Page images
PDF
EPUB

sive right to navigate all its waters by boats propelled in any way by steam for a period of fourteen years. New York passed a similar act on March 19 of the same year; Pennsylvania gave him identical privileges on March 28, and Virginia took like action on November 7. Each commonwealth bestowed on him a monopoly of steam navigation within its limits for a period of years, as New Jersey had previously done; but two of the states also took certain action that was, in the future, to have far reaching and long continued effect on the history of steam transportation in America. Virginia included in her law a proviso that Fitch must have "boats" — obviously meaning more than one -- in operation on the waters of the state within a period of three years, and New York ordered that if any other man usurped the rights granted, such interloper was to forfeit £100 to Fitch and suffer the confiscation of his boat and engine by the original inventor. The stipulation made by Virginia was thought to be of especial value to the company, for as that state had long claimed sovereignty over much of the territory extending to the Mississippi River, a compliance with it meant, in the estimation of the company, that Fitch and his associates would enjoy a monopoly of steam transportation on the Ohio, upper Mississippi and other interior streams.

The action of Delaware and the other states elated the company and stirred it to renewed activity. Success and wealth seemed assured. More money was subscribed, and Fitch and his assistant again began work in the production of a larger boat and an engine with a twelve-inch cylinder. Again they were balked in their efforts to produce a smooth-working mechanism. The task was a hard one. They were hampered by a lack of knowledge of the relationships and proportions which cylinder, condenser, boiler, pump and other parts of a steam-engine should bear to one another. They were building out of nothing, and could learn only by experience and repeated failure. No sooner did they have one part of the contrivance perfect than something else failed. In May of 1787 the whole engine was taken down and rebuilt at heavy cost, and once more the company became so discouraged that some of its members abandoned the enterprise altogether. But Fitch remained stubborn in his resolution to go on, wrote a long address to the public in which he elaborately reviewed his invention, reaffirmed his certainty in its value, pointed out its advantages in opening the country to white settlement, and used the words: “The Grand and Principle object must be on the Atlantick; which would soon overspread the wild forests of America with people, and make us the most oppulent Empire on Earth. . . . Pardon me, generous public, for suggesting ideas that cannot be dijested at this day."

1 A new agreement was drawn up on February 9, 1787, which Westcott found in the American Philosophical Society archives when preparing his biography.

CHAPTER XV

FITCH'S SECOND BOAT CONTEMPORARY ACCOUNTS OF IT

THE THIRD VESSEL FIRST REGULARLY OPERATED STEAMBOAT IN THE WORLD — IT IS RUN ON THE DELAWARE FOR SEVERAL MONTHS MORE CONTEMPORARY STATEMENTS DISASTER THE INVENTOR IS CALLED A MADMAN PERSISTS “FOR THE BENEFIT OF OUR EMPIRE”.

GOES TO FRANCE AND LEAVES HIS PLANS THERE RETIRES TO THE KENTUCKY WILDERNESS AND MAKES A STRANGE WHEELED ENGINE DESPAIR DEATH

F"
ITCH’S persistence once more had its way. His

associates found additional funds, the second boat was completed, and on August 22, 1787, it was operated under its own power on the Delaware River in the presence of many people, including most of the members of the Constitutional Convention then sitting in Philadelphia. Still there was no general recognition of one of the most important events that had taken place since Columbus discovered the western world. The few current references to Fitch's work are short, and lacking in comprehension of the effect the invention was destined to have on man's progress. He himself seems to have been the only individual rightly to measure what he was doing. One of the contemporary mentions of the test of August 22nd occurs in a day-book kept by the Reverend Ezra Stiles, of New Haven, who under date of August 27 made in his diary the following entry:

"Judge Ellsworth, a member of the Federal Convention, just returned from Philadelphia, visited me, and tells me the Convention will not rise under three weeks. He there saw a Steam-engine for rowing boats against the stream, invented by Mr. Fitch, of Windsor, in Connecticut. He was on board the boat, and saw the experiment succeed.”

Another mention of the boat made at about the same time was contained in a written statement by David Rittenhouse, an early American scientist, who said under date of December 12, 1787:

"These may certify that the subscriber has frequently seen Mr. Fitch's steamboat, which with great labour and perseverance he has at iength compleated, and has likewise been on board when the boat was worked against both wind and tide, with a very considerable degree of velocity by the force of steam only. Mr. Fitch's merit in constructing a good steam engine, and applying it to so useful a purpose, will no doubt meet with the encouragement he so justly deserves from the generousity of his countrymen ; especially those who wish to promote every improvement of the useful arts in America.”

At about this time the inventor became involved in a controversy with James Rumsey, of Virginia, who had previously invented a boat in which the setting poles whereby it was propelled were to be operated through a system of mechanical cranks operated by wheels and hand power. Rumsey apparently found that such a device was not of value for he soon turned to the use of steam, and at first devised a boat based somewhat on a previous idea of Doctor Franklin, who had suggested that a forward movement might be obtained by forcibly ejecting a stream of water from the stern of the craft. Rumsey found many supporters among prominent men, and an association

1 Westcott's “Life of John Fitch."

? Fitch was an anti-Federalist, and his political, social and religious beliefs brought upon him the dislike of many who held contrary views. It was a time wherein personal idiosyncrasies were peculiarly potent in fixing the estimate in which a man was held by his fellow citizens. Men were often opposed in some projects because their opinions on irrelevant matters were not endorsed. Fitch encountered such opposition.

Constructed by John Fitch, and finished April 16th, 1798. Cylinder eighteen inches in diameter, speed eight miles per hour in smooth water. The following year this boat was run to Burlington regularly as a passenger boat.

THE FIRST STEAMBUAT EVER BUILT TO CARRY PASSENGERS.

68.—A later picture of Fitch's third boat. No contemporary illustration is known. First steamboat and first steam vehicle of

any sort employed in the business of transportation. It made a trial trip of 20 miles in 1788, and in 1790 ran more than 1,000 miles on the Delaware River in accordance with advertisements printed in the Philadelphia newspapers. The date on the reproduced engraving is an error.

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »