United States Patents the Steamboat, Monopoly and Litigation to which it
gave rise, Steamboat enterprise in Europe and Asia
It is now necessary to record a fact of considerable significance. As we have already seen, Fulton had all along had in view a much wider field of enterprise than the Hudson River. No doubt it was with a view to securing to himself a monopoly over the whole of the United States territory that he now applied for his first patent. Possibly, too, he had some idea that it might be a "second string to his bow" in case his monopoly of the Hudson broke down, the gathering of a storm for that purpose being already apparent, as we shall see later. His application, which is for " Improvements in Steamboats," is dated January 1, 1809, and the patent was granted February 11th the same year. Fulton's patent is not to be found in the archives of the U.S. Patent Office. It must have perished with many other records in the disastrous fire which occurred there in 1831. The author, however, has been fortunate enough to meet with two MS. copies of the specification one in the Patent Office Library, and the other in the Boulton and Watt MSS., which is of such interest as to be worthy of reproduction in full 1 on another page. There are thirteen sheets of tables and drawings attached to it which appear to be based on actual practice. A definite reference is made to the Clermont, which is selected as an example, and there can be little doubt that we have now actual drawings of the engine arrangements of that boat if not of the Paragon and Car of Neptune as well. One of the sheets of drawings gives a "table of the resistance of bodies moved through water" "taken from experiments made in England by a Society for Improving Naval Architecture between the years 1793 and 1798." Incidentally this refutes one charge of plagiarism directed against Fulton. The charge need never have been made, for the information was common property, having been published by the Society in 1798. Practically the whole claim in this patent is for the right proportioning of the engine to the boat and for the combination of the parts. Indeed no other valid claim was possible, as none of the parts in themselves were novel. To elucidate these points, we find a great deal of the text taken up by calculations showing how to obtain the proportions of a boat and of the engine suitable for it to go at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 miles an hour with a given load. Fulton finds the total resistance of the boat to be the sum of i. The immersed cross section of the boat in square feet multiplied by the " plus and minus pressure " the co-efficient for which he obtains from a table, based on the aforementioned experiments, for each of the speeds named. ii. The friction of the sum of the areas of the bow and stern together multiplied by a corresponding coefficient. iii. The friction of the sides and bottom of the boat similarly calculated. To this total he adds a like power for the paddle-wheels. As these are always to go at twice the speed of the boat, and as he assumes the piston speed to be constant, he is able to decide the necessary ratio of gearing and a convenient diameter for a cylinder to give the power required. Following upon his calculations for a boat to run at 6 miles per hour he remarks: "As to 6 miles an hour, were it attempted and to succeed, I should consider it more a work of curiosity than utility, as I do not believe it possible to build a steamboat with any engine which is now known to run 6 miles an hour in still water, and carry either passengers or cargo to pay the expenses." He retained the same opinion even as late as 1811, for, writing on January 9 to Dr. S. Thornton, superintendent of the American Patent Office, he says: "If you succeed to run 6 miles an hour in still water with One hundred tons of merchandise I will contract to reimburse the cost of the boat and give you one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for your patent, or if you can convince me of the success by drawings or demonstrations I will join you in the expenses and profits." Such an attitude of mind in a man like Fulton seems hardly credible, especially seeing that in 1802 he had anticipated a speed of 16 miles per hour; with the steady advance that he was making, it was not more than a year or two later before one of his own boats was doing what he now considered impossible. On October 2, 1810, Fulton applied for another patent t for " constructing boats or vessels which are to be navigated by the power of the steam-engine "; it was granted on February 9, 1811. It is supplementary to the first, and in it he claims, among other things, the coupling boxes, wheel guards, fender strakes, covering over the paddle wheels, placing the steering wheel forward, and hogging frames. Many of these details, while no doubt originating with him, had been public property for some years, so that the patent could hardly have been worth anything, and had the claims been successfully maintained it would have done more to retard than advance the progress of steam navigation. The patent