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Steamboat Timeline: 1765-1948

Age of Invention 1765 James Watt (1736-1819), Scottish instrument maker and inventor, invented a steam engine.
1775 Matthew Boulton (1728–1809), English manufacturer and engineer, financed Watt's steam engine and began manufacturing it.
1783 The first successful steamboat may have been built by French engineer and inventor Claude-François-Dorothée, Marquis de Jouffroy d'Abbans (1751-1832), and run on the Saône River near Lyon, France.
Steamboat Monopoly
New York
1787 John Fitch received from New York State a 14-year monopoly to operate steamboats. (Laws of 1787, Chapter 57) The law was passed "in order to promote and encourage so useful an improvement and discovery [as the steamboat], and as a reward for his ingenuity, application and diligence."
1797 Robert R. Livingston entered into an agreement with John Stevens and Nicholas J. Roosevelt to build a steamboat, the engine for which was to be constructed at Roosevelt’s foundry in New Jersey.
1798 Robert Livingston had Fitch's New York monopoly transferred to him. The law said Livingston would be granted a 20-year monopoly, provided he could build, "within twelve months," a boat of 20 tons and have it propelled by steam at the rate of four miles an hour (Laws of 1798, Chapter 55).
1801 President Thomas Jefferson appointed Livingston minister to France. There he met Robert Fulton.
1802 Fulton and Livingston entered into an agreement to build passenger steamboats to run on the Hudson River between New York and Albany.
1803 Livingston got a two-year extension on the act of 1798 (Laws of 1803, Chapter 94). In August Fulton launched a boat on the Seine River.
1806 In October Fulton sailed for New York.
  • On April 6 Livingston got a two-year extension on the 1803 act (Laws of 1807, Chapter 165).
  • On August 17 the Steamboat (more popularly known now as the Clermont) began her maiden voyage up the Hudson to Albany, returning to New York City on August 21.
Challenges to the Monopoly 1808
  • John R. Livingston bought from Robert R. Livingston, his brother, the right to operate a steamboat between New York and New Jersey.
  • John Stevens launched the Phoenix, competing with John Livingston.
  • On April 11the Legislature extended the Livingston-Fulton monopoly five years for every additional steamboat they put in the water, up to 30 years. (Laws of 1808, Chapter 225).
  • In April the New York State Legislature passed another act that further tightened the monopoly, allowing impounding unlicensed craft while suits in the courts were pending. (Laws of 1811, Chapter 200).
  • On June 22, the Hope, the steamboat built by "the Albanians," set sail for Albany. Robert R. Livingston took James Van Ingen and the Albanians to court to protect the monopoly.
1813 The New Jersey legislature awarded Aaron Ogden exclusive rights to operate steamboats between New Jersey and New York City, putting him in direct conflict with the New York State law granting a steamboat monopoly on New York State’s waters to Livingston and Fulton.
1814 Ogden petitioned the New York State Assembly, challenging the monopoly.
  • On February 4, 1824, Gibbons vs. Ogden was argued before Chief Justice John Marshall in the United States Supreme Court.
  • On March 2, Chief Justice Marshall decided against the right of states to grant monopolies regarding commerce.
Competition 1825 Erie Canal completed between Albany and Buffalo, establishing an all-water route between New York City and the Great Lakes.
1829 Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt established his own steamboat business that would ultimately become the North River Steamboat Association , an organization of steamboat owners that sought to minimize competition on the New York-to-Albany run.
1834 Daniel Drew formed "The People’s Line" to operate steamers in direct competition to Vanderbilt and the North River Steamboat Association.
1845 Daniel Drew gained control of the North River Steamboat Association and operation of most steamboats plying the Hudson River.
1851 Hudson River Railroad completed on the eastern shore between New York and Albany, offering a viable alternative to the steamboat for transporting goods and people.
1861 The steamer Mary Powell, the "Queen of the Hudson," began her distinguished 55-year career of providing fast and reliable service daily between New York and Kingston. Known for being a fast boat, she set the standard for speed not only for other passenger vessels but also for private steam yachts.
Golden Age of Steamboat Travel 1863 Beginning of the Hudson River Day Line: Alfred Van Santvoord and John McB. Davidson acquired the steamboats Daniel Drew and Aremenia and began offering day-boat service between New York and Albany.
1880 Steamer Albany introduced by Day Line and touted as a "fast boat" that could equal or better the speed of the Mary Powell. This friendly battle of words between boat captains was never put to test in an actual river race.
1887 Steamer New York introduced into service on the New York-to-Albany route. Designed as a passenger boat only, its interior décor featured many fine paintings that gained Hudson River Day Line steamers the reputation of being "floating galleries of art."
1906 A "new steamboat for the new century", the Hendrick Hudson was launched into service by the Hudson River Day Line as the first "million dollar" boat to ply the river.
1909 Steamer The Robert Fulton introduced in time for the Hudson-Fulton Celebration held in October of that year.
1912 The steamer Washington Irving was built as the largest and grandest of all of the famous "floating palaces" of the Hudson River Day Line.
1924 The Hudson River Day Line Company launched the steamer Alexander Hamilton, the last of the great side-paddle steamers built for its fleet. It was also the first steamer to be powered by oil instead of coal, which was used to power most of its steamers at the time.
1927 Steamer Peter Stuyvesant entered into service. This was to be the last of the great boats built for the Hudson River Day Line.
1948 The Hudson River Day Line becomes a casualty of the great depression and America’s love affair with the automobile. On September 13, 1948, the Day Line steamboat Robert Fulton made its last run from Albany to New York City, bringing to an end regular steamboat service between these two cities that was begun by Robert Fulton in 1807.
Last Updated: September 21, 2021