John Fitch; (1743-1798), American inventor, who designed and built the first operable steamboat. He was born in East Windsor, Conn., on Jan. 21, 1743, the younger son of a farmer. Fitch left school at the age of eight, proved to be physically unfit for farm work, and after unsatisfactory apprenticeships to two clockmakers, set up a brass shop. He failed in this business, and after serving in the Revolutionary War (during which he had charge of a gun factory), he invested his money with little success in the Northwest Territory.
In 1785, Fitch turned his attention to a steamcoach project and later in the same year tried vainly to get congressional support for operating steamboats on the Mississippi River. During 1786 and 1787 he secured 14-year steamboat monopolies, first in New Jersey and then in Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Helped by Henry Voight, a clockmaker, he built a boat with rows of side paddles that were powered by a steam engine, and demonstrated it at Philadelphia before members of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It moved at a speed of about 4 miles (6.4 km) per hour.
In 1790, Fitch built a larger boat with a more powerful steam engine and a stern paddle wheel. This steamboat traveled at a speed of 6 miles (9.6 km) per hour in regular service on the Delaware River. Fitch obtained a patent for the steamboat in 1791, but the passenger and freight business was insufficient for commercial success.
In 1793, Fitch went to France, and although he had a French patent, he was unable to secure backing for his ideas. After his return to the United States he exhibited a small steamboat with a screw propeller, for which he failed to get backing. Lacking the ability to make his inventions pay, he died disappointed and destitute in Bardstown, Ky., on July 2, 1798.
While living in Kentucky, Fitch continued to work on steam engine ideas. He built two models, one of which was lost in a fire in Bardstown. The other was found in the attic of his daughter's house in Ohio in 1849. The model still exists at the Ohio Historical Society Museum in Columbus. In the 1950s, experts from the Smithsonian Museum examined it and concluded that it was "the prototype of a practical land-operating steam engine," meant to operate on tracks – in other words, a steam locomotive.
In 1802, the Englishman Richard Trevithick invented a full-size steam locomotive that, in 1804, hauled the world's first locomotive-hauled railway train, and within a short time the British invention led to the development of actual railways. Americans began importing English locomotives and copying them.
LegacyHis legal dispute over state monopoly rights with fellow steamboat inventor James Rumsey and others helped bring about the enactment of the first Patent Act of 1790. He is mentioned in the personal letters of several historical figures including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.
John Fitch, proving that well known old saying: 'If first you don't succeed, then try, try, try something else...'. He was unsuccessful as a farmer, unsuccessful as a clockmaker, unsuccessfully working in a brass shop, and then unsuccessful as an investor. Eventually, aged 42, he stopped copying/imitating other peoples devices/occupations and tried inventing and making his own contraptions, and became successful at it. Some people (innovators, inventors and that kind of ilk) are better suited to making what they want to make rather than making what other people want. In the case of John Fitch he excerised his creative spark, his Will, in the form of steam engine powered vehicles: the steam-powered boat and the steam-powered locomotive/railway engine.
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