1807: The Debut of the First Commercially Successful Steamboat Service

August 17, 1807

The world’s first commercially successful steamboat service was launched when the North River Steamboat left New York City for Albany, New York, via the Hudson River (widely known at that time as the North River). The North River Steamboat — often erroneously called the Clermont instead — had been built at New York City’s Charles Brown shipyard on behalf of entrepreneur Robert Fulton and investor Robert Livingston. 

This vessel was powered by an innovative steam engine designed by Fulton and manufactured in Birmingham, England. Captain Andrew Brink piloted the North River Steamboat during its inaugural run. The steamboat, averaging a speed of about five miles (8.1 kilometers) per hour, reached Albany two days later after 32 hours of actual travel on the river and 20 hours spent at Livingston’s estate Clermont Manor along the way. 

The North River Steamboat (featured in the above 1870 illustration) made it back to New York City in just 30 hours, with only a one-hour stop at Clermont Manor that time around. “The power of propelling boats by steam is now fully proved,” wrote Fulton in a subsequent letter to one of his friends about that history-making voyage.

Image Credit: Public Domain

For more information on the North River Steamboat, please check out http://projects.leadr.msu.edu/uniontodisunion/exhibits/show/robert-livingston–the-forgott/north-river-steamboat

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