Robert Fulton Partners with Robert LivingstonDesign ideas for the steamboat had seldom been out of Robert Fulton's mind, but lack of funds and his work on submarines prevented him from acting seriously upon it. In 1801, however, Robert Livingston came to France as American Minister where Robert Fulton was then living. Robert Livingston had already made some unsuccessful experiments with steamboats in the United States, and, in 1798, had received the monopoly of steam navigation on the rivers of New York for twenty years, provided that he produced a steam-powered vessel within twelve months able to travel four miles an hour. This grant had expired, but it was still renewable.
Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston met and, in 1802, drew up an agreement to construct a steamboat to ply a route between New York and Albany. Livingston agreed to advance five hundred dollars for experimentation. Robert Fulton built a model and tested different means of propulsion, giving "the preference to a wheel on each side of the model." The boat was built on the Seine, but proved too frail for the borrowed engine. A second boat was tried in August, 1803, and moved at a disappointingly slow rate of speed.
Robert Fulton then ordered a steam engine from Boulton and Watt. The order was at first refused, as the British Government held an embargo on the exportation of mechanical goods. Permission to export was given the next year, however, and the steam engine was shipped in 1805 to Robert Fulton's new workshop in the United States. It was delayed for some time in the New York Customs House. Meanwhile Robert Fulton studied a James Watt engine on the steamboat, the Charlotte Dundas, and Robert Livingston had been granted a renewal of his monopoly of the rivers of New York.
Construction of the ClermontRobert Fulton arrived at New York in 1806 and began the construction of the Clermont, named after Robert Livingston's estate on the Hudson river. The building was done on the East River in New York City. The boat was the butt of jokes of passersby, who nicknamed it "Fulton's Folly."
The LaunchOn Monday, August 17, 1807, the memorable first voyage of the Clermont was begun. Carrying a party of invited guests, the Clermont steamed off at one o'clock. Past the towns and villages along the Hudson river, the boat moved steadily, black smoke rolling from her stack. Pine wood was the fuel. During the night, the sparks pouring from her funnel, the clanking of her machinery, and the splashing of the paddles frightened the animals in the woods and the occupants of the scattered houses along the banks. At one o'clock Tuesday the boat arrived at Clermont, 110 miles from New York City. After spending the night at Clermont, the voyage was resumed on Wednesday. Albany, forty miles away, was reached in eight hours, making a record of 150 miles in thirty-two hours. Returning to New York City, the distance was covered in thirty hours. The new steamboat was a success.
The boat was then laid up for two weeks while the cabins were built, a roof built over the engine, and coverings placed over the paddle-wheels to catch the water spray. Then the Clermont began making regular trips to Albany, carrying sometimes a hundred passengers, making the round trip every four days, and continued until floating ice marked the break for winter.