“Fulton’s Folly” changed transportation (and warfare)
I grew up in East Fultonham, Ohio, a quiet lakeside community nestled in the rolling hills of Muskingum County less than fifteen miles from Zanesville. The town is one of dozens across the country named in honor of Robert Fulton, recognized as the inventor of the first commercially successful steamboat.
His invention revolutionized transportation, eventually supplanting sail power as the chief motive force on the high seas.
By the time of the American Civil War, steam-powered vessels had come of age. The age or ironclads had arrived.
As a lad, Fulton could never have imagined his influence on the world.
Not bad for a native of rural southwestern Lancaster County.
On Saturday, November 20, I spoke at the Southern Lancaster County (Solanco) Historical Society, which administers the Robert Fulton Birthplace. The crowd was attentive, polite, and in a book-buying mood, so the afternoon went very well, despite my jet lag from seven days in Berlin and Baden-Baden, Germany.
Here are some photos from Dr. Thomas M. Mingus, co-author of the new Ten Roads Publishing book, Human Interest Stories from the Civil War.
Robert Fulton was born in this house on November 14, 1765, in Little Britain Township. His father, also named Robert Fulton, was an Irish immigrant who had settled in Philadelphia, where he married a Quaker girl named Mary Smith. He purchased a farm in southern Lancaster County, where young Robert was born.
The elder Robert Fulton died when young Robert was only three. The family eventually moved to Lancaster, where Robert attended a Quaker school and demonstrated an early interest in mechanics and art.
Fulton’s invention, the Clermont, is regarded as the first commercially successful steamboat. It carried passengers between New York City and Albany, a 300-mile trip that took 32 hours.
He was later influential in the management and operation of the Erie Canal.
Lancaster County native Robert Fulton died in 1815. Within 40 years, steam-powered vessels had become a significant force in maritime shipping and in military naval fleets. Ironically, many of the ironclads and other Union Navy vessels used for riverine and coastal duty during the Civil War burned Pennsylvania anthracite coal to generate the steam required to power the engines. Shown above is the classic battle between the CSS Virginia (nee USS Merrimac) and USS Monitor (right) at Hampton Roads, Virginia.