Daring to Do Mighty Things: New York and the Ideas that Changed the World
Advertisement in the American Citizen for a Fulton ferry ride, Courtesy of the New York State Library

Travel was a precarious undertaking prior to the use of steam powered engines. Horses and carriages were often subject to the vagaries of weather, slow and difficult to schedule. When Robert Fulton introduced the steam powered ship as a safe, it was immediately recognized as a reliable means of travel. This was the concept that revolutionized the world. While Fulton did not invent the steam engine or was the first to use it to power a ship, he was the first person to successfully apply the technology in a commercial setting. This required conceiving a ship designed to hold passengers, ferry them in relative comfort and get them from departure to destination in a timely fashion. The genius behind Fulton’s idea was to make travel between Albany and New York City reliable, fashionable and on schedule.

Map of the area where Fulton built and tested his steamship, Courtesy of the New York State Archives

With the financial support of Robert Livingston, Fulton launched America’s first commercial steamboat, the Clermont, on August 17, 1807. The maiden voyage was an historic success, making the 150-mile journey in a record 32 hours. Two weeks after its maiden voyage Fulton’s steamship began offering regular service between New York City and Albany. The enterprise changed the way people traveled. Regular, comfortable and speedy transportation became the new norm and from the train to the airplane travelers expect those three things whenever they leave home.

Steamship Clermont-Courtesy of the New York State Museum

Steamship Clermont - Courtesy of the New York State Museum

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