Free Science Studies: Robert Fulton & the Steamboat

Free Science Studies: Robert Fulton & the Steamboat
Free Science Studies: Robert Fulton & the Steamboat

Robert Fulton was a talented engineer and inventor who is best known for building the first commercially viable steamboat.

Read the following:

“Robert Fulton and the Invention of the Steamboat”

  • Map the following (you’ll find mapping resources below):
    • New York
    • New York City, New York
    • Albany, New York
    • The Hudson River
    • The Clermont‘s route from New York City to Albany
    • Pennsylvania
    • Little Britain, Pennsylvania (where Fulton was born)
    • England
  • View a birchbark canoe at
  • View a Mississippi log raft at (click on the illustration by A.R. Waud on the left for a closer view).
  • View a model of a Phoenician galley.
  • View a replica of the Santa Maria.
  • Read more about the history of ships and boats at ThinkQuest.
  • Create a timeline of the various advances in ships mentioned (see resources below).
  • William Henry, “the first American to attempt the propelling of a boat by steam,” was an interesting character — the first patron of Benjamin West, captured by a French privateer when sailing to England and landed in Spain, made it to England where he met Watt, tried his steamboat experiments in the states, and then went into public life. You can read more about William Henry in the public domain work, The Life of William Henry.
  • View a plan of Fitch’s steamboat. What do you notice about how it is powered?
  • John Stevens had success directly after the voyage of Fulton’s Clermont. Learn more about Stevens’s craft at Hoboken Historial Museum.
  • Learn more about the Charlotte Dundas, Symington’s invention.
  • Make a chart showing the contributions of those including Fulton to the invention of the steamboat.
  • Benjamin West not only painted Robert Fulton’s mother and father, he did a portrait engraving of Robert Fulton.
  • Learn more about the Duke of Bridgewater to understand his influence on Fulton’s steamboat.
  • Narrate Fulton’s background as an artist, his switch to engineer, and how his artistic background helped him as an engineer.
  • View a picture of Fulton’s submarine at the Library of Congress.
  • Explain the statement, “The men who win fame and fortune do what other people say cannot be done.” How did Fulton overcome the mistakes others had suffered from? [By learning from them.]
  • Learn more about Robert R. Livingston.
  • Narrate the trial trip of Fulton’s steamboat.
  • Make a list of some of the obstacles Fulton had to overcome in building the Clermont.
  • View an image of the Clermont.
  • Narrate Fulton’s account of the first voyage of the Clermont.
  • Write an account of the voyage of the Clermont as if you were there reporting the event.
  • Make a list of the inventions Fulton came up with.
  • If you are keeping a timeline, add the voyage of the Clermont, August 17, 1807.
  • More about Robert Fulton and the steamboat from the Book of Knowledge:

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. As the tide of American settlement surged westward, steamboats appeared on the Great Lakes. Side-wheel steamers with towering smokestacks churned the muddy waters of the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio rivers, carrying a constant flow of passengers and freight. Some of these river boats must have looked like floating palaces to people living on the young nation’s frontiers; their rich furniture, elaborate decorations and excellent food made them the height of luxury for passengers of that day….Toward the end of the 1800’s, the expanding railroads took over most of the passenger and freight traffic of lake and riverboats.

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

Further Investigation

Robert Fulton: Steamboat Services
Biography at PBS.

Robert Fulton
Biography at The Robinson Library.

The First Voyage of the Clermont
An eyewitness account at

A History of Steamboats
Great download from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


Use this interactive at to create a timeline showing the progress in boats mentioned above.

Robert Fulton: Inventor
Sequencing activity from that tracks well with the book.


“Robert Fulton”
Chapter covering Fulton from Stories of Great Inventors by Hattie E. Macomber written for early readers.

Robert Fulton

Robert Fulton: Boy Craftsman by Marguerite Henry
Our favorite Robert Fulton biography from one of our favorite authors!

“Robert Fulton: The Inventor of the Steamboat”
Chapter from Four American Inventors by Frances M. Perry.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans
Robert Fulton: A Unit Study

Robert Fulton: A Unit Study
Our own unit mentioned above with lots of background information and other resources.

Free History Studies: Robert Fulton
Suggestions and resources that go with the book Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans by Edward Eggleston.

Early American Engineers: Robert Fulton and Robert Livingston
Lesson plan from the Hudson River Valley Institute (Marist College) where students write a brief biography and create a timeline.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Map of Europe
At PAT for locating England.

United States Map
At for locating New York and Pennsylvania.

New York Map
At for locating New York City, Albany, and the Hudson River.

Pennsylvania Map
At for locating Little Britain.

Robert Fulton Mapping and Notebooking Pages
Wonderful map of the Clermont‘s route included in this free download from Bright Ideas Press.

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

Enjoy the entire series: