Robert Fulton by Hattie E. Macomber



This story is about a giant.

Do you believe in them?

He peeps out of your coffee cup in the morning.

He cheers you upon a cold day in winter.

But the boys and girls were not so well acquainted with him a hundred years ago.

About that long ago, far to the north and east, a queer boy lived.

He sat in his grandmother's kitchen many an hour, watching the tea-kettle.

He seemed to be idle.

But he was really very busy.

He was talking very earnestly to the giant.

The giant was a prisoner.

No one knew how to free him.

Many had often tried to do this and failed.

He was almost always invisible.

But when he did appear, it was in the form of a very old man.

This old man had long, white hair, and a beard which seemed to enwrap him like a cloak—a cloak as white as snow.

So his name is The White Giant.

The boy's name was James Watt.

He lived in far-away Scotland.

He sat long, listening to the White Giant as he told him many wonderful things.

The way in which the giant first showed himself to James was very strange.

James noticed that the lid of the tea-kettle was acting very strangely.

It rose and fell, fluttered and danced.

Now, James had lived all his life among people who believed in witches and fairies.

So he was watching for them.

And he thought there was somebody in the kettle trying to get out.

So he said, "Who are you and what do you want?"

"Space, freedom, and something to do," cried the giant.

"If you will only let me out, I'll work hard for you.

I'll draw your carriages and ships.

I'll lift all your weights.

I'll turn all the wheels of your factories.

I'll be your servant always, in a thousand other ways."


By permission of Providence & Stonington Steamship Co.

If you have now guessed the common name of this giant, we will call him Steam.

At the time James Watt lived, there were no steam boats, steam mills, nor railways.

And this boy, though his grandmother scolded, thought much about the giant in the tea-kettle.

And he became the inventor of the first steam engine that was of any use to the world.

So, little by little, people came to know that steam is a great, good giant.

They tried in many different ways to make him useful.

They wished very much to make him run a boat.

One man tried to run his boat in a queer way.

He made something like a duck's foot to push it through the water.

Another moved his boat by forcing a stream of water in at the bow and out at the stern.

Then came a man named John Fitch.

He made his engine run a number of oars so as to paddle the boat forward.

He grew very poor.

People laughed at him.

But he said, "When I shall be forgotten, steam boats will run up the rivers and across the seas."

Then people laughed the harder and called him "a crank."

Mr. Fitch's boat was tried in 1787.

Now, in 1765, there happened a good thing for this old world.

A little baby boy was born in that year.

Perhaps you wonder why it was such a good thing for the world.

Some of you will know why when you read that this baby's name was Robert Fulton.

His father was poor.

His father was a farmer in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Fulton had two little girls older than baby Robert.

When Robert was grown larger he had three sisters and one brother.

But their father died when they were all small.

Robert did not go to school till he was eight years old.

His mother taught him at home.

He knew how to read and write, and a very little arithmetic.

His first teacher was a Mr. Johnson.

Mr. Johnson was a Quaker.

He thought Robert a dull pupil.

Robert did not learn his lessons very well.

But Mr. Johnson soon found that he was never idle.

He did not care to play at recess.

He stayed in and used his pencil in drawing.

He often spent hours in this way.

Robert soon became fond of going into the machine shops.

He understood machinery very quickly.

The men always gave him a welcome.

He didn't get into mischief.

He often helped the men with his neat drawings.

One day Robert was late in getting to school.

The master asked the reason.

Robert answered that he had been in Mr. Miller's shop pounding out lead for a lead pencil.

Mr. Johnson then encouraged him in doing such useful things.

In a few days, all the pupils in the school had pencils made in that way.

Mr. Johnson urged Robert to give more attention to his studies.

Robert said, "My head is so full of thoughts of my own that I haven't room there for the thoughts from dusty books."

As he was not idle, no doubt this was true.

When Robert was thirteen, the boys in the town had a great disappointment.

It was nearly July.

Of course the boys expected to celebrate the Fourth.

But a notice was put up.

This notice urged the people not to illuminate their homes.

It was very warm weather.

The people then had only candles with which to light their homes.

Candles were very scarce.

But Robert had some.

He took them to a shop and exchanged them for powder.

The owner of the store asked him why he gave up the candles, which were so scarce and dear.

Robert said, "I am a good citizen, and if our officers do not wish us to illuminate the town, I shall respect their wishes."

He found some pieces of paste-board.

He rolled these himself.

In this way he made some rockets.

The store-keeper told him he would find it impossible to do this.

"No, sir," Robert answered, "there is nothing impossible."

His rockets were a success, and the people were astonished.

Robert bought at different times small quantities of quicksilver.

The men in the machine shops were curious to know what he did with it.

But they could not find out.

For this reason they called him "Quicksilver Bob."

Robert was interested in guns.

Sometimes he would tell the workmen how to improve them.

The men liked him so well that they were always willing to try whatever he advised.

