|Projects for Marine Propulsion, Studies the
English canal system digging machine, Patent for inclined plane, Writes on
WHATEVER Fulton's reason was for giving up the profession of art, he seems to have come to the Vow decision quickly, and that too while he was in Devonshire. Apparently one of the first things that he put his hand to was a design for a " mill for sawing marble or other stone," which was set to work near Torbay, Devon. In 1794, when he was back in London again, he sent a model of this mill to the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Commerce, and Manufactures, who awarded him their silver medal for his ingenuity. The model was in existence in the Society's Repository as late as I8I3, but it has since been lost sight of so that we are unable to say in what the improvement consisted. We turn now to Fulton's connection with systems of canal construction and with the problem of moving vessels by means of steam-power both of them destined to have far-reaching influence on his own career, and one of them on the course of the world's history. Fulton's thoughts were drawn to the first of these questions by " perusing a paper descriptive of a canal projected by the Earl of Stanhope in I793." 1 This canal was one intended to join the Bristol and the English Channels, passing from Bude Haven through the hilly district about Hatherleigh and touching Holsworthy, the lord of the manor of which was Lord Stanhope himself. The difference of levels was upwards of 500 feet, and water was scarce. While staying at Torquay, Fulton wrote to his Lordship a letter, dated September 30, 1793, enclosing a sketch of a scheme for doing away with the necessity for locks and minimising the loss of water; it was to consist of a preponderating cistern of water to draw the canal boat up an inclined plane from one level to another. He also informed his Lordship that he had a project for moving ships by steam. We need not necessarily suppose that Fulton had already made the acquaintance of Lord Stanhope, although it is quite likely that they had met in West's studio. In any case it could hardly be considered presumption on Fulton's part, because the great interest that the Earl took in all that related to mechanical and physical science was well known; in fact, he was an inventor of a high order himself: the Stanhope levers in printing presses and the Stanhope lens in optics may be quoted as examples of his genius. Just at the moment he was interesting himself in navigation by steam. He replied to Fulton's communication in a courteous letter, dated Holsworthy, October 7, 1793, informing him that his idea of the inclined plane was the same as described by Mr. Edmund Leech about sixteen years earlier. Then, for the first time, Fulton " discovered that the idea of a preponderating body of water was by no means new." His Lordship, however, expressed a wish to receive the ideas on steam-boats, saying: " it is a subject on which I have made important discoveries." The " discoveries " referred to were really a revival of a proposal that had been made by Genevois of Berne in 1759, and are embodied in two patents (Nos. 1732 and 1771) taken out by Lord Stanhope in 1790 for a double-ended vessel which was to be driven by a propeller operating like the foot of an aquatic bird; this was to work through a trunk in line with the keel and be operated by a steamengine. Experiments with models had proved successful, and Lord Stanhope had succeeded in 1792 in obtaining the assistance of the Navy Board to further his schemes. A vessel of 200 tons burden was under construction in Deptford Dockyard (Gent. Mag., 1792, i. 956), the cost of which was to be reimbursed by Lord Stanhope should it prove unsuccessful. Fulton's reply was as follows: MY LORD, I extremely regret not having received your Lordship's letter in time to have the pleasure of an interview at Exeter as a Mechanical conversation with your I ordship would have been infinately interesting to a young man. To atone for such loss and conform with your Lordship's wish I have made some slight drawings descriptive of my Ideas on the Subject of the steamship which I submit with diffidence to your Lordship. In June '93 I began the experiments on the steamship; my first design was to imitate the spring in the tail of a Salmon: for this purpose I supposed a large bow to be wound up by the steamengine and the collected force attached to the end of a paddle as in No I to be let off which would urge the vessel forward. This model I have had made of which No. I is the exact representation and I found it to spring forward in proportion to the strength of the bow, about 20 yards, but by the return of the paddle the continuity of the motion would be stoped. I then endeavoured to give it a circular motion which I effected by applying two paddles on an axis, then the boat moved by jerks. There was too great a space between the strokes; I then applied three paddles forming an equilateral triangle to which I gave a circular motion by winding up the bow. I then found it to move in a gradual and even motion loo yards with the same bow which before drove it but 20 yards. No. 2 is the figure of my present model in which