175. The Invention of the Steamboat. Once there were no steam engines to drive boats. On sea and river they were driven by wind, and on canals they were pulled along by horses.
James Rumsey on the Potomac, John Fitch on the Delaware, and William Longstreet on the Savannah, had each invented and tried some kind of steamboat, before Robert Fulton.
Fulton was born of Irish parents, in New Britain, Pennsylvania, in 1765. At the age of three he lost his father. Young Fulton had a great taste for drawing, painting, and inventing.
He went to Philadelphia, then the largest city in the Union, when he was twenty, and engaged in painting and drawing. His first savings were given to his widowed mother to make her comfortable.
Fulton finally decided to be an artist, and went to England to make his home with Benjamin West, a great painter who once lived at Philadelphia.
There he became acquainted with the Duke of Bridgewater, who influenced him to become a civil engineer. Fulton now met James Watt, who was the inventor of the steam engine. At one time the young man aided Watt in building an engine.
Fulton next went to France, where he became interested in plans for inventing diving boats, torpedoes, and steamboats. Here p338 he met Robert R. Livingston, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, then United States Minister to France. Livingston took deep interest in his experiments in driving boats by steam, and furnished him the means to make them.
Fulton made a "model" boat, which he left in France. Shortly afterward, he built a boat twenty-six feet long and eight feet wide. In this vessel he put a steam engine. The trials proved beyond a doubt that steamboats could be made.
Livingston believed in Fulton and his steamboat. When he returned to New York, Livingston obtained from the legislature the right to navigate the waters of the state by steam for twenty years. The one condition was that the boat should go against the current of the Hudson at the rate of four miles an hour.
Fulton got his engine from the inventors, Watt and Boulton, in England — the only place where suitable engines could be found. p339 The engine came in 1806. A boat called the "Clermont" was built to carry it. She was one hundred thirty feet long and eighteen feet wide. She had a mast with a sail. At both ends she was decked over, and in the middle the engine was placed. Two large side-wheels dipped two feet into the water.
176. The "Clermont" Moves. At one o'clock in the afternoon of August 7, 1807, a great crowd gathered to see the first voyage of the "Clermont." Many people did not expect to see the vessel go. They believed Fulton and Livingston had spent their money for nothing. Fulton gave his signal from the deck of the "Clermont." The people looked on in astonishment as the boat moved steadily up the pathway of the Hudson.
The "Clermont" kept on going till out of sight, and the crowds of wondering people went home hardly believing the evidence of their eyes. Up the river, against the current of the mighty Hudson, she made her way till Albany was reached. She had gone one hundred fifty miles in thirty-two hours, and won a great victory for Fulton and Livingston.
When winter came the "Clermont" was taken out of the water and rebuilt. They covered her from stem to stern with a deck. Under the deck they built two cabins, with a double row of berths. Everything was done to make her attractive in the eyes of the people. They changed her name to the "North River." In the spring she made her trips regularly up and down the Hudson.
p340 177. Steamboats On All the Rivers. In 1809, a steamboat was built on Lake Champlain, another on the Raritan, and a third on the Delaware. From this time forward, steamboats began to appear on all the great rivers in the settled portions of the United States.
In 1811, a steamboat was built on the Ohio River at Pittsburg. It started on its trip down the beautiful Ohio. People gathered on the banks of the river to see it go by. The steamboat, at first, made a frightful noise. Hence when it came to places where news traveled slowly, the people were sometimes frightened, and the negroes ran crying into the woods.
In 1814 a steamboat carried supplies to General Jackson at New Orleans, and helped him to win the great battle fought there.
Seven steamboats were running on the Ohio and the Mississippi at the close of the War of 1812. Before another year went by, a steamboat had made its way from New Orleans against the currents of the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers to Louisville, laden with goods from Europe.
The steamboat had now won a place on the American rivers. It aided in the rapid settlement of the country. It made travel quick and easy, and it carried the goods of settlers up and down the rivers.
Robert Fulton died in 1815, deeply mourned by all his countrymen, and was buried in Trinity churchyard, New York City.
