Robert Fulton (Robert Fulton)

Robert Fulton

Inventor, Artist. While not the inventor of the steamboat, he was very instrumental in constructing a steamboat named the “Clermont”,and parlaying it into a commercial success with the first permanent commercial route in history on the Hudson River. Chancellor Robert R. Livingston backed the venture with his financial and political influence.  He was born near the town, on a farm, today known as Quarryville, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The site today is a National Historic Landmark, while the stone house where Fulton was born, was destroyed by fire, has since been restored to its original appearance.  It is operated by the Southern Lancaster Historical Society and houses many items from the inventors life.  He was born to Robert, a farmer, and Mary Fulton into a family that would ultimately number five. Robert senior would soon die leaving his widow scantily provided with the small children.  However, Mary Fulton prevailed, home schooling the family with Robert at age eight, enrolled in a local Quaker school.  Fulton was an average student but excelled at drawing, painting and mechanics while growing up.  Upon completing an apprenticeship to a Philadelphia jeweler while supporting himself as a painter of portraits and landscapes, he moved to England to study painting under Benjamin West but grew more interested in engineering and naval warfare.  While living in France, Fulton built the submarine Nautilus, an experimental steam powered vessel.  During his lifetime, he was involved in a wide variety of projects, including inventing various tools and working with the U.S. Navy on the development of the torpedo, actually blowing up a brig in New York Harbor as a demonstration.  He also designed the world’s first steam-powered warship which was launched after his death. Finally, in partnership with Robert Livingston, he designed and constructed a steamboat, his ultimate venture, named “The North River Steamboat, later called the “Clermont.”  The craft left New York City, proceeding up the Hudson River to Albany in only 32 hours  At age 49, at the height of his fame and while working on various projects, a serous cold developed into pneumonia bringing about his death at his residence located in what is now Battery Place in lower Manhattan.  His body lay in state there until a procession was formed conveying him to historic Trinity Church the site of his funeral.  Thousands lined the route as minute-guns were fired from a steam-frigate anchored off shore in the Hudson River and the New York Battery.  His service was attended by representatives from both the National and State governments as well as high officials of the City of New York. Interment followed with placement beside his wife (nee Harriet Livingston) in her family vault at Trinity Church Yard Cemetery.  Aftermath and Legacy…The vault became weather beaten and Robert Fulton’s name was never added to the list of the persons occupying the chamber and his resting place became hardly known. On the top of the vault was a brownstone slab, the inscriptions were virtually obliterated. In 1901, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers sought to rectify this by placement of a cenotaph marker, a short distance from the burial vault, which is a column bearing on one side a bronze medallion portrait.  However, the gesture did little to pin point his burial place as the marker only confuses visitors who assume this is the grave of the famous, talented, inventor and genius.  Fulton has the monopoly in county names honoring him across America…location of some are in the States of Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania (Curiously, the Pennsylvania county of his birth honors another) and New York.  A life size marble statue of Fulton created by Howard Roberts Palmer is located in Statuary Hall, United States Capitol.  His honors in New York City are unique.  Along his namesakes, Fulton Street, and located here is Fulton Park, nearly two thousand acres in size. A statue of him, first salvaged from a razed terminal in lower Manhattan where his first steam ferry, the Nassau, operated on the East River to Brooklyn, was moved to the park.  However, the original 1872 creation became corroded and was replaced by a new bronze casting on a granite base in 1955.  In 1909, the Postal Service issued the Two Cent Hudson-Fulton Celebration stamp which commemorated two events…the discovery of the Hudson River and the first demonstration of a viable steamship, the “Clermont.”   In 1965, the Postal Service issued the Robert Fulton stamp commemorating the 200th anniversary of his birth. (bio by: Donald Greyfield)  Family links:  Spouse:  Harriet Livingston Dale (1783 – 1826)*  Children:  Cornelia Livingston Fulton Crary (1812 – 1893)*  Mary Livingston Fulton Ludlow (1813 – 1861)* *Calculated relationship


  • November, 14, 1765
  • USA


  • February, 02, 1815
  • USA


  • Trinity Churchyard
  • USA

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