Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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August 17th
Fulton’s Folly
In 1787 young Robert Fulton of Pennsylvania traveled to London to study painting. The Industrial Revolution was beginning in Britain, as well as a revolution in transportation, so the American heard much excited talk of steam engines and canals. Fulton had an inventive mind – as a boy, he had made skyrockets and designed a hand-turned paddle wheel for a rowboat. In England he  decided to put aside painting and try his hand at scientific pursuits.

He invented a machine for making rope, and another for dredging canal channels. Then he built a submarine called the Nautilus, which could dive 25 feet underwater, and tried to sell it to Napoleon. The conqueror said no, but Fulton met Robert Livingston, the American ambassador to France, and the two men built a steamboat that chugged up and down the Seine River in Paris.

Returning to the United States, Fulton determined to build a 130-foot steam-powered paddleboat on the Hudson River. On August 17, 1807, a crowd gathered on the riverbank to watch him launch the “boat driven by a tea kettle” on its maiden voyage from New York City to Albany. Most called it “Fulton’s folly” and predicted it would explode. “There were not, perhaps, thirty persons in the city who believed that the boat would ever move one mile per hour,” Fulton wrote.

He lit the boiler, and the vessel went puffing up the river at the astounding speed of four miles per hour while people lined the banks to cheer. The famous boat came to be known as the Clermont after the Hudson River estate of Fulton’s partner, Robert Livingston.

Robert Fulton did not invent the steamboat. But his Clermont, the first commercially successful paddle steamer, ushered in a new age in transportation. Soon steamers were carrying passengers and freight on rivers throughout the growing country.

American History Parade
1969
Hurricane Camille slams the Gulf Coast, killing approximately 250 people.

1978
Ben Abruzzo, Maxie Anderson, and Larry Newman of Albuquerque, New Mexico, become the first to successfully cross the Atlantic in a balloon when they land the Double Eagle II near Paris, 137 hours after leaving Maine.

2008
In Beijing, swimmer Michael Phelps becomes the first athlete to win eight gold medals in a single Olympics.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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