arly attempts at powering a boat by steam were made by the French inventor Denis Papin and the English inventor Thomas Newcomen. Papin invented the steam digester (a type of pressure cooker) and experimented with closed cylinders and pistons pushed in by atmospheric pressure, analogous to the pump built by Thomas Savery in England during the same period. Papin proposed applying this steam pump to the operation of a paddlewheel boat and tried to market his idea in Britain. He was unable to successfully convert the piston motion into rotary motion and the steam could not produce enough pressure. Newcomen's design did solve the first problem, but remained shackled to the inherent limitations of the engines of the time.
A steamboat was described and patented by English physician John Allen in 1729. In 1736, Jonathan Hulls was granted a patent in England for a Newcomen engine-powered steamboat (using a pulley instead of a beam, and a pawl and ratchet to obtain rotary motion), but it was the improvement in steam engines by James Watt that made the concept feasible. William Henry of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, having learned of Watt's engine on a visit to England, made his own engine. In 1763 he put it in a boat. The boat sank, and while Henry made an improved model, he did not appear to have much success, though he may have inspired others.
Model of steamship, built in 1784, by Claude de Jouffroy.
The first steam-powered ship Pyroscaphe was a paddle steamer powered by a Newcomen steam engine; it was built in France in 1783 by Marquis Claude de Jouffroy and his colleagues as an improvement of an earlier attempt, the 1776 Palmipède. At its first demonstration on 15 July 1783, Pyroscaphe travelled upstream on the river Saône for some fifteen minutes before the engine failed. Presumably this was easily repaired as the boat is said to have made several such journeys. The idea was not developed any further.
Similar boats were made in 1785 by John Fitch in Pennsylvania and William Symington in Dumfries, Scotland. Fitch successfully trialled his boat in 1787, and in 1788, he began operating a regular commercial service along the Delaware River between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Burlington, New Jersey, carrying as many as 30 passengers. This boat could typically make 7 to 8 miles per hour (11 to 13 km/h) and traveled more than 2,000 miles (3,200 km) during its short length of service. The Fitch steamboat was not a commercial success, as this travel route was adequately covered by relatively good wagon roads. The following year, a second boat made 30-mile (48 km) excursions, and in 1790, a third boat ran a series of trials on the Delaware River before patent disputes dissuaded Fitch from continuing.
Meanwhile, Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, near Dumfries, Scotland, had developed double-hulled boats propelled by manually cranked paddle wheels placed between the hulls, even attempting to interest various European governments in a giant warship version, 246 feet (75 m) long. Miller sent King Gustav III of Sweden an actual small-scale version, 100 feet (30 m) long, called Experiment. Miller then engaged engineer William Symington to build his patent steam engine that drove a stern-mounted paddle wheel in a boat in 1785. The boat was successfully tried out on Dalswinton Loch in 1788 and was followed by a larger steamboat the next year. Miller then abandoned the project.
Charlotte Dundas, the first practical steamboat, built by William Symington.
The failed project of Patrick Miller caught the attention of Lord Dundas, Governor of the Forth and Clyde Canal Company, and at a meeting with the canal company's directors on 5 June 1800, they approved his proposals for the use of "a model of a boat by Captain Schank to be worked by a steam engine by Mr Symington" on the canal.
The boat was built by Alexander Hart at Grangemouth to Symington's design with a vertical cylinder engine and crosshead transmitting power to a crank driving the paddlewheels. Trials on the River Carron in June 1801 were successful and included towing sloops from the river Forth up the Carron and thence along the Forth and Clyde Canal.
In 1801 Symington patented a horizontal steam engine directly linked to a crank, and got the support of Lord Dundas for a second steamboat which would become famous as the Charlotte Dundas, named in honour of his Lordship's daughter. Symington designed a new hull around his powerful horizontal engine, with the crank driving a large paddle wheel in a central upstand in the hull, aimed at avoiding damage to the canal banks. The new boat was 56 ft (17.1 m) long, 18 ft (5.5 m) wide and 8 ft (2.4 m) depth, with a wooden hull. The boat was built by John Allan, and the engine by the Carron Company.
The first sailing was on the canal in Glasgow on 4 January 1803, with Lord Dundas and a few of his relatives and friends on board. The crowd were pleased with what they saw, but Symington wanted to make improvements and another more ambitious trial was made on March 28. On this occasion, the Charlotte Dundas towed two 70 ton barges 30 km (almost 20 miles) along the Forth and Clyde Canal to Glasgow, and despite "a strong breeze right ahead" which stopped all other canal boats it took only nine and a quarter hours, giving an average speed of about 3 km/h (2 mph). The Charlotte Dundas was the "first practical steamboat"; it demonstrated the practicality of steam power for ships, and was the first to be followed by continuous development of steamboats.
The 1909 replica of the North River Steamboat, the first steamboat to achieve commercial success transporting passengers along the Hudson River.
The American, Robert Fulton, was present at the trials of the Charlotte Dundas and was intri
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