Born Jan 21 1743 - Died July 2 1798
Propelling Boats with Steam
Patented August 26 1791
John Fitch made the first successful trial of a steamboat in 1787,
marking the beginning of steam-powered water travel.
Fitch built a forty-five foot boat that was propelled by twelve
steam-powered oars. He successfully demonstrated the boat on the
Delaware River in August 1787, and received his first U.S. patent in
1791. In the decade after 1785, Fitch built steamboats propelled by
ranked paddles, paddle wheels, and screw propellers.
By 1788, Fitch had launched a steamboat carrying passengers between
Philadelphia and New Jersey, and one making regular runs across the
Delaware River. But early financial losses, uncertain investors, and a
skeptical public prevented commercial success. Nonetheless, Fitch had
demonstrated the feasibility of steam navigation, a technology central
to American progress in the nineteenth century.
Born in Windsor, Connecticut, Fitch had little formal schooling, having
spent his early years working his family’s farm. He later was
apprenticed to a clockmaker, learned brass working and opened his own
brass foundry, tried his hand as a silversmith, and was a supplier to
the Continental Army during the American Revolution. After the war, he
surveyed the Northwest Territories before beginning his quest to invent
a steam-powered boat.