated
his vessel five or six miles an hour. These experiments were continued
up to 1807, much to the detriment of his fortune.
The project of Gerrevois was revived in England about this
time by the Earl of Stanhope. An apparatus like the feet of a
duck was placed in a boat, and with a powerful machine, but never
gained a velocity over three miles an hour.
In 1797, Chancellor Livingston, of New York, built a steamboat
on the Hudson River. He obtained from the Legislature the right
and exclusive privilege, on condition that he would provide, within
a year a boat impelled by steam that would go three miles an hour.
This he did not effect. In the year 1800 Stevens and Livingston
united and built a boat to be propelled by a system of paddles,
resembling a horizontal chain pump, and with one of the engines
of Watt, but, in consequence of the weakness of the vessel, the
engine would get out of lines and the experiment did not succeed.
We have often heard and seen it written that steamboats were
invented and first run by Fulton. Such was not the case, as we
have shown in the foregoing pages; but Fulton made the first successful
experiment with a steamboat with side-wheels, which is the plan
adopted ever since, excepting in propellers.
Fulton commenced his experiments in Paris, in 1803, upon the
Seine, with a small vessel with side-wheels, driven by one of
Watt's engines, adjusted for the purpose, and the experiment was
a success. He soon after determined to construct a boat of a larger
size, to be tried in the United States. This vessel was built
in America; but as the workshops could not at that time construct
the engine, one from Watt & Bolton was procured, and Fulton
proceeded to England to superintend its construction. The engine
arrived in New York early in 1806, and the vessel was set in motion
in the summer of 1807. The success of this experiment is well
known, and from that period steam-vessels have continued to increase
in size and speed, from the humble efforts of these early experimenters,
until they now assume the magnitude and magnificence of the floating
palaces of the present day.
The first steam-vessel that traversed the ocean was the steamship
Savannah, in 1817, and this early effort demonstrated the principle
that steamships could be used upon the sea. The Savannah may be
looked upon as the pioneer, whose path has since been followed
by some of the largest and most magnificent specimens of naval
architecture in the world.
Though steam, in its application to navigation, had been progressing
rapidly, and even as early as 1807 attained such a degree of usefulness
as to cause it to be looked upon as a fact, yet its application
in facilitating intercommunication upon the land had not been
developed during a quarter of a century afterward.
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