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yet produced a President, although from her humble roof-tree had gone forth the ancestors of General Grant,— not despairing, she gave into the arms of her country a portion of the northwestern territory then known as the Western Reserve, and now tenderly known to some of us still as "New Connecticut", which was finally made a portion of the State of Ohio. Not a great while ago, that state sent her son to be educated in a Connecticut institution, Yale University, and to-day he is the conservator, the loyal and conscientious commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States, William Howard Taft. So, you see, sir, that Connecticut, having produced a grandfather of a great general, has also had her portion in producing a President of the United States.
John Fitch lived in East Windsor until he was twentysix years of age. He contracted an unfortunate marriage. Very few Connecticut people have done that, but he did. Rumor says he was apprenticed to a watchmaker, in the adjoining town of Manchester. At all events, his mechanical genius was manifested and expressed in the line of watch-making. At the age of twenty-six he went to Pennsylvania, and surveyed the Muskingun River territory, and the Green River territory in Kentucky, and finally, in 1785, conceived the plan of propelling boats by steam. Between 1785 and the time of his death, 1798, he constructed and actually moved, upon the waters of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Kentucky, six vessels of various dimensions, propelled by steam. He made his engines; he worked grimy-handed at boring and filing and adjusting. He had little money, but he pursued that course, impelled by a voice within which was proclaiming through the American wilderness a highway for commerce and the broad pathway of national growth for this nation. He worked at it, until finally, in 1791, he secured from the United States a patent for his inventions, and those letters-patent were destroyed in the fire of 1836.
Let me just in a moment tell you what this workman did. This artificer in iron and brass, this modern Tubal Cain who was giving his life, his inventive genius, his prophetic foresight, to his country, while another man to whom I shall refer later was handling the palette, mixing pigments, and wielding the brush in Paris, under the instruction, mark you, of Benjamin West, both in Paris and in England.
We are here to deal with facts. We are here in no spirit of animosity, with no intention of reflecting upon the mistakes others have made, but only to set our country right regarding the man who first propelled boats by steam. No imitator, no man propped by influential friends, no
man possessing abundant capital, but an humble New England. citizen, a surveyor and engineer, a man who walked the country possessed with the idea that he had something for the national good and was bound to fulfil his mission. The record is a humble one. It is not very eloquent in words, but our nation has reached the point and it occurs to me it may be well to emphasize it — where it is looking for deeds. It wishes things done. Performance is what the United States of America demands to-day.
In 1786, New Jersey enacted a law giving to John Fitch the sole and exclusive right of constructing and using all kinds of boats and water craft impelled by the force of fire or steam on the navigable waters of New Jersey. That was in 1786. That was the year when Robert Fulton, a youth, went abroad to study art under the eminent American artist Benjamin West. Robert born until 1765. Robert Fulton had not soiled his hands by moulding brass or boring cylinders or adjusting valves. Not he. He was an eminent man in his line, but, as I shall endeavor to show later, he was not, and in the nature of things could not have been, an inventor; and out of his own mouth I will show, and out of the mouth of Robert Livingston show, and out of the mouth of Daniel Webster show, that he was an imitator and not an inventor.
On July 27, 1786, Fitch operated a steam skiff, which was his second boat. Delaware, on February 3, 1787; New York, on March 19, 1787; Pennsylvania, on March 28, 1787; Virginia, on the 7th of November, 1787, granted rights for fourteen years to John Fitch for the exclusive use of their waters for steam navigation.
He built his second steamboat, forty-five feet long and twelve feet beam, in 1787; tried it out upon the Delaware River, on August 22, 1787, and then had for a passenger his old Windsor neighbor and friend, Chief Justice Oliver Ellsworth, who pronounced it a success.
His third boat, sixty feet long and eight feet beam, was constructed in 1787. His fourth boat, aptly called the Perseverance, made her trial trip on the 12th of October, 1788, and carried thirty passengers from Philadelphia to Burlington, twenty miles up stream, in three hours and ten minutes. On the 16th of April, 1790, he made a successful trip on the Delaware River, and this boat was regularly advertised as a passenger boat in two Philadelphia papers.
On the 26th of August, 1791, note the date, for it is somewhat significant in connection with a brief notice which, in justice, must be made of his later career, the 26th of August, 1791, the Federal Congress granted
to Fitch a patent for fourteen years. The document was signed by General Washington and by the commissioners, Thomas Jefferson, General Henry Knox, and John Randall, but destroyed by fire in 1836. And, by the way, I stop here to say that General Washington was a friend. of James Rumsey, but upon investigation it was discovered that James Rumsey was propelling his boats by a system of paddles and wheels in which he used manual labor. Fitch makes this sententious remark, in a letter to Governor Mifflin of Pennsylvania, "I can make six tons of machinery do the work of ten tons of men." Rumsey's proposition was to combine the physical labor of human beings in such a way as to get better results than had ever been known. General Washington was a friend of Rumsey's, and yet he signed the Fitch patent; and who else signed it? The names of these men are somewhat conspicuously known. We talk about them on the 4th of July, on Decoration Day,- indeed, whenever we have a political convention, and I reckon the name of one of them will be heard often in the next two years, when the Democrats get together,— and that is, Thomas Jefferson. The others were General Henry Knox, and John Randall,
And then, after having received that paper, John Fitch proceeded with the commendable audacity which belongs to every Anglo-Saxon who believes himself to be right, to build a boat and launch it and propel it by steam, on the Collect Pond in the center of New York City; and he had for a passenger Robert R. Livingston, who several years later obtained, or endeavored to obtain, from the State of New York a reversal of the permission which had been given to Fitch, not that Livingston claimed to have invented a steamboat, but that he had discovered a new and improved way of applying steam to the propulsion of boats. The very language indicates that it had already been applied; and improvement on a patent is a common thing. Fulton had not been heard of then; that is, as an inventor. Fulton was enjoying himself. He was a man of talent in his direction.
In 1793, Fitch deposited his papers with Mr. Allen Vail, United States Consul in France, and these papers, it is well known, came into the hands of Robert Fulton; for Mr. Vail says, "I lent Mr. Fulton, of Paris, all the specifications and drawings of Mr. Fitch and they remained in his possession several months." That was long before Fulton returned to America, long before he applied for a patent for the improved application of steam. Robert Fulton was a very adroit actor. Let me tell you what he was as a workman. I am not attacking Fulton, but I am endeavoring to show the improbability, or I
might say, the absolute impossibility, that he was the inventor of steam navigation. Now, away back in 1875, when things had been quieted down, and when everybody had supposed there was no question as to who invented steam navigation, a man by the name of William L. Stone, caring no more about the actual application of steam than many men who are enjoying its benefits, published a book, and again re-published it in 1880. He wrote the "Reminiscences of Saratoga and Ballston," and I quote from pages 235 and 238:
At this point a gentleman present [since, Rt. Rev. Bishop Alonzo Potter of Pennsylvania, a young Episcopal divine, who is married to a daughter of the late Robert R. Livingston] joined in the conversation. "I am not surprised, General, at your remarks," said he, "my own observation leading me to believe that many descend into history as successful claimants for public honors who, if the facts were known, would stand in a very different light. Probably no person has received so much praise, and deserved so little, as Robert Fulton. A man of no practical ingenuity, of no power of conceiving - much less of executing — an original mechanical idea, his friend Golden has succeeded in persuading the public that to him is due the successful navigation of our rivers by steam."
That is pretty significant testimony, taken with what will be found in our brief, when one comes to consider all that has been expended, all that has been ignored, of testimony in disseminating the idea that this skillful artist and brush wielder and pigment mixer should supersede one who from his youth had done nothing but work in metals and earn his living by mechanical pro
But the case grows stronger as we go on. be surprised to learn- I confess that I was that, when Livingston had gotten hold of Fulton and put him to work to build a steam engine, he had to instruct, he had to condemn, he had to take all means within his power to teach Robert Fulton that the fulcrum end should be larger and stronger than the smaller end of the starting bar. Really, may we not question whether Fulton knew the difference between the throttle of an engine and the safety valve of a boiler. And they say, and it is in the brief here, that that actually was the difficulty that Mr. Livingston had with his protégé, and they go on to say that while he was a draughtsman he was not a mechanic. (Vide "Reminiscences" before quoted.)
But we have more commanding evidence than that. It is an indisputable fact that Mr. Fulton, who was in Philadelphia in the very year when Fitch was running his boat on the Delaware River experimentally, went abroad and stayed there for twenty odd years; but now I will give you the testimony of a man whose epigrammatic
sentence after the battle of Santiago will live as long as any epigram that history has recorded against any man, naval or military. We are on historic ground. Not far from here, Mr. Chairman, are the ruins of the old Catoctin Furnace, and near the Catoctin Furnace was born a man whose character was a living light that will increase as the generations come and go. He says: "This Furnace has been operated for a period reaching beyond the days of the Revolution. It was there that the first castings of steamboat machinery were made, about 1786 or 1787." And the authority I give you for that is Admiral Winfield Scott Schley.
Was Robert Fulton boring out those cylinders, was he adjusting those pistons? Was he toiling and sweating and urging forward, by the efforts of his natural genius, that invention? Not at all.
Robert Fulton was distinguished as an artist; but he did not possess, and he never exhibited, the original and untiring perseverance in the line of steam development and navigation which this pamphlet, this irrefutable brief prepared by these eminent men, conclusively proves to have been possessed by John Fitch.
Our country is tremendously great. It has been well said that our hold upon that and our national reputation must be by virtue of a navy, and a navy the like of which the world has never seen before. We must have a guarantee of peace, and we must have vessels to carry that guarantee into every port in civilization. We must have men who will hold up to future generations the renown of Paul Jones, the renown of Bainbridge, of Decatur, of Perry, of Stuart, and even of Olmstead, the neighbor of John Fitch, and all that vast host of "unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown" dead, whose bones lie deep in multidinous seas which American sailors have made red with patriotic blood; whose memories are to be supported by a navy which shall be really and truly that which John Fitch had predicted it would be, that which would open up to the commerce of the world the Ohio and the Mississippi and make us a power throughout Christendom.
There is one way, it seems to me, - if an humble citizen may suggest a way, in which we may all unite. I should say to the North, "Give up"; and to the South, "Hold not back"; and to the East and the West, "Lend us your aid"; and let us build one great Dreadnought, in spite of all opposition, and let it be named the John Fitch. Let it be known that where the John Fitch comes, she comes, if possible, on a mission of peace, - peace under all circumstances, without contention, but, if necessary to have contention, let it be peace after contention. And
if I were to have my way, I would make her the first vessel or "him", it does not seem right to use the feminine word for such a ship-to use the Panama Canal, and that ship should guard the entrance to the Panama Canal. She should be one of the fleet. And when the John Fitch I had gone out of existence, if we still need battleships in the future as in the past, there should be a John Fitch II, and so on, as long as this great republic maintains its place among the nations of the earth.
I say, in the light of facts which, if this brief comes to the attention of patriotic citizens, will be accepted as true, the question is this, "What are you going to do, Men of the Navy?" you who knew Farragut; you who saw the magnificent performance of Harry Knapp when he took his great ship out of what we thought was a fearful predicament and turned her at the head of the fleet on the Hudson River. That ship was handled with consummate skill; handled by a Connecticut boy, born pretty near East Windsor, when the Florida made her magnificent obeisance to the Palisades. I ask, what will you do with the man whose spirit stands at every throttle, this man John Fitch? What will you do in the light of this evidence? What will you do, as American people, in fairness to the memory of this man whom we call John Fitch?
Mr. Chairman, there is here with us a gentleman who wrote the paper on the priority of the claim of John Fitch. It is a brief paper. It was written by the father of Captain Harry Knapp. I hope I am not offensive when I suggest that the few minutes which it will take to read it will be well spent. I should like very much, as a supplement to the little I have said, that Mr. Knapp may read that paper. He is here, and if it is agreeable, I am sure it would give us all pleasure to hear him.
PRIORITY OF INVENTION
ADDRESS BY MR. FREDERIC KNAPP.
The discovery, invention, and successful application of steam propulsion of vessels through water belongs in all honor, and of right, to John Fitch, a native of the town of Windsor (now South Windsor), in the State of Connecticut. Fitch was born January 21, 1743; died July 2, 1798; and was buried in Bardstown, Kentucky.
His invention of the steamboat dates back to April, 1785. With no precedent to aid or guide him, in an untried and unknown field, Fitch conceived the possibilities of steam propulsion of vessels through water, at a time
in the world's history when the only known way was by oars or by sails, and he worked out his problem to a successful application in the construction of his steamboat running on the Delaware River, carrying passengers from Philadelphia to Burlington, New Jersey, under advertised scheduled dates, making over seven miles an hour. Fitch's resources beyond his own earnings, were extremely limited.