there are two equilateral triangles, one on each side of the boat acting on the same shaft which crosses the Boat or Ship and turns with the triangles; this, my Lord, is the line of experiment which led me to the triangular paddles which at first sight will convey the Idea of a wheel of perpendicular oars which are no longer in the water than they are doing execution. I have found by repeated experiment that three or six answer better than any other number as they do not counteract each other. By being hung a little above the water it allows a short space from the delivery of one to the entrance of the other; it likewise enters the water more on a perpendicular as the doted lines will shew its situation when it enters and when it is covered the circular dots exhibit its passage through the water. Your Lordship will please to observe in the small wheel with a number of paddles A. B. C. and D. strike almost flat in the water and rise in the same situation whilst E. is the only one that pulls, the others act against it which renders the purchase fruitless; while E. is urging the Ship forwards B. A. is pressing her into the water, and C. D. is pulling her out: but remove all the paddles except E. and she moves on in a direct line. The perpendicular triangular Paddles are supposed to be placed in a cast Iron wheel which should over hang above the water it will answer as a fly and brace to the perpendicular oars. This Boat I have repeatedly let go and ever found her to move in a steady direction in proportion to the original purchase. With regard to the formation of ships moved by steam I have been of opinion that they should be long, narrow and flat at bottom, with a broad keel, as a flat Vessel will not occupy so much space in the water; it consequently has not so much resistance. A letter containing your Lordship's opinion of this mode of gaining a purchase on the water and directed for me at the post office, Exeter, will much oblige your Lordship's most obedient and Very humble servant, ROBERT FULTON. TORQUAY, November 4th, 1793 THE RIGHT HONORABLE THE EARL OF STANHOPE. This letter is interesting not only as showing the date June 1793 at which Fulton began his consideration of the problem of moving vessels by mechanical means, but also because of the insight it gives into the careful and methodical methods of experimenting which were characteristic of him. From their elementary character, it seems obvious that Fulton did not know anything about the work on this subject that had been done previously. To us at the present day this is an advantage, for it affords an interesting and unique insight into the progress of an invention from its birth in the brain of the inventor right up to the time of its maturity. We can easily imagine that Lord Stanhope was disappointed, if indeed he had expected any assistance no wonder that he still adhered to his duck-foot propeller! The experiments with his vessel, which he named the " Ambi-Navigator Kent," fitted with an engine of 12 H.P. supplied by Messrs. Boulton &; Watt of Birmingham, were prosecuted in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe, in 1795, but no greater speed than three miles per hour was attained. We can conjecture that Lord Stanhope told Fulton that the problem of moving vessels mechanically had got far beyond the stage shown by the latter's sketches. At any rate Fulton dropped the subject for the time being to devote himself to the study of canal engineering. The most likely reason why he decided to do so was because canal construction in England was then in its heyday. The opposition and distrust that were encountered when Brindley was constructing the Duke of Bridgewater's Canal in 1767, the Grand Trunk Canal in 1772, and other later canals, had given place, owing to the financial results achieved, to the wildest speculation. The premium on shares in existing canals was as much as 1000 per cent., and, in consequence, numberless worthless schemes were launched upon a gullible public. " In the course of the four years ending in 1794, not fewer than eightyone Canal and Navigation Acts were obtained; of these, forty-five were passed in the two latter years, authorising the expenditure of not less than 5,300,000 pounds. In passing, it is interesting to note how closely history repeated itself half a century later in the case of railways. It is somewhat strange that, in his letters home, Fulton did not mention a word about his canal projects. One letter written just at this time2 to his brother-in-law shows Fulton rather in the light of a keen student of foreign affairs and a strong friend of republican institutions. This portion of the letter is as follows: "Since I Last heared from you I have been much troubled by the Repeated Accounts in the London papers of the Inroads of the Indians on the Frontiers. I Sincerely hope this has not Been in your Nighbourhood So as to Interrupt the Progress of improvement in the Rising town of Washington. As to Europe it is all in alarm, the united efforts of England, Prusia, Spain, Holland, Germany, Rushia and all the Allied Powers have not been Able as Yet to Mount Another King on the Back of the French Nation. It is almost incredebl