178. The Coming of the Telegraph. Samuel Morse was born in Massachusetts (1791). His father was a Presbyterian minister. Young Morse went to the common schools and to Yale College.
In college he used his spare time in painting and, after graduation, he went to England and studied under the best artists. He came home and for a time painted portraits for a living.
After having spent some years abroad, in work and study, Morse was again returning home from France when the idea of sending news by electricity first came to him.
"Why can't it be?" said Morse to a friend, who answered, "there is great need of sending news by electricity." He began, then and there, to plan a machine and to invent an alphabet. This was all done on shipboard. When he reached land he went to work with a will at his new-found problem.
For a long time the work went on very slowly, for inventors must eat and sleep and pay their way in the world. While Morse was struggling over his machine and trying to make himself master of the strange force called electricity, he was very often hungry and at times even on the point of starvation.
p342 Now came a bright spot in his career. A young man named Alfred Vail, an excellent mechanic, saw Morse's telegraph instruments, and immediately believed they would be successful. Young Vail borrowed money and became Morse's assistant in the great work. For what he did he deserves credit next to Morse himself.
A patent must now be had and the telegraph must be so improved that they could show it to a committee of Congress. It was arranged that Vail and a mechanic by the name of Baxter should do the work behind locked doors. For, if some one should happen to see the instruments and obtain a patent first, then Morse and Vail would be ruined.
In the locked shop the two men worked steadily day after day. Vail made many improvements. Among these was the new "dot and dash" alphabet. At last, one day in January, 1838, everything was in complete working order. Baxter, hatless and coatless, ran for Mr. Vail's father to come at once and see the telegraph work.
At one end of the wire stood young Vail, and at the other stood Morse. This wire was stretched around the room so that it was •three miles in length. The elder Vail wrote: "A patient waiter is no loser." He said to his son: "If you can send this message, and Mr. Morse can read it at the other end, p343 I shall be convinced." It was done, and there was great rejoicing. The invention was hurried to Washington and young Vail took out a patent in the name of Morse.
Morse obtained permission to set up his telegraphic instruments in rooms in the capitol. These rooms were filled with congressmen watching the strange business. Members in one room would carry on witty conversations with persons in the other room. This was great fun for those looking on. But it was slow work talking with members of Congress and winning their help.
179. The Government Aids. Finally Morse asked for thirty thousand dollars to build a line from Washington to Baltimore. The bill met opposition, one member moving that a part of the money be used in building a railroad to the moon, another that it be used in making experiments in mesmerism. Morse stood leaning against the railing which separated the members from the outsiders. He was greatly excited, and turning to a friend said: "I have spent seven years and all that I have in making this instrument perfect. If it succeeds, I am a made man. If it fails, I am ruined. I have a large family, and not money enough to pay my board bill when I leave the city."
It was ten o'clock, March 3, 1843, the last night of that Congress. Morse gave up and went to his hotel. In the morning a friend met and congratulated him on the action of Congress in p344 granting thirty thousand dollars for his telegraph line — the last thing Congress did that night. Morse was surprised. The telegraph line to Baltimore was built and the first dispatch was ready to send. Morse called the young woman who had been the first to congratulate him, to send this first message: "What hath God wrought."
The success of Morse was slow at first, but he lived to see the day when his instrument was used in Europe. He visited Europe again, was given gold medals, and received other rewards and honors from many of the rulers of the different European countries.
He died in 1872 at the good old age of eighty-one. Congress and state legislatures paid tribute to his memory.
180. A Wider Use for Electricity. Morse was hardly in his grave before a wonderful invention was made which called electricity into far wider use in carrying news. This new invention was the telephone, and two men, Bell and Gray, applied for patents on it at almost the same time.
The instruments are wonderful conductors of sound, carrying, as they do, the actual words and tones of the voice.
But Marconi has gone beyond them all in his invention. He sends the electric wave forth without the aid of a wire, thus giving rise to wireless telegraphy.
