Robert Fulton'S Steamboat: Claremont
The distance between New York's capital, Albany, and its biggest city, New York, helped Robert Fulton open the first steam ship line along the Hudson River.
The steamship Claremont was designed and built for the purpose of expediting commuter traffic along the Hudson River between New York State's major commercial center, New York, and its principal political center, Albany.
By the 1830s it had become clear that there would be plenty of willing travelers in both directions if the technological difficulties of building a reliable steam engine on a paddle wheel boat could be overcome. Others
had tried to provide wind-powered river transportation, but the fickle winds of the Hudson River Valley were too irregular without auxiliary power. Robert Fulton was ideally suited to tackle this project, but he needed the help of someone with powerful political and social connections.
In the 1830s, Robert R. Livingston was New York's biggest political boss. Fulton and Livingston met in France while Livingston was serving as the U.S. Minister to France and laid out their basic plan. Robert Fulton purchased a steam engine from the Scottish steam engineer, James Watt and arranged to ship it back to New York. Fulton had been living in Europe and studying steam engines for 19 years and while he had made reliable steam engines himself, no one could beat Watt's engineering.
When Livingston returned to New York, he arranged the financing to build the Claremont, which is generally held to be the first commercially viable steam-driven paddle wheel ferry in America. The hull was unusually rectangular in cross-section, thus decreasing drag. The finished ship was 133 feet long, seven feet deep and eighteen feet wide. It was made of stout planking and was partially decked over fore and aft. Watt's steam engine was mounted just forward of midships and left open for ventilation. The 20 foot boiler, full of water, was placed slightly abaft midships, was covered with bricks and its weight had been carefully calculated to balance the craft evenly. The paddle wheels were 15 feet in diameter and suspended over each rail.
On August 17, 1807, the Claremont began her memorable voyage from New York Harbor to Albany and back again. The trip took five days in all with stops, but the travel time was only 62 hours carried on at the amazing rate of 5 mph! In close association with Livingston, Fulton designed and built 17 steamships, one torpedo boat, a ferry and a number of other small steam-powered vessels, but the legal tangles under which Fulton and Livingston operated limited the range of Fulton's creativity. He died seven years later at 50 years old.