Robert Fulton: Biography, Facts & Inventions

Instructor: Tamara Dean
Many pioneers paved the way for Robert Fulton to create some of the most important inventions in the world of transportation. Read on to discover more about Fulton, his life and his ideas.

Robert Fulton the Person

Robert Fulton was born to Robert Fulton and Mary Smith in Pennsylvania on November 14, 1765. In his early childhood, Fulton was known for experimenting with mechanical things so much so that he earned the nickname 'Quicksilver Bob'. Some of his early projects included rockets, paddle wheels, rockets and even guns.

As Fulton got older, he developed an interest in painting and even traveled to London to study under a painter known as Benjamin West. He made a living selling portraits, landscapes, and other architectural blueprints that he created, and he eventually earned enough money to purchase a small farm for his family in Pennsylvania. Time would reveal Fulton's painting career to be futile. So he began to look back to his first love -- engineering.

Robert Fulton Pic #2

Robert Fulton the Innovator

Robert Fulton became very interested in the different engineering inventions that were going on during the Industrial Revolution. His interest was centered around canals. In 1794, Fulton was credited with his first invention, which was a double inclined plane system for carrying canal boats over rough terrain.

While residing in Europe in the late 1790s, Fulton designed and built a submarine named the Nautilus, which was used in the war against Britain and France. It was because of the Nautilus that submarines became very popular later.

Inventing the Steamboat Engine

One of the most notable contributions of Robert Fulton was the steamboat engine. His design of the steamboat engine was more efficient than the engines that came before it. During a time when the country was moving from an agrarian society to one based on industry, Fulton's steam engine definitely added value to the transportation market.

People preferred river travel at the time because it was quicker and more comfortable than traveling on bumpy roads. However, there were two disadvantages to river travel. First, most of the rivers flowed in a north to south direction, which created a problem because most people and goods were headed east to west. Second, before steam powered boats came along, traveling upstream was extremely cumbersome and slow.

Other steam engines had been invented and put to use in the late 1700's; however, these earlier engines did not have enough power to move through the strong currents and windy climate found in large rivers.

Clermont #1

Robert Fulton was hired to develop a steamboat with a powerful engine that could carry cargo and passengers up the Hudson River. In 1807, Fulton designed a new steamboat called the Clermont.

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