181. The Atlantic Cable. Cyrus W. Field was born in Massachusetts in 1819. His grandfather was a Revolutionary soldier. Cyrus went to school in his native town of Stockbridge, and at fifteen was given a place in a New York store at fifty dollars a year. Before he was twenty-one, he went into business for himself. At the end of a dozen years, he was the head of a prosperous firm. In 1853, he retired from active business.
Field became interested in a man who was joining Newfoundland with the mainland by means of a telegraph line. "Why not make a telegraph line to span the Atlantic?" thought Field. He went to work, and put his schemes before Peter Cooper and other generous men. They believed in them.
Field next went abroad and laid his plan before a number of Englishmen. He pleaded so eloquently that they, too, were convinced. He returned to America to lay the matter before Congress and ask that body to vote him a sum of money.
Congress was very slow about it, and the bill did not pass until the last days of that session. President Pierce signed it the last day of his term as President.
Field returned to England and watched over the making of his "Cable." In August, 1857, everything was ready. The cable lay coiled on shipboard, ready to be let out in the Atlantic. The great ship started, and everything went well till three hundred thirty-five miles of the cable had been let out, when it broke in two. It was the same as losing half a million dollars.
p346 Field went back to England and began promptly to prepare for a second trial. He then came to America and made arrangements to use the "Niagara," a large vessel. The British ship, "Agamemnon," was also taken to help in this second trial. The ships started in mid-ocean, one going one way and one going the other way. This time only one hundred eleven miles were laid, when the cable again parted.
Field hastened to London to meet the men who had backed him in his undertaking with their money. It was a council of war after a terrible defeat! Br Mr. Field did not believe in surrender, even to the sea.
On the seventeenth of July, 1858, the ships again set sail for mid-ocean. They "spliced" the cable, and the "Niagara" with Mr. Field on board sailed away for Newfoundland. The British ship went the other way. This time they were successful. Both countries were excited. Queen Victoria flashed a message under the sea to President Buchanan.
Great was the rejoicing in New York, the home of Mr. Field. A religious service, expressive of the deep interest of the people in the success of his work, was held in Trinity Church, at which two hundred clergymen in gowns appeared; national salutes were fired, a great procession was formed, an address was made by the mayor of the city and, at a very late hour, a grand banquet was held. While the banquet was going on, the cable gave its last throb and parted.
p347 The very day that a whole city rose up to do honor to the Atlantic telegraph and its author, it gave its last flash and then went to sleep forever in its ocean grave.
After five years of slow and toilsome work, caused by the fact that the Civil War was raging in the United States, Cyrus W. Field was again ready. When the vessel, bearing the cable, was within six hundred miles of land, the cable broke again.
182. The Final Success. An Anglo-American Telegraph Company was now formed. Mr. Field subscribed $50,000, Daniel Gooch, $100,000, and another person promised to bear a part of the expense. On Friday they set out and on another Friday they reached America with the cable safely laid. Mr. Field sent this message to England:
"Hearts Content, July 27, 1866. We arrived here at nine o'clock this morning. All well. Thank God, the cable is laid, and is in perfect working order."
The success of this undertaking, after so many years of failure, produced a great effect throughout the civilized world. Mr. Field was the center of all rejoicing. Congress voted him a gold medal. England did honor to his name. The Paris Exposition of 1867 gave him the highest medal it had to bestow. From Italy he received a decoration. States and chambers of commerce in all parts of the nation passed resolutions in praise of his great work.
Finally he took a trip around the world and received honors from many nations. Mr. Field lived at Tarrytown, New York. He died in New York City in 1892, at the age of seventy-three.
183. The Wizard of the Electrical World. Thomas A. Edison was born in 1847 at Milan, Ohio. His father's people were Dutch and his mother's were Scotch. When he was seven years of age, his parents removed to Port Huron, Michigan.
Edison owed his early training to his mother's care. At the age of twelve he was reading such books as Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," Hume's "History of England," Newton's "Principia," and Ure's "Dictionary of Science." The last-named book was too full of mathematics for him.
That Edison was a great reader is proved by his resolution to read all the books in the Detroit Free Library! He did finish "fifteen feet of volumes" before any one knew what he was doing.
