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Fitch's Steamboat: Descriptions and Images

John Fitch published the following in the December 1788 issue of The Columbian:

descriptoin of steamboat
Fitch's description of and plan for his steamboat

click image for larger view

model of Fitch Steam Boat
(Varying) Dimensions of The Steamboat

Philad., Dec. 8, 1786


The reason of my so long deferring to give you a description of the Steam-boat, has been in some measure owing to the complication of the works, and an apprehension that a number of drafts would be necessary, in order to shew the powers of the machine as clearly as you would wish. But as I have not been able to hand you herewith such drafts, I can only give you the general principles – It is, in several parts, similar to the late improved steam-engines in Europe, though there are some alterations – our cylinder is to be horizontal, and the steam to work with equal force at each end. The mode by which we obtain (What I take the liberty of terming) a vacuum, is, we believe, entirely new; as is also the method of letting the water into it, and throwing it off against the atmosphere without any friction. It is expected, that the engine, which is a 12 inch cylinder, will move with a clear force of 11 or 12 cwt. after the frictions are deducted; this force is to act against a wheel of 18 inches diameter The piston is to move about three feet, and each vibration of the piston gives the axis about 40 evolutions. Each evolution of the axis moves 12 oars, or paddles 5 ½ feet, (which work perpendicularly, and are represented by the stroke of the paddle of a canoe.) As 6 of the paddles are raised from the water, 6 more are entered, and the two sets of paddles make their strokes of about 11 feet in each evolution. The cranks of the axis act upon the paddles about ½ of their length from the lower end, on which part of the oar the whole force of the axis is applied. Our engine is placed in the boat about ½ from the stem, and both the action and re-action turn the wheel the same way.

With the most perfect respect, Sir,

I beg leave to subscribe myself,

Your very humble servant,


Fitch's Steam Boat, 1787:

From: Sutcliffe, Alice Crary. Robert Fulton and the “Clermont”: The Authoritative Story of Robert Fulton’s Early Experiments, Persistent Reports, and Historic Achievements. Containing Many of Fulton’s Hitherto Unpublished Letters, Drawings, and Pictures. (New York: Century Co., 1909), pp. 191-2

“Fulton’s own description of the Clermont is contained in a paper in possession of one of his heirs: ‘My first steamboat on the Hudson’s River was 150 feet long, 13 feet wide, drawing 2 ft. of water, bow and stern 60 degrees; she displaced 36.40 cubic feet, equal 100 tons of water; her bow presented 26 ft. to the water, plus and minus the resistance of 1 ft. running 4 miles an hour.’

From: Preble, George Henry. A Chronological History of the Origin and Development of Steam Navigation, 1543-1882 (Philadelphia: L.R. Hamersly & Co., 1883), p. 42 ...

"130 feet long, having 18 feet beam and 6 feet hold ... "

From: The North River Steam Ship Clermont at www.kiac-usa.com/clermont.html ...

"142 feet long, 14 feet wide "