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CHAPTER IV

FIRST STEAMBOATS

 

WORCESTER in his "Century of Inventions," speaks of the capacity for the rowing of his engine, used in raising water.

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 part.

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 favorable.

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 Washington.

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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