In 1862 General Grant fought the terrible battle of Pittsburg Landing. Everybody wanted to hear the news. Edison bought a thousand newspapers, boarded a train, and the engineer allowed him a few minutes at each station to sell papers.
p349 As the first station came in sight, Edison looked ahead and saw a wild crowd of men. He grabbed an armful of papers, rushed out, and sold forty before the train left. At the next station the platform was crowded with a yelling mob. He raised the price to ten cents, but sold one hundred and fifty.
Finally he reached Port Huron. The station was a mile from town. Edison seized his papers. He met the crowd coming just as he reached a church where a prayer meeting was being held. The prayer meeting broke up, and though he raised his price to twenty-five cents, he "took in a young fortune."
Edison began very early to make experiments in electricity. After rigging up a line at home, hitching the wire to the legs of a cat, and rubbing the cat's back vigorously, he saw the failure of his first experiment — the cat would not stand!
At Mt. Clemens, one day, young Edison saw a child playing on the railroad with its back to an on-coming freight car. He dashed at the child and both tumbled to the ground at the roadside. For this act of bravery the telegraph operator gave him lessons in telegraphy.
184. Begins to Study Electricity. He studied ten days, then disappeared. He returned with a complete set of telegraphic instruments made by his own hand! After his trade was learned he began a period of wandering as a telegraph operator. For many boys still in their teens this would have been a time of destruction, but Edison neither drank nor smoked. He wandered from Adrian to Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Boston, stopping for shorter or longer periods at each place.
By the time he was twenty-two he had invented and partly finished his plan of sending two dispatches along the same wire at the same time. This was equal to doubling the number of wires in use.
p350 Edison was a poor boy and was two or three hundred dollars in debt. He went from Boston to New York. The speculators in Wall Street were wild with excitement, for the electric machinery had broken down. Nobody could make it work. Edison pushed his way to the front, saw, and at once removed, the difficulty.
All were loud in their praise of Edison. On the next day he was engaged to take charge of all the electric machinery at three hundred dollars per month.
After a time he joined a company and gave his time to working out inventions. The company finally sent a number of men to ask Edison how much he would take for his inventions. He had already decided to say five thousand. But when the men came he said that he did not know. He was dumbfounded when they offered him forty thousand dollars!
185. Edison's Inventions. In 1873, Edison established his first laboratory or workshop in Newark, New Jersey. Here he gathered more than three hundred men to turn out the inventions pertaining to electricity which his busy brain suggested. They were all as enthusiastic over the inventions as Edison himself. No fixed hours of labor in this shop! When the day's work was done the men often begged to be allowed to return to the shop to complete their work.
Many telegraph and telephone inventions were made in this laboratory. There were forty-five inventions all told. They brought in so much money that Edison decided they must have p351 a better place to work. He built at Menlo Park, New Jersey, twenty-four miles from New York City, the finest laboratory then in the world. On instruments alone he spent $100,000. In the great laboratory at Menlo Park Edison gathered one of the finest scientific libraries that money could buy. This library was for the men in the factory — to help them in their inventions and to give them pleasure.
The microphone is one of Edison's inventions. Its purpose is to increase sound while sending it over the wire. The passing of a delicate camel's-hair brush is magnified so as to seem like the roar of a mighty wind in a forest of giant pines.
Next came the megaphone, an instrument to bring far-away sounds to one's hearing. Persons talking a long distance apart are able to hear each other with ease.
The most interesting and one of the most profitable of his discoveries is the phonograph. This instrument, now to be seen everywhere, simply records sounds just as they are. The human voice is reproduced in conversation, in public speaking, and in singing. It goes further and reproduces the music of the grandest orchestras.
From the phonograph to the electric light seems a long step. Edison does not claim to be the discoverer of the electric light. He did much, however, to make it useful to people in lighting their houses, and also in lighting great cities.
In the winter of 1880, in Menlo Park, Edison gave to the public an exhibition of his electric light. Visitors came from all parts of the country to see this wonderful show. Seven hundred lights were put up in the streets, in the grounds, and inside the buildings. Special trains had to be run between Jersey City and Menlo Park.
p352 Edison received five gold medals and a diploma from the Electrical Exposition held in Paris, France. At the English Electrical Exposition held the next year at the Crystal Palace, London, both papers and people were loud in their praise of Edison's inventions.
In Munich, Germany, in 1882, and in Vienna, Austria, his exhibitions of the wonders of electric lighting won the highest praise.
The laboratories at Menlo Park were now far too small for the business that this man of genius set in motion. In 1886, at Orange, New Jersey, Edison built the greatest of all his laboratories. Nothing was spared to make this new workshop complete.
The Leading Facts. 1. Rumsey, Fitch, and Longstreet were inventors of steamboats before Fulton. 2. Fulton went to England to study art, crossed over to France, and became interested in steam engines. 3. Fulton invented the "Clermont," which ran more than four miles an hour. 4. In 1812 steamboats were on many rivers. 5. Samuel Morse went to Yale College; studied painting in England. 6. He planned a telegraph instrument on shipboard, but afterwards was often hungry while working to perfect it. 7. Vail borrowed money; joined Morse; worked behind locked doors to perfect, and finally got a patent on, their invention. 8. Morse took his telegraph to Washington, showed it to Congress, and received a grant of money. 9. Bell and Gray invented the telephone; Marconi invented wireless telegraphy. 10. Cyrus West Field made money so fast that he retired at thirty-four. 11. He became interested in a cable, and after many failures succeeded in laying a permanent one across the Atlantic in 1866. 12. Edison a great reader at twelve, and a newsboy at fifteen. 13. He learned telegraphy, and made a set of telegraphic instruments of his p353 own. 14. Became a tramp operator, but did not lose his morals. 15. Edison saved the day in Wall Street; made a reputation and plenty of money. 16. He built several laboratories in New Jersey, and has made many great inventions.
Study Questions. 1. What were the early ways of driving boats? 2. Who invented boats on American rivers before Fulton? 3. Tell the story of Robert Fulton until 1803. 4. How fast was Fulton's first boat to go against the current? 5. Where did Fulton get the engine for the "Clermont"? 6. Picture the "starting" and the after history of the "Clermont." 7. Tell the story of the spread of the steamboat.
8. Tell of Morse's early life. 9. When did the idea sending news by electricity first come to him? 10. Tell the story of his early trials. 11. Who aided him? 12. Picture the scene within the "locked shop." 13. Tell the story of the instrument in Washington. 14. What did Morse say on the night his bill was before Congress? 15. What was the message sent by the young lady? 16. What honor came to Morse? 17. Mention something about Bell, Gray, and Marconi.
18. How old was Cyrus Field when he retired from business? 19. Who was Peter Cooper? 20. Tell the story of Field's early efforts at cable laying. 21. Picture the scenes in New York. 22. The final message. 23. What honors were given Field?
24. What books could Edison read at twelve? 25. Prove that he was a great reader. 26. Tell the story of his thousand newspapers. 27. How did his experiment with the cat succeed? 28. What was the cause and what was the effect of his first lessons in telegraphy? 29. Give some reasons why Edison did not fall into bad habits as a "tramp operator." 39. What was his first great invention? 31. What did Edison find in Wall Street, New York? 32. How much did Edison think of asking for his invention? How much did the men offer him? 33. Tell the story of the work in Edison's shop at Newark, New Jersey. 34. Why a library at Menlo Park? 35. Make a list of his great inventions.
Suggested Readings. Robert Fulton: Glascock, Stories of Columbia, 186‑188; Wright, Children's Stories of American Progress, 104‑120; Mowry, American Inventions and Inventors, 194‑222; Thurston, Robert Fulton.
Samuel F. B. Morse: Trowbridge, Samuel Finley Breese Morse; Mowry, American Inventions and Inventors, 270‑277.
Cyrus West Field: Judson, Cyrus W. Field; Mowry, American Inventions and Inventors, 278‑285; Doubleday, Stories of Inventors, 3‑16.
Thomas A. Edison: Mowry, American Inventions and Inventors, 85‑89; Dickson, Life and Inventions of Edison, 4‑153, 280‑338.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 1 Jun 17