Almanac: The steamboat

On Feb. 9, 1811, American inventor Robert Fulton received a supplementary patent for his revolutionary steamboat, the Clermont. Library of Congress

And now a page from our "Sunday Morning" Almanac:  February 9th, 1811, 203 years ago today . . . a perfect day for blowing off steam.

For that was the day an American inventor, Robert Fulton, received a patent for his steamboat.

Born in small town Pennsylvania, Fulton had first launched his steamboat, the Clermont, in 1807, and sailed it up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany . . . a distance of roughly 140 miles . . . in the then-astonishing time of 32 hours.

Though other inventors have stronger claims to building the first steamboat, it was Fulton's design that proved the most practical, a prototype of a vessel that became both a mainstay of 19th century commerce and an iconic piece of American popular culture.

Mark Twain wrote about his experiences as an apprentice Mississippi river pilot.

In 1927, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein created the Broadway musical "Showboat," which gave birth to no fewer than three films, including the 1951 version starring Ava Gardner, Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel.

The man whose steamship conquered the Hudson died of exposure after rescuing a friend who had fallen into its ice cold waters in the bitter winter of 1815..

Fulton's memory is honored in dozens of places across the country, including New York City, which has a Fulton Street, home for many years to a famous fish market.

Not to mention his old hometown, now known as Fulton Township, Pennsylvania.


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