Robert was fond of fishing.

One of the workmen often went fishing with his father.

This man sometimes took Robert.

They had only an old flat boat.

The boys had to pole the boat from place to place.

It was hard work.

They were sometimes very tired.

Robert, soon after one fishing excursion, went away to visit an aunt.

He was gone a week.

While away he made a complete model of a little fishing boat.

This boat had paddle wheels.

The model was placed in the garret.

Many years afterward his aunt was proud to have it as an ornament on her parlor table.

Of course the boys arranged a set of paddle wheels for their fishing boat.

After this they enjoyed their fishing much more than before.

Robert Fulton's boyhood was during the Revolutionary War.

He made many queer pictures of the Hessian soldiers.

These Hessians were Germans, who had been hired by the British to help them fight the Americans.

The people who wished our country to belong to England were called Tories.

Those who wished America to be free were called Whigs.

The Whig boys often fought the Tory boys on the soldiers' camp ground.

The soldiers grew tired of this.

They stretched a rope to keep the boys out.

Robert drew a picture in which the Whigs crossed the rope and whipped the Tories.

The boys all thought it a good picture.

So they tried to make it real.

They became so troublesome that the town officers had to interfere.

But Robert was all this time fast growing up.

He had to choose some way of taking care of himself.

He was more fond of his pencil and brush than of anything else.

Near his home, had lived a celebrated painter.

His name was Benjamin West.

Benjamin West's father and Robert's father had been great friends.

Mr. West had become famous.

He now lived in England.

Robert thought he would like to be an artist, too.

So he left his home and went to the city of Philadelphia.

He knew that it meant hard work.

He was industrious and pains-taking.

He had many friends.

Benjamin Franklin was one of his friends.

Soon he did very nice work.

In the four years after he was seventeen, he not only took care of himself, but sent money to his mother and sisters.

He spent his twenty-first birthday at home.

He had then earned enough money to buy a small farm for his mother.

For this farm he paid four hundred dollars.

He helped his family to get nicely settled in their new home.

Then he went back to Philadelphia.

At this time Mr. Fulton, as we must now call him, was not well.

Partly for this reason he decided to take a voyage to Europe.

He carried letters from many well-known Americans.

He found friends in Europe.

Benjamin West was kind to him there.



He soon had plenty of work to do.

One of his friends was an English gentleman, who was called the Earl of Stanhope.

The Earl was much interested in canals.

Canals, you probably know, are artificial rivers.

Boats are drawn on them by horses, which walk along a path on the shore.

The path is called the tow-path.

Railways were almost unknown then.

So canals were very useful in carrying goods across the country.

They had been in use in Europe and Asia for hundreds of years.

Mr. Fulton invented a double inclined-plane.

This could be used in raising and lowering canal boats without disturbing their cargoes.

The British government gave Mr. Fulton a patent upon it.

Mr. Fulton wrote a book about canals and the ways in which they help a country.

He sent copies of this book to the President of the United States, and other men in high offices.

He thought canals would help America.

But it was ten years before he could get people to think much about it.

Then Mr. Fulton helped in planning the Erie Canal.

This was very successful.

You can see this canal now.

It is in the State of New York and is still used.

Mr. Fulton planned a cast-iron aqueduct which was built in Scotland.

An aqueduct is often made to carry water to cities.

He invented a mill for sawing marble, a machine for spinning flax, another for scooping out earth, called a dredging machine, and several kinds of canal boats.

You will wonder before reaching the end of this story how one man could do so many things.

But you must remember that he was never lazy as a boy, and so learned to make good use of every moment.

In 1797, Mr. Fulton went to the greatest city in France, called Paris.

There he made a new friend.

This was Joel Barlow, an American and a poet.

Mr. Fulton thought that all ships should have the freedom of the ocean.

He thought it would take hundreds of years to get all nations to consent to this.

He believed that he could find a quicker way.

He thought it would be best to blow up all warships.

He made a little sub-marine boat.

Sub-marine means under the sea.

This boat could be lowered below the surface of the water.

He found a way to supply it with air.

But he could not get it to run swiftly.

It took much money to build such boats.

He tried to get the French government to help him.

He was often tired and disappointed.

But he never stopped trying.

He tried to destroy some large boats.

This was to be done with torpedoes.

But he was not very successful.

He succeeded in destroying one boat.

But since then others have carried out his plan, and torpedoes are often used in war.

This little story is told of Mr. Fulton:—

He was once in New York working upon his torpedoes.

He invited the Mayor and many others to hear him lecture.

They came and were all much interested.

He showed them the copper cylinders which were to hold the powder.

Then he showed them the clockwork, which, when it was set running, would cause the cylinders to explode.

He turned to a case and drew out a peg.

He then said, "Gentlemen, this torpedo is all ready to blow up a vessel.

It contains one hundred and seventy pounds of powder.

The clockwork is now running.

If I should allow it to run fifteen minutes it would blow us all to atoms."

His audience was much frightened.

They all ran away.

Mr. Fulton put the peg back in its place.

He told them it was then safe.

Not until then did they dare come back.

But now our giant, Steam, became the friend of Mr. Fulton.

Many had tried to put this giant to work.

But at first he seemed rather hard to teach.

Long before, a poet had written these lines, which show how much people hoped to make the giant do:—

"Soon shall thy arm, unconquered Steam, afar
Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car."

It was a true prophecy.

Mr. Fulton married the daughter of a Mr. Walter Livingston.

This Mr. Livingston had a relative who was a great man, and a rich man.

He was much interested in all inventions.

He often helped inventors with his money.

He had long believed that boats could be moved by steam.

At one time the state of New York gave him the right of all steam boats for twenty years.

He was given the right if he would get one steam boat running within a year.

But the year passed and the boat was not built.

Everybody made fun of his "grand rights."

At this time our government made him our minister to France.

There he met Robert Fulton for the first time.

And in Paris Mr. Livingston and Mr. Fulton made a steam boat.

When it was finished they invited their friends to come and see it tried.

Early upon the morning when they hoped to succeed, a messenger came.

He bore sad news.

The new boat had broken in two.

The machinery was too heavy for it.

It had sunk to the bottom of the river Seine.

Mr. Fulton had not had his breakfast.

He hurried to the river.

He worked standing in the cold water.

In twenty-four hours he had saved the machinery, and some other parts of the boat.

But it made him ill.

He never was so strong again.

Of course he felt greatly discouraged.

They went to work again.

They built another boat.

This was a success.

It was sixty-six feet long, and moved by wheels on the side.

Mr. Livingston and Mr. Fulton decided to try again in America upon the Hudson River.

Mr. Livingston was given again the same privileges by the State of New York.

But this time Mr. Fulton was his partner.

They were given two years in which to make their boat.

They were to make one which could go four miles an hour.

It took much money.

Mr. Fulton promised to ask only a certain sum of Mr. Livingston.

But this sum proved to be too small.

He went to see a friend.

He talked long and earnestly to him.

But the friend grew tired and told him he must go home or go to bed.

Mr. Fulton wanted one thousand dollars.

His friend said he would see him again.




By permission of Providence & Stonington Steamship Co.

Mr. Fulton came again before the poor man had had any breakfast.

He gave him no peace.

But he got his money at last.

Mr. Fulton was much laughed at for trying to make such a boat.

The boat was called by people, "Fulton's Folly."

His friends would listen politely to him.

But he said he knew they did not believe in him.

He often, as he walked about, heard people laugh and sneer at him.

But at last the boat was done.

The sun rose smiling on that August morning.

The world was enjoying its morning nap.

Only a few people were on the shores.

Gracefully the boat was moved from the Jersey shore.


By permission of Providence & Stonington Steamship Co.

Those who saw were amazed.

Old sailors were frightened.

When they saw a boat with no sails, they thought it an evil spirit.

But the long line of black smoke which they saw was only the breath of the dear old giant, Steam.

At last he had something to do.

This boat was called the Clermont.

It passed the city of New York.

It passed the beautiful Highlands of the Hudson.

It puffed patiently on until it reached Albany.

All along the shores people watched it breathlessly.

Everybody stopped sneering and cheered.

The Clermont had gone one hundred and fifty miles in thirty-two hours.

Except that the ocean steamships are larger, handsomer, and more finely finished, they are much like Mr. Fulton's Clermont.

Who can doubt Mr. Fulton's joy at his success.

At last he had found a way to make all nations know each other.

Mr. Fulton had other troubles after this.

Wicked people tried to steal his invention from him.

But no one else has ever been given credit for it.

Everyone who tried a ride upon the boat found it much nicer than jolting along in a stage coach.

In two years a regular line of boats was running between the great city of New York and its capital city.

Mr. Fulton built other boats.

Some of them were ferry-boats.



A ferry from New York to Long Island is still called by his name, Fulton Ferry.

Do you suppose the thousands of people who cross by it, ever think of patient, industrious, hard-working, Robert Fulton?

In January, 1815, Mr. Fulton went to Trenton, New Jersey, as witness in a lawsuit.

The weather was very severe.

Mr. Fulton became much chilled.

In coming back his boat was caught in the ice.

It was several hours before it could be moved.

You remember Mr. Fulton was not very strong.

He was ill for several days.

He was very anxious about a boat which he was building.

He left his bed too soon.

He was then taken very ill indeed.

And upon the twenty-fourth of February, 1815, the world lost this great man.

Everyone mourned his loss.

The great city of New York was in mourning.

He was buried in the Livingston vault in Trinity Churchyard, New York.

No monument has ever been raised over this great man.

But the boats which every year ply back and forth upon lake, river, and ocean, are constant reminders of his great work for the world.