with what Vigor the French meet their enemies while Live the Republzc zs the Constant Song; and Lzberty or death their Motto. Thus determined to Establish Republickism they have at this moment five hundred thousand Men under Arms Ready for the ensuing Campaign. "The Allies Seeing so much unshaken firmness Ready to meet them begin to dispair of King making. And think it time to Look to their own Safety, As the discontended enumrate fast in all the Belligerent States, the People Contemplate the Nature of a Republic, And the more they think the more they admire it. When a Revolution once takes place in the mind it will Soon make its t Smiles, appearence externely, And I Can assure you there Are numbers who do not hesitate to Say that Monarchial Governments are going out of Fashion. Things being thus situated it is the Report of the day that the King of Prussia, has withdrawn from the alliance. The Empres of Rushia, has Certainly found work at home with the turks And thus the french Are eased of two powerful adversaries how things will terminate god only knows, But as far as Man Can penetrate into events it is believe(d) the French will prove Sucesful and establish a Republic the Natural Consequence will be Republicks throughout Europe, In time, It has Been much Agited here Whether the Americans would join the French But I Believe every Cool friend to America Could wish them to Remain nuter. The americens have not troubelsome neighbours they are without foriegn Possessions, and do not want the alliance of any Nation for this Reason they have nothing to do with foriegn Politics, And the Art of Peace Should be the Study of every young american which I most sincerely hope they will mantain." Fulton advocated canals of small size partly because of cheapness in construction, but also to facilitate speed of transport with light loads. To overcome differences of levels, especially where water was scarce, he proposed to do away with locks and substitute either inclined planes along which the boats might be drawn on rails or else vertical lifts or hoists. The inclined plane was not new; indeed it is supposed to have been in use'for canals in China a thousand years ago; in its simplest form it is to be seen at many of the locks on the upper Thames. Nor was the idea new to England, for William Reynolds, of Ketley Ironworks, had in 1792 constructed several inclined planes on the Shropshire Canal. For his improvements Fulton took out his one and dnly English patent (No. 1988); it is dated May 8, 1794, and was sealed on the 3rd of June following. In it he CANAL describes himself as " late of the City of Exeter, but now of the City of London, Gentleman." The title of the invention is " A machine or Engine for conveying Boats and Vessels and their Cargoes to and from the different levels in and upon Canals, without the Assistance of Locks or the other Means now known and used for that purpose." The Specification runs to six printed pages, and is accompanied by a coloured drawing (reproduced herewith). An inclined plane of any angle between 20 degrees and 90 degrees was to be used; it was to have rails on which were to run "cisterns" each capable of carrying one wheeled boat, which was to be drawn on to it by inclines as seen in Figs. 4 and 5, 12 and 13. One cistern was to balance the other (see Figs. 1 and 2) the direction of motion to be determined by letting water by suitable means, if necessary, into the topmost cistern. If the lift were perpendicular a tunnel or level with a vertical shaft would be necessary as in Fig. 3. The plan of this is shown in Fig. S and of the cisterns in Fig. 10. For checking the speed of descent of the cistern, a friction brake (see Fig. 11) was to be used. It is difficult even for a trained mind to see in this specification anything more than a crude idea, ill digested; better methods, worked out in a more practical manner, were already in use. The preparation of the specification and drawing must have occupied him some considerable time. The expenses of obtaining a patent in those days amounted to z100 or more, and, as we shall see subsequently, Fulton disposed of a sixteenth share, probably to assist in meeting this outlay. For the next five or six years, problems of canal construction occupied Fulton's attention almost exclusively. He himself says I passed three years at various ca tals in England, to obtain practical knowledge on the manner of constructing them, and to make myself familiar with their advantages, and was well acquainted with some of the best engineers." It was natural that, in prosecuting these inquiries, Fulton should direct his steps to the scene of Brindley's first triumphs; accordingly it is not surprising to find him shortly after in Manchester, whence he wrote the following letter to Messrs. Boulton and Watt: MANCHESTER, November 4th, 1794. GENTLEMEN, I shall esteem it a favour to be informed of the Expences of a Steam Engine with a Rotative movement of the purchase of 3 or 4 horses which is designed to be placed in a Boat. You will will [stc] be so good as to mention what sized boat it would occupy, as I wish to have it in as little Space as Possible and what you concive will be the Expence when