is interesting chiefly for the drawings which illustrate some advance in engine construction. One of the drawings foreshadows very clearly the side lever engine which remained for forty years the accepted type for steam navigation. We have already alluded at some length to the monopoly of the waters of New York State enjoyed by Fulton and Livingston, and it is now necessary to explain why it was that it conferred such enormous powers and privileges, and why such a protracted and bitter legal fight was instituted to compass its overthrow. The basis upon which the monopoly rested was that the State of New York claimed jurisdiction over all the waters of the Bay and of the Hudson River up to low water mark on the mainland or Jersey shore. As it was for the navigation of these waters that the State of New York had granted a monopoly to Livingston and Fulton, and as no steamboat could approach New York and enjoy trade with the City without traversing this stretch of water, we can see how it was that these two monopolists were able to keep out all such men as Colonel John Stevens with his steamer the Phoenix. This claim on the part of the State of New York was founded neither on reason nor on common sense. A river or lake suggests itself naturally as a boundary between adjacent territories, and, when it is accepted as such, common law assumes that the boundary is in midchannel or in the deepest part. Now the State of New Jersey had always repudiated the claim of the State of New York; indeed in 1806 New York had consented to the appointment of a joint commlssion to try and come to an agreement but without result. It seems to us that it would have been an obvious course for New Jersey to have appealed to the United States Supreme Court for a settlement of this dispute, but possibly the temper of the people was too independent for such a course. Now that steam navigation had been introduced and the financial considerations involved were considerable, the question assumed very great importance. Livingston and Fulton's monopoly is so inextricably bound up with it that one can hardly be discussed without the other. The first attack upon their vested interest appears to have been made in 1810 or at the beginning of 1811, when a company was formed at Albany to run in opposition to the Fulton line. Their first boat, the Hope,- Captain Bunker, was launched March 19, 1811, and their second, the Perseverance, Captain Sherman, somewhat later. Soon after they were placed on the station. The rivalry between them and the Fulton line cuhninated in a steamboat race the first in history and the forerunner of a kind of sport much indulged in subsequently. Both boats left Albany at 9 o'clock on the morning of July 27, the Hope leading. This position was maintained until the boats were within two miles of Hudson, when the Clermont by reason of her lighter draught took advantage of the shallows and tried to pass the Hope, which perforce kept to the channel. A collision resulted which, while not injuring either boat, put a stop to the race. Captain Bartholomew of the Clersxont at once challenged the doughty Bunker to compete for a stake of 2000 dollars aside over any distance, but the latter declined. In order to counteract the designs of the opposition steamboat company Fulton and Livingston sought the advice of Thomas Addis Emmet, brother of Robert Emmet the Irish patriot and a famous advocate, who gave a long opinion, dated January 19, 1811, in which he first recites the essential substance of the grants and the acts upon which their monopoly was based, substantially as has been given already. He then sets out the questions to be answered as being: "1St. What is the effect and validity of the State Laws in conferring any and what exclusive right on Messrs. Livingston and Fulton. 2nd. By what process can they carry into effect their right under the State Laws to the boat and to the Penalty." After discussing the powers that the several States delegated to the Federal Constitution when the latter was formed, particularly with reference to useful inventions, he gives it as his opinion that: "After the adoption of the Federal Constitution no State Legislature had any authority to grant an exclusive right of making, constructing, or employing any machine or invention." This opinion of course covered both questions, but assuming the State law to be valid, he gives it as his further opinion that the forfeiture of the boat, &c., could be enforced, and also that Livingston and Fulton might: " take and hold possession of the forfeited property without any preceding process of law, if they can accomplish that object without a breach of the Peace." There are marginal notes on the document signifying disagreement with the opinion expressed which cannot have been otherwise than unpalatable. There was, however, no need to let the opinion be known, and Fulton and Livingston evidently decided to rely still on their original Act of Legislature. That Emmet's opinion was a true one the decisions of the courts subsequently showed. The danger that threatened them only deepened when on January 25, 