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Battle of the Newspapers

In the Newspapers

On September 2, 1807, less that two weeks after he had successfully steamed up to Albany and back, Robert Fulton ran an ad in the New York City papers, including the American Citizen, for service between the two cities. The same issue of the Citizen carried a letter from Fulton to his friend, Joel Barlow, in Philadelphia, crowing about his success with the steamboat, touting how he soon would have boats on the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers, and putting in a plug for his torpedo.

On August 21, 1811, on the fourth anniversary of Fulton’s first trip, the [New York] Columbian carried an ad for the steamboats Hope and Perseverance, the boats built by James Van Ingen and 20 Albanians, who dared to flaunt the laws promulgated by the New York State Legislature, that had endorsed the monopoly granted to Fulton and Livingston. When the case came to court in 1812, Van Ingen et al lost.

By 1820 things had gotten really testy as more and more people wanted to cash in on the lucrative trade of carrying people up and down – and across – the Hudson and other bodies of water by steam. Men with connections and money were able to persuade state legislatures to pass laws in their favor. Thus, Letson & Davison felt compelled to point out in its June 17, 1820 ad in the New-York Evening Post that New Jersey had passed a "retaliation law." This ad also mentions Cornelius Vanderbilt was captain of a steamboat called the Bellona.

Newspaper Articles:

The New York State Library has newspapers that cover the steamboat controversy as well as other fights and events. Some of the newspapers are available in their original format, while others are on microfilm or in electronic format. For more information, check with a librarian at the reference desk.

Announcement that Mr. Fulton's steamboat would begin its trip up the Hudson.

1807 newspaper clip of American Citizen

"Mr. Fulton's ingenious Steam Boat, invented with a view to the navigation of the Mississippi from New-Orleans upwards, sails to-day from the North River, near the State Prison, to Albany. The velosity [sic] of the Steam Boat is calculated at four miles a hour; it is said that it will make a progress of two against the current of the Mississippi; and if so it will certainly be a very valuable acquisition to the commerce of the Western States."

Image source: [New York] American Citizen, August 17, 1807 – New York State Library call number: BOX 409

Announcement that Mr. Fulton's steamboat was "performing her voyage without sails, and in opposition to the wind and tide."

clip of Mercantile Advertiser

"Mr. Fulton's Steam-boat left the North River on Monday between one and two o'clock in the afternoon; at 10 o'clock in the evening she was opposite Tappan; between 2 and 3 o'clock on the following morning she was seen 6 miles beyond Newburgh, and at six o’clock she was seen by the Cornelia opposite Poughkeepsie; performing her voyage without sails, and in opposition to the wind and tide. – Merc. Adv."

[NYSL does not have this issue of the Mercantile Advertiser]

Image source: [New York] American Citizen, August 21, 1807 – New York State Library call number: BOX 409

Letter to the editor from Robert Fulton describing “the success of my experiment”.

1807 clip Robert Fulton letter in American Citizen

"To the Editor of the American Citizen:

I arrived this afternoon at 4 o’clock, in the steam boat, from Albany. As the success of my experiment gives me great hope that such boats may be rendered of much importance to my country, to prevent erroneous opinions, and give some satisfaction to the friends of useful improvements, you will have the goodness to publish the following statement of facts:

“I left New-York on Monday at 1 o’clock, and arrived at Clermont, the seat of Chancellor Livingston, at 1 o’clock on Tuesday, time 24 hours, distance 110 miles; on Wednesday I departed from the Chancellor’s at 9 in the morning, and arrived at Albany at 5 in the afternoon, distance 40 miles, time 3 hours; the sum of this is 150 miles in 32 hours, equal near 5 miles an hour.

"On Thursday, at 9 o’clock in the morning, I left Albany, and arrived at the Chancellor’s at 6 in the evening; I started from thence at 7, and arrived at New-York on Friday at 4 in the afternoon; time 30 hours, space run through 150 miles, equals 5 miles an hour. Throughout he whole way my going and returning the wind was ahead; no advantage could be drawn from my sails – the whole has, therefore, been performed by the power of the steam engine.

"I am, Sir, Your most obedient, Robert Fulton."

[below the letter]:

"We congratulate Mr. Fulton and the country on his success in the Steam Boat, which cannot fail of being very advantageous. We understand that not the smallest inconvenience is felt in the boat either from heat or smoke."