finished compleat in the Boat. Whether you have one ready of the dimentions specified or how soon one might be finished. With the Weight of Coals which it will Consume in 12 hours and what Quantity of purchase you allow to Each horse as I am anxious to apply some Engines of the above dimentions as soon as Possible. Your Emediate Answer will much oblige Your most obedient and very humble Servant, ROBT. FULTON. BRIDGEWATER ARMS MANCHESTER There is an amount of unconscious assurance about this letter that is refreshing. The writer wants a business firm to quote for an engine of special design to fit a boat which he also wants designed for him; he wants to know also what to expect from the engine when he has got it, and what it would cost to install and operate it ! This was too large an order, and the firm did not send any reply at least there is no record of one. They were too busy with the remunerative work of stationary engine building under their patent monopoly to trouble with speculative business. It is interesting to note, however, that this letter gives the first indication that Fulton had realised the importance of keeping down the space and displacement needed by a steam engine when used in a boat for propulsion. What the occasion of writing was we do not know, but experiments had been made about this time by a certain John Smith with a paddle-wheel boat worked by an atmospheric beam engine on the Bridgewater Canal between Runcorn and Manchester.l A speed of two miles per hour only was attained. A man like Fulton, with a grasp of general principles, would easily see the defects of such an engine for the purpose, and the idea of employing Watt's patent engine might easily occur to him. Although the letter is dated from an inn, Fulton was at the time living in a boarding-house at 8 Brazennose Street, Manchester. One of his fellow-boarders there was Robert Owen, just then managing some cotton mills in Manchester, but afterwards owner of the cotton mills at New Lanark, Scotland, where he carried out among his workpeople his celebrated schemes of social reform. The young men were nearly of the same age, and not dissimilar in tastes; no wonder, then, that they should be mutually attracted. Just as on previous occasions in Philadelphia and London, Fulton's personal gifts had stood him in good stead, so now, in the same way, he made the acquaintance of many cultured people; "while . . . forming one of a circle of inquiring friends who very frequently met, he was considered a valuable addition. The late Dr. John Dalton was one of this circle, and Coleridge came occasionally from his college during vacations to join us." s Dalton was just about Fulton's own age, and was then carrying out the chemical experiments which led to his enunciation of the Atomic Theory. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was seven years Fulton's junior. Fulton had now almost exhausted his resources. In his extremity he confided to Owen,l that, in prosecuting an invention which had occurred to him, for more expeditiously and cheaply digging or raising earth in forming canals . . . he had expended all his funds, and he knew not, except by disposing of part of the interest in his patent, how to obtain more, for all his means and credit were exhausted. He said there was a canal to be constructed near Gloucester, and if I [i.e. Robert Owen] could supply him with funds to go there and see the Commissioners appointed to carry it into execution, he might perhaps succeed in obtaining a contract for digging a portion of it, and might then bring his new patent into notice and profitable action, and he would give me half of the interest in the invention." Although Owen considered the success of this venture to be "very problematical," he eventually supplied Fulton with funds with which to go to Gloucester. The canal was the Gloucester and Berkeley Ship Canal, 160 miles long, the Act for which was obtained in 1793; work was commenced in 1794, but, owing to long delays due to insufficient capital, the canal was not opened for traffic till 1827. Owen gives no details of the digging machine; indeed it would appear that it had only just taken shape in the fertile brain of Fulton himself. However, as he communicated particulars of it, together with a sketchy to Lord Stanhope about a year later, when his plan was more mature, we are not in doubt as to his ideas. Owen's first written communication from Fulton, dated November 20, 1794, was "filled with curious calculations respecting his new digging machine." Owen, either convinced of success or his fears of failure overcome, now agreed to finance Fulton and entered into articles of agreement of partnership with him. Owen recites this agreement in full; but, as it occupies 2.5 octavo pages, we will spare our readers by giving only the salient facts. It opens thus: " Minutes of agreement made this seventeenth day of December 1794, between Robert Fulton of the City of London, Engineer of the one part and Robert Owen of Manchester in the county of Lancaster, cotton manufacturer of the other part. "Whereas the said Robert Fulton hath lately invented and obtained His Majesty's Royal Letters Patent for the exclusive exercise for a term of fourteen years of a certain machine for transferring boats and their cargoes to and from higher levels and lower levels in and upon canal navigations, independent of locks, of which machine thirty parts or shares (the whole into thirty-two parts being divided) are now vested in the said Robert Fulton. And also hath invented and shortly intends to make application for letters patent for a certain other machine for removing earth out of canals to the banks thereof, in cases of deep digging, without the use of wheelbarrows, the sole and whole property of which is now vested in the said Robert Fulton. And whereas the said Robert Fulton and Robert Owen have agreed to become co-partners in the said machines and in the exercise thereof at the time and upon the teems hereinafter mentioned.... " The terms, succinctly stated, were, that Owen was to advance immediately z60 towards the digging machine to get it into operation. When either the inclined plane or the digging machine business reached a certain specified success the two were to become copartners equally interested in both inventions. Owen was to advance.z400 to the said copartnership to be repaid out of the first profits. Fulton agreed " from the date hereof and after the commencement of the said copartnership to the end of the same to apply his whole time and exertions in the said business." Fulton now appears to have left Manchester a sociable person such as he would never lack an invitation for the Christmas season for we find that the first letter Owen received from him was dated December 26, 1794. In it he intimated his intention of going to Gloucester about the first of January 1795, gave additional calculations, suggested new improvements in his digging machine, and ended by saying, " I will send you a sketch and description after digesting the subject," and "Please to write to me immediately and let me know how the improvement in the model succeeds." The next paper among Owen's MSS. was an account of a debt owing to a Mr. Thomas Lenning by Fulton, which he requested Owen to pay for him. Then followed a long letter from Fulton "with new calculations and diagrams of more improvements on his former invention," and concluding "When the rhino is gone, I will write to you." The last touch is delightful, and no one can fail to appreciate it. This letter was succeeded by seven more in rapid succession, dated from Gloucester, from the Lath January to the 26th of February 1795, " with new calculations, various sketches of new machines and improvements, and asking for more money." The latter, we may be sure, was needed. The next incident in the intercourse between these two men is perhaps best given in Owen's own words: "He had had a previous unsettled contract with a Mr. McNiven, a canal contractor, to whom he had requested me to send a letter from him to Mr. McNiven, with proposals for a settlement, but WIr. McNiven would not agree to the conditions Mr. Fulton had proposed. I had therefore to write to Mr. Fulton to advise him to come from Gloucester, whence his letters were dated, to Manchester to settle this business, as Mr. McNiven had threatened to adopt strong measures to enforce a settlement. It seems that he then came to Manchester and made new proposals to me, to continue the partnership, or to make my advances to him a debt, which he would repay me with five per cent. interest, and it appears that I preferred and accepted the latter condition. The following is the Memorandum of proposals made by Mr. Fulton, dated 17th March 1795 Memorandum -- Mr. Robert Owen having advanced the sum of 93, 8s. in part towards promoting the two projects of running boats independent of locks and removing earth out of canals it is hereby agreed that the said Robert Owen shall advance to the said Robert Fulton a further sum not exceeding z80, to enable him the said Robert Fulton, to make a fair experiment on the earth removing apparatus; that on finishing such machines, should the said Robert Owen think proper to proceed in the partnership as per contract, he shall be at full liberty so to do. But should a partnership be presented to the said Robert Fulton previous to finishing the said machine, he shall be at liberty to accept of the same on the proposal of the said Robert Owen. And in such case, the said Robert Fulton to pay to the said Robert Owen five per cent per annum, for the monies advanced until the said Robert Fulton shall be enabled to refund the principal. ROBERT FULTON. Fulton's next letter to Owen is dated November 2, 1795, and in it he regrets his inability to pay any part of the debt. He does not mention the digging machine, but it is reasonable to assume that he had expended the further sum advanced by Owen in bringing it to as great perfection as the apparatus admitted of. We hear no more about it till early in the following year, when, in a letters to Earl Stanhope, he describes it fully and illustrates it by a sketch (see next page). This letter contains, we may suppose, Fulton's final ideas on the subject, and is such a good example of his lucid style that we give it in full: LONDON,Jan. 6th, 1796. MY LORD, The enclosed is some thoughts on an engine to Ajust in Cutting Canals; the Idea is to have a Cutter which will take up a furrow of Earth about 4 inches Square Which in the first drawing it pushes into a Segment of a Circle About one foot from the Ground, And a movement being taken from the Axel of the Hind wheels, which puts the Flies in motion, they by tAge Velocity whzch they acfzwtre are to Stroke the earth out of the Segment or Stage on the Bank of the CanaZ. Each fly is Calculated to Strike off about half a pound at a time, And the distance which the Earth will move through will be in proportion to the force with which it is Struck. Possibly it may be necessary as in the Second Figure to Raise the earth by endless scrapers, to some heighth on the machine, that it may be struck to the proper distance with the greater Ease, while Figure 3 shows that Such Machine may Cut into the Corners and give the proper Slope. This being the principle the Question is whether it will answer any good purpose which I Conceive it will on the following Considerations. First that as it takes a small Quantity at a time it will work any place where you Could Plough; then if the force of the flies are equal to strike of the earth the Quantity which one man and 4 horses would deliver per day would stand thus: Supposing a horse to Walk 15 miles per day every 81 lenial yds would be one Cube, 21 Cube yards per Mile in I5 miles 310 yards: Expense 4 horses 16 man 4 wear of machine 2 ----- 22 or 264 pence This is not one Penny per Cube Yard, Which in all Cases that I know would be 3d. But if Such a machine or Any other Can be made to Answer, it will Give further advantages by expedition and Set one independent in a great measure of Canal diggers. But in America where Manual Labour is of So much Importance Something to Assist In Cutting would be a most material improvement. Therefore as I am anxious for some such Machine your Lordship will oblige me by an opinion on these thoughts. And as I am convinced a Machine may be made which may be Very useful your Lordship be so good as to throw some hints Into the Scale, and you will oblige Your Lordship's most sincere ROBT. FULTON P.S. In America many of our Lines will be through forests, and full of huge Stumps, hence the following will be a Capital mode of Drawing them out of the ground, and out of the way: A small Capstain built on a sledge which a horse may draw any place on a pair of 6 or 8 Round blocks. Being fixed to two stumps and the horse Set in motion the weakest stump must give Way And if the Machine is fixed to a tree on or near the Canal bank the stump may be Drawn out of the Line of Canal. Thus every little helps. Please to direct to No. 3 Frith Street, Soho. A brief consideration of the sketch and the calculations will show that the digging machine was a crude and impracticable apparatus. The power for cutting the earth was to be obtained through the axle of the machine from the four horses employed in dragging it. The number of cuts works out on Fulton's figures (assuming that a cubic yard weighs I ton) at 28 per lineal yard traversed. At this rate the velocity of the flies would be so great that they would deal a shattering blow instead of the slow motion necessary with a shovel. Nevertheless this is the first attempt we have met with to solve the problem of mechanical excavation, the solution of which in our own time has made practicable such an engineering feat as the construction of the Panama Canal. Fulton must have realised that his machine was a failure, because he neither proceeded to a patent (that might have been, of course, from lack of funds), nor does he mention the machine in the book he was now occupied in writing his Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation. This was Fulton's first appearance as an author. In order to " boom " his book, as we should now term it, Fulton wrote a signed article on " Small Canals," which was published in the Star newspaper July 30, 1795, in which he announced the forthcoming publication. His idea was, of course, to bring his system of Small Canals, wheeled boats, and inclined planes before the public; but the book was not confined to this alone, as it includes designs for aqueducts and bridges, engraved on copper from drawings made with his own hand. None of these designs are from actual practice, as has been asserted and as might be inferred from his styling himself on the title page " Civil Engineer." Although the title was at that time assumed rather loosely civil engineering not being a definite profession yet Fulton had no right to use it, for he had not been in practice, nor had he assisted in carrying out any engineering works. The dedication of the book is dated March 1, 1796; it was published by J. Taylor, from whom it is not unreasonable to suppose that Fulton received enough to put him in funds again for the time being. The work was replied to by William Chapman l in the following year in his Observations on the Various Systems of Canal Navigation, 1797, 4to, wherein he pointed out how old a device the inclined plane was, and also how unsuitable the small canal was to a country like England, where population was so dense.
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