Related Information

In the Newspapers

Newspapers are a good primary source for tracing the story of the steamboat.

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. Others are available on microfilm or in electronic format. Choose an event in New York State history and get lost in newspapers of that era! For more information, check with a librarian at the reference desk.