Free History Studies: Robert Fulton

Free History Studies: Robert Fulton
Free History Studies: Robert Fulton

Robert Fulton is known for inventing the first commercially successful steamboat.

Read the current chapters online:

  • Map the following (you’ll find mapping resources below):
    • Pennsylvania
    • Lancaster, Pennsylvania
    • New York
    • Albany, New York
    • Hudson River
    • Chart the cruise of the Clermont from New York, up the Hudson River to Albany.
  • Quicksilver is another name for the element mercury.  See a picture of mercury being poured.  What does it look like?  Of course, now we know that mercury is poisonous!
  • Learn more about mercury.
  • There is no lead in our pencils today.  Learn more about the history of lead pencils.
  • A ferule is a flat piece of wood, like a ruler, that was used to discipline children.  What do you think Quicksilver Bob meant when he told his teacher that he had come to school to have something beaten into his head, not his knuckles, after being rapped on his knuckles with the ferule?
  • You’ll find helps below for making your own paddle-wheel boat!
  • Why do you think the author shared so many stories of Robert Fulton as a boy?  Create a list of character traits mentioned — both his good traits, and his not-so-good traits.  See helps below.
  • View an image of the Clermont.
  • Learn how a steamboat works.
  • More about Robert Fulton from the Book of Knowledge:

    Toward the end of the eighteenth century the Scottish inventor James Watt showed the world how to harness the giant power of steam.  One of the first men to use this force to propel a boat was a Frenchman named Jouffroy, who built several steamboats before 1785.  In America, James Rumsey used a steam power pump to drive a boat on the Potomac River in 1787….

    It was left to an American, Robert Fulton (1765-1815), to make the steamboat a practical, commercially successful means of water travel, and he is generally recognized as its most important inventor.

    Fulton began his career as a portrait painter, but later he turned his fertile mind to invention.  He devised various industrial devices and also drew up plans for a submarine in which he vainly tried to interest Napoleon Bonaparte and later the British Admiralty.

    In association with Robert Livingston, American minister to France, Fulton built the Clermont in New York.  During the boat’s construction, people jeeringly referred to her as Fulton’s Folly and predicted that she would be a failure.  Their prophecies proved false, however, when the long, slim vessel was launched in August 1807.  Trailing a plume of black smoke, the Clermont steamed up the Hudson River to Albany — a distance of 150 miles — in the unheard-of time of 32 hours!

    People were at last ready to accept the steamboat.  Within a few years of Fulton’s success, steamers were plying the coastal waters and rivers of both Europe and America….

    “The Ships That Rule the Sea,” The Book of Knowledge

Our Related Units
Further Investigation

Robert Fulton: Commercial Steamboat
Simple biography from MIT.

Robert Fulton
Biography and statue from Statuary Hall.


Pennsylvania Map/Quiz Printout

New York Map/Quiz Printout

Interactive Map Maker {Free}
Make your own maps.

Identifying Character Traits Worksheet
Worksheet at that helps students create a chart of a person’s actions and the character traits they show.


“How to Build a Paddle-Wheel Boat”
Rather complicated instructions from The Boy Mechanic Book II.

Robert Fulton: Boy Craftsman by Marguerite Henry
Wonderful biography from a favorite author.

“Robert Fulton and the Steamboat”
Chapter from A First Book in American History also by Eggleston that includes narration prompts.

“Robert Fulton and the Invention of the Steamboat”
Chapter from Great Inventors and Their Inventions by Frank Bachman.

Robert Fulton by Alice Crary Sutcliffe
Well-cited biography for slightly older students written by his great-grandaughter that includes some of the anecdotes mentioned in our book.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Robert Fulton: A Unit Study
Our own unit about Robert Fulton, the Clermont, and his submarine!  Includes more activities, unit studies, lesson plans, and notebooking pages.

Robert Fulton and the Steamboat
Lesson plan that looks at the transportation and economic benefits of Fulton’s steamboat.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

United States Map map for locating Pennsylvania and New York.

Pennsylvania Map
Map for locating Lancaster.

New York Map
Map for locating Albany, the Hudson River, and charting the voyage of the Clermont.

Notebooking page at for recording the characteristics of mercury (scroll down).

Robert Fulton Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.

Enjoy the complete series: