See biographies by B. Richnak (1984) and C. O. Philip (1985).
(born Nov. 14, 1765, Lancaster county, Pa., U.S.—died Feb. 24, 1815, New York, N.Y.) U.S. inventor and engineer. Born to Irish immigrant parents, he studied painting with Benjamin West in London but soon turned to engineering. After designing a system of inland waterways, he tried unsuccessfully to interest the French and British governments in his prototypes of submarines (see
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Robert Fulton (November 14, 1765 – February 24, 1815) was a U.S. engineer and inventor who is widely credited with developing the first commercially successful steamboat. He also designed a new type of steam warship. In 1800 he was commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte to design Nautilus, which was the first practical submarine in history.
Robert grew up in a 2-story, small, solid gray stone house. When he came of age, Fulton went to England in 1786 to study painting. There he met James Rumsey who sat for a portrait in the studio of Benjamin West, where Fulton was apprenticing. Rumsey was an inventor from Virginia who ran his first steam boat in Shepherdstown, (now West) Virginia in 1786 and repeated his attempt on December 3, 1787. As early as 1793 Fulton proposed plans for steam vessels to both the United States and the British Governments, and in England he met the Duke of Bridgewater, whose canal would shortly be used for trials of a steam tug, and who later ordered steam tugs from William Symington. Symington had successfully tried steamboats in 1788, and it seems probable that Fulton would have been well aware of these developments.
In that year he met Robert Livingston, United States Ambassador (whose niece Harriet Livingston he married, they had four children; Robert, Julia, Mary, and Cornelia), and they decided to build a steamboat to try out on the Seine. Fulton experimented with the water resistance of hull shapes, made drawings and models and had a steamboat constructed. At the first trial it sank, but the hull was rebuilt and strengthened, and on August 9, 1803, this boat steamed up the River Seine. The boat was long, beam and made between 3–4 mph (5–6 km/h) against the current.
A wide number of places are named for Robert Fulton, including (but not limited to):