Robert Fulton started thinking about powering ships with steam engines when he was a 12 year-old farmboy in Pennsylvania, so August 17, 1807 was a sweet day for him,
NATIONAL FULTON’S FOLLY DAY!
This was the day his North River Steamboat took its maiden voyage on the Hudson River, two weeks before beginning regular 36 hour round trips from Manhattan to Albany, with stops at West Point, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Esopus and Hudson.
His steamboat was called “Fulton’s Folly” by the killjoys of the day, who confidently declared that steamships would fail and his wealthy backer and one of America’s Founding Fathers, Robert Livingston, would lose his investment in Fulton’s pipe dream.
Well, guess again. Steamboats worked great and the days of sailing ships were numbered, technology triumphing over inertia and skepticism. While steamboats may seem like quaint antiques today, they were a great leap forward for mankind, revolutionizing navigation, travel and shipping forever, and looked pretty cool with those giant paddle wheels.
•Suggested Activities: Riverboat gambling, getting out of the way of progress.