Image source: [New York] American Citizen, August 20, 1807--
New York State Library call number: BOX 409

An 1807 Advertisement about The North River Steam Boat

An ad announcing “The North River Steam Boat” (not the Clermont, the name most people think Fulton’s first steamboat was named) would begin service between New York and Albany on September 4. Included were fares and time of trip.

1807 adverisement of North River Steam Boat in the American Citizen


Will leave Paulas Hook ferry on Friday the 4th of September, at 6 in the morning, and arrive at Albany on Saturday the 6th, in the afternoon.

Provisions, good births [sic] and accommodations are provided. The charge to each passenger as follows:

   Dollars Time
To Newburgh 3 14 hours
To Poughkeepsie 4 17 do [ditto]
To Esopus 4 1/2 20 do
To Hudson 5 30 do
To Albany 7 36 do

For places, apply to Wm. Vandervoort, No. 48, Courtlandt-street, on the corner of Greenwich street.

Way passengers to Tary Town [sic], &c. &c. will apply to the captain on board.

The STEAM BOAT will leave Albany on Monday, the 7th of September, at 6 in the morning, and arrive at New-York on Tuesday at 6 in the evening.

She will leave New-York on Wednesday morning at 6, and arrive at Albany on Thursday at 6 in the evening.

She will leave Albany on Friday morning at 6 and arrive at New York on Saturday evening at 6, thus performing two voyages from Albany and one from New-York within the week.

On Monday the 14th and Friday the 18th she will leave New York at 6 in the morning, and Albany in the 16th at 6 in the morning, after which the arrangement for her departures will be announced.

Image source: [New York] American Citizen, September 2, 1807--
New York State Library call number: BOX 409

Fulton letter to Joel Barlow announcing success of the venture; working on “the Torpedo system of defense and attack”.

In the same issue in which Robert Fulton ran an ad announcing "The North River Steam Boat" would begin service between New York and Albany on September 4. he also published a letter to a friend, Joel Barlow, telling of the success of his steamboat venture and also reporting that he has been working on "the Torpedo system of defense and attack."

newspaper clipping of letter from Barlow to Fulton 1807

TO JOEL BARLOW – Philadelphia.
New-York, 22d Aug. 1807.

My Steam Boat voyage to Albany and back has turned out rather more favourable than I had calculated. The distance from New-York to Albany is 150 miles; I ran it up in 32 hours and down in 30 hours. The latter is just 5 miles an hour. I had a light breeze against me the whole way going and coming, so that no use was made of my sails; and the voyage has been performed wholly by the power of the steam engine. I overtook many sloops and schooners bearing to windward, and past them as if they had been at anchor.

The power of propelling boats by steam is now fully proved. The morning I left New-York there was not perhaps thirty persons in the city who believed that the boat would ever move one mile an hour or be of the least utility. And while we were putting off from the wharf, which was crowded with spectators, I heard a number of sarcastic remarks; this is the way you know in which ignorant men compliment what they call philosophers and projectors.

Having employed much time and money and zeal in accomplishing this work it gives me, as it will you, great pleasure to see it so fully answer my expectations. It will give a quick and cheap conveyance to merchandize on the Mississippi, Missouri and other great rivers which are now laying open their treasures to the enterprise of our countrymen. And although the prospect of personal emolument has been some inducement to me, yet I feel infinitely more pleasure in reflecting with you on the immense advantage that my country will derive from the invention.

However, I will not admit that it is half so important as the Torpedo system of defence and attack; for out of this will grow the liberty of the seas; an object of infinite importance to the welfare of the America, and every civilized country. But thousands of witnesses have now seen the steam boat in rapid movement, and they believe – but they have not seen a ship of war destroyed by a torpedo, and they do not believe - . We cannot expect people in general to have a knowledge of physics, or power of mind sufficient to combine ideas and reason from causes to effects. But in case we have war, and the enemy’s ships come into our waters, if the government will give me reasonable means of action, I will soon convince the world that we have surer and cheaper modes of defence than they are aware of.

Yours, &c.

Robert Fulton

Image source: [New York] American Citizen, September 2, 1807--
New York State Library call number: BOX 409

Last Updated: September 20, 2021