During the year 1785, practical drawings and models of his steamboat were submitted to the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, Pa., and Fitch also memorialized Congress to "facilitate the inland navigation of the United States, especially in the waters of the Mississippi, by his invention," and also claimed that his invention would answer for sea voyages as well, and in time would be the mode of crossing the Atlantic for packets and armed vessels.
His model showed the screw propeller, as well as paddles.
In 1786-87, five states New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia - recognized the value of Fitch's invention and application of steam propulsion of vessels through water, by granting him sole and exclusive rights in their navigable waters for constructing, making, and employing or navigating any kind of boat or water craft which should be impelled by the force of fire or steam, in all the creeks, rivers, etc., within the territory or jurisdiction of the state, for a period of fourteen years. In 1789 (March 4), upon the formation of the National Government of the United States, all control of the navigable waters of the several states passed over to the United States National Government; and on August 26, 1791, the National Government granted Fitch letters-patent for his steamboat invention, for the term of fourteen years. This document was signed by Washington, and by Jefferson, Knox, and Randolph, commissioners.
Such were the beginnings and successful application of Fitch's wonderful invention · - the first in the world's history for steam propulsion of vessels through water. Fitch's priority of invention is further evidenced by the Legislative Acts of the State of New York repealing rights granted in 1787 to John Fitch, upon Livingston's petition, and granting rights to Livingston and Fulton, which were subsequently revoked and annulled by the Supreme Court of the United States.
The record evidence is as follows:
In 1798, nine years after all control of the navigable waters of the State of New York had passed over to the National Government of the United States, Robert R.
Livingston petitioned the New York Legislature to repeal the rights granted by a former Legislature, in 1787, to John Fitch, giving him "sole right and advantage of making, and employing for a limited time, the steamboat, by him lately invented," which Livingston alleged had become forfeited by death or non-use, and that similar rights be extended to him for a period of twenty years. This petition was granted.
In 1803, Livingston again petitioned the then Legislature of New York, to extend these rights thus obtained in 1798, to embrace Robert Fulton. This petition was also granted, and the time was extended two years from 1803 for them to demonstrate the practicability of their experiments, of which, "if successful," the necessary proofs should be submitted to the Commission. The act of April 11, 1808, granted confiscatory penalties.
Livingston and Fulton exercised these so-called "rights" until 1812, when they brought suit against Van Ingen et al., for infringement of these "rights." Livingston and Fulton, as plaintiffs in this suit, had to allege, and did allege, the priority of Fitch's steamboat invention, whose rights were repealed in 1798, by the Legislature of New York upon Livingston's petition. Livingston and Fulton subsequently assigned these "rights," thus obtained by them from the Legislatures of the State of New York, to John R. Livingston, and he assigned them to Aaron Ogden of New Jersey. Ogden brought suit against Thomas Gibbons for infringment of these "rights" assigned from Livingston and Fulton, which was decided in his, Ogden's, favor, by the New York Court. Gibbons then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, and the case was heard at the February Term, 1824. Daniel Webster argued the case for the appellant Gibbons. The United States Supreme Court affirmed Mr. Webster's view, that the grants by the New York Legislature to Livingston and Fulton created a monopoly, hostile to the citizens of states, and was hostile also to the sovereignty of the United States. The Supreme Court decided that these "rights" granted by the Legislatures of the State of New York to Livingston and Fulton for the exclusive navigation of the waters of that state, prohibited vessels licensed by the Laws of the United States, and were repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, and void. The decision of the New York Court was revoked and annulled.