1811, the Legislature of New Jersey passed an Act 1 declaring that: "the citizens of New Jersey have a full and equal right to navigate and have and use vessels and boats upon all the waters lying between the States of New Jersey and New York, in all cases whatever not prohibited by the constitution, or any law of the United States." The Act further provided that any person whose boat might be seized under the law of New York should have a right to retaliate upon any steamboat belonging to citizens of that State which might come into New Jersey waters. The provisions of this Act were much less defensible than were the claims of New York. It carried matters from bad to worse, and was in fact a direct encouragement to piracy. The New York Legislature quickly responded in April 1811 by a law authorising Livingston and his associates to seize any steamboat infringing their monopoly, but providing that such steamboat should be held till the settlement of the case. The only course now open was to attack the opposition steamboat company in the law courts. Fulton must have felt shaky about the validity of Livingston's original Act if submitted to searching attack in the courts, and he seems to have thought it best to prepare evidence by affidavit or deposition as to his actual priority in successful steam navigation. For this purpose he wrote to all his friends to secure their interest. One letter l to Earl Stanhope is so interesting that we give it in full: NEW YORK, April l0, 1811. " MY LORD, In my former letters I gave you an account of the success of my steam boats, which has been so great that, like every other useful and profitable invention, attempts are now making to evade my patent rights, and deprive me of my mental property. I am therefore under the necessity of collecting all possible evidence of the orginality and priority of my invention, In which water wheels of right proportions and velocities are of first importance portage. Your Lordship will recollect that, while was in Devonshire in 1793, I wrote you a letter on Using perpendicular oars or wheels to propell steam Vessels, of which the inclosed is an exact Copy; it was accompanied with other mechanical speculation which you may yet find among your papers; if so or your Lordship can distinctly recollect it, it will be of infinate service to me, and my cause, and I shall esteem it a particular favour if you will certify on the inclosed letter and drawing before the American consul or a notary public that the inclosed is a true copy of a letter written to you by me on steamships in 1793: such testimony will be important on the tryal which will commence in September next, in this City, and on which I have at least 7000 pounds sterling a year at stake. No one feels more sensibly than your Lordship the sacred right of mental property, no one knows better the difficulties which interposed to rendering steam Boats useful, and my clear right to my specific combinations; which have rendered them useful, In which the wheel in my opinion is indispensable. Your Lordship will therefore in so important a suit not hesitate to give evidence for an old friend and have the goodness to certify on the inclosed letter the time you received the original from met after which certificate have the goodness to deliver it to the American Consul general in London, who will forward it to me. I will also thank your Lordship to let me know if there be any steam boat In operation In England or Ireland, if so, when built, by whom and how is she constructed; this information will be esteemed a favour in a private letter. I have seen the specification of your Lordship's Stanhope Weatherers with a plan for defending them against torpedoes, the ship is Very ingeneous, but the Torpedoes are now so far improved that any plan I have yet seen cannot defend a ship against a Vigorous attack with them. Our friend Barlow is going Ambassador to St. Cloud at which place I hope his talents will be of use to our country, which is rapidly improving and every day gaining strength although our exterior commerce is much embarrassed. The Edict of Nantz gave manufactures to England which she never lost but improved and multiplied to the sapping of the resources of France, the British orders in Council, the Berlin decrees, the war in Spain and Portugal, which has sent 8000 Mireno Sheep to this country in which they thrive and Improve, has given to us manufacture in Cotton, in Wood and Iron for which we now have the raw material in abundance, which manufactures we shall never loose but improve and multiply and which must tend to diminish or at least to produce the effect of not increasing in so rapid a degree the resources of England and France. Have the goodness to remember me kindly to Mrs. Falkner; may success attend your Lordship's useful pursuits and happiness be your companion, is the sincere wish of Your most obedient ROBT. FULTON THE RIGHT HONBLE. THE EARL OF STANHOPE. P.S. When I left London in 1806 there was no such thing as a steam boat anywhere in use in Europe; if any thing of the kind has since been established in England or Ireland, I will thank your Lordship for the particulars of her size and Velocity, to what purposes applied; by whom made and at what time and how propelled ? In a letter to Barlow, dated June 28, I8II, he gives further details with reference to this opposition steamboat company: " My time is now occupied in building North River and Steam ferry boats, and in an interesting lawsuit to crush 22 Pirates who have clubbed their purses and copied my boats and have actually started my own Inventions in opposition to me by running one trip to Albany: her machinery however gave way in the first voyage and she is now repairing, which will detain her I presume until we obtain an Injunction to stop her. A more infamous and outrageous attack upon mental property has not disgraced America. Thornton has been one of the great causes of it. In this interesting suit which places a great fortune at stake I want you to go or send Lee to Thornton s office and demand a certified copy of my transfer of one half of my United States patents to Robert R. Livingston and let the certificate state that such transfer is legally registered in the patent office." The transfer of one half of Fulton's interest in his patents to Livingston was in accordance with their original agreement. Fulton also sends with the letter a deposition as to what his achievements in steam navigation had been; this he asks Barlow to persuade Thornton to sign, as if it were his own production. Thornton did not do so, by the way, but the deposition, giving as it does Fulton's side of the case, may be taken as correct where it gives credit to another than himself, as he does in one sentence: "John Stevens Esq. of Broadway, in the City of New York, is the first . . . who has communicated the power from the piston rod to the water wheels by means of crank wheels and shackle bars which work on each side of the Cylender." This was the return connecting-rod or steeple engine. The lawsuit dragged on wearily, as only lawsuits can; and Fulton, evidently thinking he must get further evidence, wrote to Boulton, Watt & Co., asking for an affidavit from the great James Watt himself. As Watt had retired from business twelve years before, it is unlikely that he would want to be worried with such a matter; the firm may have sent a reply; if so, we have no record of it. Fulton's letter is as follows: NEW YORX, January 4th, 1812 MESSRS BOULTON & WATT GENTLEMEN, In consequence of the non-intercourse and the impossibility of getting the original to this country at present I have delayed for a long time to answer your letter, But you will please to finish the engine in the usual way with perpendicular Valves, as the wheels must have the power of turning Backwards and forwards and I will remit you the remainder of the Cost. In a conversation with Mr. Watt Senior in Paris I think in 1803 or 2 I believe he gave it to me as his opinion that it was impracticable to make a useful steamboat or Vessel, I have however succeeded to make a Vessels 176 feet long 23 feet beam drawing 2 feet 6 inches of Water run 6 miles an hour in Still water, which Useful invention like your useful steam engine is already copied without my consent and my patent right Violated I am involved in a very expensive and important lawsuit, the Enemy cannot deny that they have copied, But they hope to succeed in proving that I am not the Inventor, for which purpose all abortive projects to navigate boats or Vessels by steam wheels [that] have been made within the last 30 years will be collected, in evidence against me, some of which however bear the least resemblance to the combinations or principles of my boats: But as such high authority as Mr. Watt would be of great importance to me on the tryal, I should esteem it as a great favour if he would State whether there was to the best of his knowledge a steam boat of any kind or what kind anywhere in permanent and efficient operation anywhere in the three kingdoms in 1803 or to the best of his knowledge anywhere in Europe. And what was his opinion and appeared to him to be the prevaily (sac) opinion of the practicability of making good steam boats, such for example as should run 5 miles an hour in still water and carry 100 tons; was it his opinion in 93 that such a project was practicable or was the mode of effecting it know[n] to him at that time or, to the best of his knowledge known to any other person, A Certificate of these facts as they appeared to him in 93 And affirmed to before the mayor of Birmingham And In presence of any American who may be at Birmingham and witnessed by by (sic) him, and particularly if he should be a person resident in New York, Boston or Phila would be exceedingly useful to me. Or should any respectable gentleman of Birmingham see Mr. Watt affirm to the certificate and such person be going to London could swear before Mr. Jonathan Russel American Charge des affairs that he knew it to be Mr. Watts handwriting It would render the evidence on the science of steam boats in 93 Legal in our courts and Mr. Russet would transmit the certificate sealed with his official seal to me; Gentlemen, you have known so much of the unblushing piracy of your own Inventions and the importance of evidance to defend such rights, That I shall hope for this most repectable and friendly evidence on the opinion and state of the science of steamboats in 93 which is the year I built my first boat, on the Seine near Paris and established all the powers proportions and velocities of parts which have given complete success to all the boats since built on these principles. hoping for an answer to this letter as soon as possible believe me gentlemen with the greatest esteem and respect your most obedient ROBT. FULTON. The conversation that he mentions as having had with Watt in Paris in 1802 or 1803 cannot have taken place, as Watt was not there in those years. Besides, from the tone of Watt's reference to Fulton in a letter to a third party about this time, it would appear that they had never met. The case was tried at Trenton, N.J. Fulton's party was represented by their friend Thomas A. Emmet; lawyers of equal eminence being on the other side. Great stress was laid on the letter 1 written from Torquay to Lord Stanhope in I793, and capital was made out of the fact that the letter put in by Fulton was a recent copy of it. No one seems to have thought of Fulton's book on Canals, where this correspondence is referred to; that would surely have substantiated his statement. In the end, an injunction against the opposition steamboat company was obtained, and their boats, of which two had been built, were confiscated and destroyed. Hardly had this case been disposed of than opposition arose in another quarter. It appears that Colonel Aaron Ogden, an eminent citizen of New Jersey, in conjunction with Daniel Dod, a well-known engine-builder, had constructed a steamboat called the Sea Horse, with which they intended to establish a ferry service between Elizabethtown, N.J., and New York. The engine of this vessel, by the way, was the first of the walking-beam type, which afterwards became so common, and Dod is usually credited with its introduction. Finding that the Fulton monopoly prevented him carrying out his plan, Colonel Ogden petitioned the New York Legislature to rescind the monopoly. The resolution, to effect this, was lost by one vote only. However, Colonel Ogden, who had been chosen by the Legislature of New Jersey on 29th October 18I2 to succeed Joseph Bloomfield, as Governor, managed to get a law passed by that body on November 3, 1813, granting to himself and Dod the exclusive right to run steamboats on the waters of New Jersey. The Livingston party were at once up in arms, and appealed to the next Legislature in 1814, to repeal the Act. Again the Livingston party were represented by Thomas A. Emmet; while the other party had two equally famous lawyers. The result was that the New Jersey grant was repealed on February 4, 1815. Unfortunately, while this struggle was going on, Chancellor Livingston had died at Clermont, on February 26, 1813, at the age of sixty-seven; and just in the hour of victory Fulton contracted the chill which cut short his career. We must, however, briefly pursue the vicissitudes of the steamboat monopoly. The matter was settled for a time by Colonel Ogden buying from the executors of Livingston and of Fulton the exclusive right to run ferry-boats for ten years on the route between Elizabethtown and New York. He did not enjoy the privilege long before another storm began to gather on the horizon. Thomas Gibbons, a wealthy Southerner, who passed the summers at Elizabethtown, saw the desirability of running steamboats, and started an opposition line with the Bellona and the Stoudinger. By a strange vicissitude of fortune, it was the turn of Colonel Ogden, who had been the bitterest opponent of the steamboat monopoly, now to defend it against Gibbons. The latter was a lawyer and a man of means; as neither party would give way, the suit dragged on till it reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1821 dismissed Gibbons case on technical grounds. Beaten, but not crushed, he instituted a fresh trial. He engaged as his counsel Daniel Webster, the famous jurist, who argued that the monopoly infringed the prerogative of the Federal Government to regulate commerce, and that therefore it was unconstitutional The result of it was that in March I825 the United States Court of Errors, sitting at Albany, decided by a majority of 22 to 9 that no State could grant a monopoly of navigation. The Senate Chamber and gallery were crowded with people anxious to hear the decision of the Court on this momentous case. Thus ended a most oppressive monopoly, at the cost of ruining one at least of the parties. The Boundary dispute, however, still flourished, and it is interesting to note the sequel. In 1829 at the instance of the State of New Jersey, the Supreme Court appointed a Commission, with representatives drawn from both States, to settle the question. They arrived at an agreement whereby New York so far abandoned their previous claims as to fix as the boundary the middle of the Hudson River, of New York Bay, and of the waters between Staten Island and New Jersey, subject