The North River Steam Boat
was the first commercially successful steamship of the paddle steamer
A paddle steamer is a steamship or riverboat, powered by a steam engine, using paddle wheels to propel it through the water. In antiquity, Paddle wheelers followed the development of poles, oars and sails, where the first uses were wheelers driven by animals or humans...
design. It operated on the Hudson River
The Hudson is a river that flows from north to south through eastern New York. The highest official source is at Lake Tear of the Clouds, on the slopes of Mount Marcy in the Adirondack Mountains. The river itself officially begins in Henderson Lake in Newcomb, New York...
(at that time often known as the North River) between New York
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...
Albany is the capital city of the U.S. state of New York, the seat of Albany County, and the central city of New York's Capital District. Roughly north of New York City, Albany sits on the west bank of the Hudson River, about south of its confluence with the Mohawk River...
. She was neither the first steamboat built nor even the first to be operated in scheduled service, but was the start of the first long-lasting and financially successful steamboat business. The ship was constructed by the wealthy investor and politician Robert Livingston
Robert R Livingston was an American lawyer, politician, diplomat from New York, and a Founding Father of the United States. He was known as "The Chancellor," after the office he held for 25 years....
and inventor and entrepreneur Robert Fulton
Robert Fulton was an American engineer and inventor who is widely credited with developing the first commercially successful steamboat...
Livingston had obtained from the New York legislature an exclusive right
A monopoly exists when a specific person or enterprise is the only supplier of a particular commodity...
to steam navigation on the Hudson River. In 1803 while he was Minister to France, he and Fulton built a steamboat and operated it on the Seine
The Seine is a -long river and an important commercial waterway within the Paris Basin in the north of France. It rises at Saint-Seine near Dijon in northeastern France in the Langres plateau, flowing through Paris and into the English Channel at Le Havre . It is navigable by ocean-going vessels...
. With this success he contracted with Fulton to take advantage of the Hudson River monopoly.
The ship was built at Charlie Browne's shipyard in New York and fitted with steam engines from Boulton and Watt
The firm of Boulton & Watt was initially a partnership between Matthew Boulton and James Watt.-The engine partnership:The partnership was formed in 1775 to exploit Watt's patent for a steam engine with a separate condenser. This made much more efficient use of its fuel than the older Newcomen engine...
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...
, England. Her original dimensions were 130 feet (39.6 m) long x 16 feet (4.9 m) wide x 7 feet (2.1 m) deep. The ship had a paddle wheel on each side, but also masts and sails. Skeptics called her "Fulton's Folly".
The inaugural run, helmed by Captain Andrew Brink, from New York to Albany, with invited guests, left on August 17, 1807 and arrived two days later, after 32 hours of travel time and a 20-hour stop at Livingston's estate Clermont Manor
The Clermont State Historic Site, also known as the Clermont estate, the Clermont Manor or just Clermont, is a New York State Historic Site in southwestern Columbia County, New York, USA...
. The return was done in 30 hours with a one-hour stop at Clermont, an average speed of 5 miles per hour.
Fulton wrote to a friend, Joel Barlow:
The 1870 book Great Fortunes
quotes a former resident of Poughkeepsie who described the scene:
Scheduled service began on September 4. The Steamboat
left New York on Saturdays at 6:00 in the afternoon and left Albany on Wednesdays at 8:00 in the morning, taking about 36 hours for the journey. Stops were made at West Point
West Point is a federal military reservation established by President of the United States Thomas Jefferson in 1802. It is a census-designated place located in Town of Highlands in Orange County, New York, United States. The population was 7,138 at the 2000 census...
Newburgh is a city located in Orange County, New York, United States, north of New York City, and south of Albany, on the Hudson River. Newburgh is a principal city of the Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown metropolitan area, which includes all of Dutchess and Orange counties. The Newburgh area was...
Poughkeepsie is a city in the state of New York, United States, which serves as the county seat of Dutchess County. Poughkeepsie is located in the Hudson River Valley midway between New York City and Albany...
Esopus is a town in Ulster County, New York, United States. The population was 9,331 at the 2000 census. The name comes from the local Indian tribe and means "high banks."...
, and Hudson
Hudson is a city located along the west border of Columbia County, New York, United States. The city is named after the adjacent Hudson River and ultimately after the explorer Henry Hudson.Hudson is the county seat of Columbia County...
. In publicity the ship is called North River Steamboat
or just Steamboat
(there being no other in operation).
The ship's original enrollment of 1807 is lost, but because of rebuilding over the winter of 1807-1808, she had to be enrolled again with the federal government, and that paper gives the owners as Livingston and Fulton and the name as North River Steamboat of Clermont
. The rebuilding was substantial: the ship was made longer and wider, and the paddlewheels were enclosed to prevent damage and splashing. Later the name was shortened to North River
In its first year, the new navigation service differentiated itself from all of its predecessors by turning a tidy profit. The quick commercial success of North River Steamboat
led Livingston and Fulton to commission a second very similar boat in 1809, Car of Neptune
, followed in 1811 by Paragon
. An advertisement for the company in 1812 lists the three boats' schedules, using the name North River
for the original vessel. When Fulton died in 1815, he had built a total of seventeen steamboats, and a half-dozen more were constructed by other builders using his plans.
Livingston died in 1813 and passed his shares of the steamboat company on to his sons-in-law. With Fulton’s death in 1815, the original power behind the partnership dissolved; this left the company with its monopoly in New York waters prey to other hungry American businessmen. Livingston's heirs later granted an exclusive license to Aaron Ogden
Aaron Ogden was a United States Senator and the 5th Governor of New Jersey.-Early life:Ogden was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey...
to run a ferry between New York and New Jersey, while Thomas Gibbons and Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt , also known by the sobriquet Commodore, was an American entrepreneur who built his wealth in shipping and railroads. He was also the patriarch of the Vanderbilt family and one of the richest Americans in history...
established a competing service. The Livingston Fulton monopoly was dissolved in 1824 following the landmark Gibbons v. Ogden
Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 , was a landmark decision in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the power to regulate interstate commerce was granted to Congress by the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. The case was argued by some of America's most admired and...
Supreme Court case, which opened New York waters to competitive steamboat companies. In 1819 there were only nine steamboats in operation on the Hudson River. By 1840, customers could choose from over 100. The Steamboat Era had arrived.
The misnomer Clermont
first appeared in Cadwallader D. Colden
Cadwallader David Colden was an American politician.-Life:...
's biography of Fulton, published in 1817, two years after Fulton died. Since Colden was a friend of both Fulton and Livingston, his book was considered an authoritative source, and his errors were perpetuated in later accounts up to the present day. The vessel is by now nearly always called Clermont
, but no contemporary account called her by that name.
In 1907, a full-size working replica of Clermont
was built in New York to honor the centenary of Fulton's achievement.