A Flat Boat
Another illustration of his [Robert Fulton] inventive gift belongs to his boyhood days. He and one of his playmates used to go out fishing in a flat boat which they propelled by the use of long poles. Getting tired of this method of navigation, Robert made two crude paddle-wheels, one for each side of the boat, connecting them by a sort of double crank, which the boys united in turning. They could then easily propel the boat in their fishing trips to various parts of the lake, and keenly enjoyed this novel and easy way of going a-fishing.
Fulton returned in 1806 to America, where, with money furnished by his friend Livingston, he began to construct another steamboat which he called the Clermont, after the name of Livingston's home on the Hudson. This boat was 130 feet long and 18 feet wide, with a mast and a sail, and on each side a wheel 15 feet in diameter, fully exposed to view.
One morning in August, 1807, a throng of expectant people gathered on the banks of the North River at New York, to see the trial of the Clermont. Everybody was looking for failure. People had all along spoken of Fulton as a crack-brained dreamer, and had called the Clermont "Fulton's Folly." "Of course the thing would not move." "That any man with common-sense might know," they said. So while Fulton was waiting to give the signal to start, these wiseacres were getting ready to jest at his failure.
Finally, at the signal, the Clermont moved slowly, and then stood perfectly still. "Just what I have been saying," said one onlooker with emphasis. "I knew the boat would not go," said another. "Such a thing is impossible," said a third. But they spoke too soon, for after a little adjustment of the machinery, the Clermont steamed proudly up the Hudson.