I will read the decree of the United States Supreme Court:
GIBBONS V. OGDEN (Decree, 9th Wheaton, 240). This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record of the court of the State of New York for the trial of impeachments and correction of errors, and was argued by counsel. On
consideration whereof, this court is of opinion that the several licenses to the steamboats the Stoudinger and the Bellona, to carry on the coasting trade, which are set up by the appellant Thomas Gibbons in his answer to the bill of the respondent Aaron Ogden, filed in the Court of Chancery for the State of New York, which were granted under an Act of Congress passed in pursuance of the Constitution of the United States, gave full authority to those vessels to navigate the waters of the United Sates by steam or otherwise for the purpose of carrying on the coasting trade, any law of the State of New York to the contrary notwithstanding; and that so much of the several laws of the State of New York as prohibits vessels, licensed according to the laws of the United States, from navigating the waters of the State of New York by means of fire or steam, is repugnant to the said Constitution and void. This court is therefore of opinion that the decree of the court of New York for the trial of impeachments and the correction of errors affirming the decree of the Chancellor of that State, which perpetually enjoins the said Thomas Gibbons, the appellant, from navigating the waters of the State of New York with the steamboats the Stoudinger and the Bellona by steam or fire, is erroneous and ought to be reversed, and the same is hereby reversed and annulled. And this court does further direct, order, and decree that the bill of the said Aaron Ogden be dismissed, and the same is hereby dismissed accordingly.
Furthermore, neither Livingston nor Fulton claimed priority of discovery and invention, only that “on a suggestion by him (Livingston) that he was possessor of a mode of applying the steam engine to propel a boat on new and advantageous principles."
Up to 1803, Livingston and Fulton's experiments had proved fruitless, and the Legislature of New York granted them two years from 1803 to demonstrate the practicability of their experiments, of which, "if successful," necessary proofs should be submitted to a commission. Fulton's steamboat, the Clermont, was not launched on the Hudson River until August, 1807,twenty years after Fitch's steamboat invention.
Doubtless Fulton, with Livingston's aid, rendered essential service in developing the steamboat to make it a commercial success in the field explored by Fitch twenty years before and opened up to the world.
In summing up, from the record above, evidenced, as it is, by Fitch's invention, models, correspondence, and successful application of his steamboat in the waters of the Delaware river in 1786-90; by grants from five states, including New York, for the "sole and exclusive use" for his steamboat invention in their navigable waters, in 1786-87; by letters-patent granted Fitch by the United States National Government, in 1791; by Livingston's declaration of Fitch's priority of invention in his petition to the New York Legislature, in 1798, for repeal of rights granted Fitch in 1787, and petition that similar rights be granted to him, which were subsequently ex
tended to embrace Fulton; by Livingston's and Fulton's allegations, as plaintiffs in their suit brought in 1812 against Van Ingen et al. for infringing in these navigable waters, where they alleged Fitch's priority of invention; by Webster's argument before the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of Gibbons vs. Ogden, maintaining Fitch's priority of invention, and also by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in this case in 1824, accepting Mr. Webster's view, and revoking and annulling the several monopoly grants made by the Legislatures of New York to Livingston and Fulton, as being hostile to the sovereignty of the United States.
Such cumulative evidence as here narrated should end all further controversy, and establishes the fact that the priority of invention and successful application of steam propulsion of vessels through water, belongs, in all justice and right, to John Fitch, a native of Connecticut.
It is almost inconceivable that the friends of Fulton, and especially the promoters of the Hudson-Fulton Centennial (in 1907) of the launching of Fulton's Clermont on the Hudson river, should not have known the history of their own State regarding Fitch's priority of invention of steam propulsion of vessels through water; or that the so-called "rights" in navigable waters, granted by the Legislatures of the State of New York to Livingston and Fulton, were revoked and annulled in 1824 by the Supreme Court of the United States.
It was as truthfully, as wittily, said, of the HudsonFulton Centennial celebration at New York, in 1907," that "It was a magnificent demonstration by New York City, in honor of the one who did not invent the steamboat, and of the other who did not discover the river." In conclusion, I quote from the Autobiography of Rear Admiral Winfield Scott Schley:—
One of the most interesting features of the vicinity of Frederick [Md.], and lying to the northwest of Richfield, was Catoctin furnace, where many of the guns and shot used against the enemy were cast during the Revolutionary War, and used on a number of public and private vessels armed in the State. This furnace has been operated for a period reaching beyond the days of the Revolution. It was there that the first castings of steamboat machinery were made about 1786 or 1787; they were tried in a steam vessel experimented with on the Potomac just above the village of Shepardstown, Virginia. This experiment antedated Fulton's Clermont, and possibly aided him in developing successfully that vessel in 1807. Also at this furnace were rolled the plates used on the Monitor, whose fight in Hampton Roads in 1862 revolutionized naval construction all over the world. Indeed, from first to last, this old Catoctin furnace, that I used to visit in my boyhood days, has been making history.