to certain claims of jurisdiction over the Bay and the Hudson south of Spuyten Duyvel Creek. This agreement was ratified by both States in 1834. As the meaning of the term " middle " was not clearly defined, it was not long before renewed controversy arose. This was brought to an acute stage when about 1870 the Central Railroad reclaimed land from the Hudson at Communipaw, by filling in. Under their agreement of 1834, New York State claimed jurisdiction over the reclaimed land. The case was taken to the New York Court of Appeal, who decided that the jurisdiction given to New York under that agreement was only for sanitary and police purposes. Finally, in 1888, Commissioners from the two States exactly located the boundary-line in the middle of the channel of the river and bay. Thus was settled a controversy which had lasted for over a hundred years. We must now cast our minds back a little way to the year 1810 which may perhaps be said to have been the heyday of Fulton's mental and commercial activities; for besides the large number of steamboatsl built or projected for various parts of the Union, Fulton meditated nothing less than the introduction of steam navigation throughout the civilised world, so great was his belief in its commercial future. To this end he enlisted in his interest, for exploiting English territory, the services of Mr. J. C. Dyer, a man already favourably known as an inventor. Many years later, after he had settled down to end his days in this country, he, when an octogenarian, told the story of his voyages on the Clermont, and his connection with this enterprise: "I undertook, in 1811, the task of inducing some of the leading engineers and capitalists of London to engage in the construction of steamboats, on Fulton's plan, to run on the Thames and other waters in this country. I had obtained from Mr. Fulton (through a mutual friend) a full description, and the drawings of his inventions and discoveries relating to steam navigation with the result of llis labours in America. But I found it impossible to convince any of them that steamboats could be made to run with safety and profit in the English waters...." ". . . Many of my personal friends urged me strongly not to waste my time and money on so hopeless a task as that of introducing steam navigation into England. Even the great and scientific engineer, John Rennie (father of the present eminent Sir John Rennie), urged me, with parental kindness, to drop all thoughts of bringing these boats into use and this after having Fulton's plans before him, and fully admitting their success in America." In the spring of 1814 Mr. Peter Ewart expressed to Dyer the opinion that "it did not appear likely that they (i.e. steamboats) could ever come into general use in the waters of England," and this in spite of the fact that he knew of Bell's success on the Clyde in 1812. Dyer goes on to say: "In that year (i.e. 1814)I lent Mr. Ewart Fulton's specifications and drawings, which were sent by him to Boulton and Watt, and returned to me about six months after. have reason to believe that that eminent house was led thereby to make further and more exact inquiries concerning the progress of steam navigation in America; for they, as well as several other engineers, commenced building steamboats in 1815 and 1816. Even Bell's success with his vessel the Comet, the centenary of which has just been celebrated, must be attributed in some measure to Fulton. Bell's account of their intercourse is given in a letter 1 he wrote in I824. He came at different times to this country, and stopped with me for some time. He published, soon afterwards, a Treatise on Canal Declining Railways. I have this Book at hand, but you may obtain it by applying to Mr. Taylor, bookseller, London, price 21S. Mr. Fulton published this work in England in 1804 and on his way to France called on me; and also when he returned. He was employed by the American Government to come to England, to take drawings of our cotton and other machinery, which quickened his desires after all the engineering branches; these he took up very quickly. He was also a good painter, and excelled in miniature likenesses. When I wrote to the American Government on the great importance of steam navigation they appointed Mr. Fulton to correspond with me.... " Although, from what has gone before, we know that this is a garbled account, yet it is just what one might expect from a comparatively uneducated man like Bell. We shall not be far wrong in gathering from it that he and Fulton first met in 1804 because that date is corroborated by another account given by Bell in 1816. If so, it must have been at the time that Fulton went to see Symington's Charlotte Dundas. It was a letter of Fulton's, written after he had achieved success with the Clermont, that stirred up Bell. He says: "This letter led me to think of the absurdity of writlng my opinion to other countries and not putting it in practice in my own country; and from these considerations I was roused to set on foot a steamboat for which I made a number of different models before I was satisfied." The story of the difficulties and trials that beset his path is a long one; suffice it to say that five years, almost to a day, elapsed before he succeeded, although on a much smaller scale, in repeating Fulton's achievement James Watt, junior, in 1816 engined an experimental boat, and tried her across the German Ocean and up the Rhine. Thereafter his firm engaged very extensively in the marine engine business. It was not very many years later to be exact, in 1819 that Mr. Rennie had quite changed his mind, and he constantly thereafter urged upon the Admiralty the value of steam-tugs in towing men-of-war. Thus were the tables completely turned. It will not be difficult for the engineering reader with the aid of the drawings attached to Fulton's patents to trace the evolution of the side-lever engine from his first engine of 1804; and we can, therefore, with every confidence, attribute the germ of this design to him, and thus give the credit where it is deserved. After England, Russia appears to have had an attraction for Fulton as a field for enterprise. He wrote, in November 1811 to John Quincy Adams, then American Ambassador in Russia, to ask him to obtain an exclusive right for twenty years for a steamboat-service between St. Petersburg and Cronstadt, to be established in three years after obtainmg the grant. A Russian gentleman, Chevalier Swinine, wrote to Fulton a very significant letter, offering his services. How he had got wind of the affair does not appear, but an extract from his letter 1 will be of interest: "Doubtless, Sir, it is known to you that for several months past I have been taken up with your admirable invention of the steam boat, dedicating all my knowledge for its introduction in Russia. As you have received the Imperial permission for this introduction, I offer you, Sir, my services which I flatter myself may be of great utility. Certainly it will be necessary for you to have the plan of the River Neva and of the channel from St. Petersbourg to Cronstadt to have the clearest information of the value of materials necessary for the construction of the steamboat, the description of other communications by water in Russia." His conditions were that he should have the title " Superintendent of the Steamboats of Russia "; and, of course, that he should have an annual salary. The principal point to observe is that Fulton had received the Imperial permission to introduce steamboats. Naturally he wanted a good deal more than this, and on April 12 1812 he wrote to the Chevalier, saying, that he must wait for Mr. Adams's answer, for until then he could not decide what to do. We know that a steamboat, the Emperor of Russia, was on the stocks at the time of Fulton s death, and it has been suggested that it was built for the service under consideration, but as there were no means of getting it to Russia, this could not have been the case; the name must have been given merely as a compliment, but it goes to show that there was something below the surface. As a matter of fact, the first experiments on the Neva were made in November 1815 by Charles Baird, Superintendent of the Mines, with a barge which had been rebuilt for the purpose, and fitted with an engine of the side-lever type and an externally fired boiler having a brick chimney. These experiments were successful, and in 1817 Baird built a vessel 60 feet long especially for steam propulsion and with her established a passenger service between St. Petersburg and Cronstadt. This engine was almost identical with that shown on Sheet 2 of Fulton's second specification 2 and if the design was not obtained from him then all that can be said is that the coincidence is very remarkable. The boiler, too, was just the kind that Fulton was in the habit of fitting. Some day the true relation to one another of these significant facts will be made plain. We do know that Baird had a monopoly of steam navigation on the Neva for twenty years and thereout drew no small return. Then again India seems to have had a fascination for Fulton, attracted no doubt by the size of her rivers and the teeming population on their banks. He entered into an agreement with a certain Thomas Law l to introduce steamboats on the Ganges. In a letter 2 to him dated April 16,18I2 Fulton says: "I agree to make the Ganges enterprise a joint concern. You will please to send me a plan how you mean to proceed to secure a grant for 20 years and find funds to establish the first boat. This work is so honorable and important. It is so grand an Idea that Americans should establish steam vessels to work in India that it requires vigor, activity, exertion, industry, attention, and that no time should be lost. My Paragon beats everything on the globe for made as you and I are, we cannot tell what is in the moon; this Day she came in from Albany I60 miles in 26 hours, wind ahead." The letter finished with the words "Keep the Ganges Secret." Here again, sad to relate, some hitch occurred, whether due to Fulton's death or not we do not know, and no steamboat was seen in India till eight years later when it was introduced from England.
Back to Table of Contents