In 1807, Robert Fulton, using an English mail-order steam engine, chugged four miles an hour up the Hudson River, passing into popular folklore as the inventor of the steamboat. However, the true first passenger steamboat in America, and the world, was built from scratch, and plied the Delaware River in 1790, almost two decades earlier. Its inventor, John Fitch, never attained Fulton's riches, and was rewarded with ridicule and poverty. Considering there was not a single working steam engine in America in the early 1780s, Fitch's steamboat's development was nothing short of remarkable. But he faced competition from the start, and he and several other inventors fought a string of bitter battles, legal and otherwise. Steam tells the dramatic story of Fitch and his adversaries, weaving their lives into a fascinating tale including the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. It is the story behind America's first important venture in technology, the persevering and colorful men that made it happen, and the great invention that moved a new nation westward.
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"An absorbing and enlightening tale of 'Yankee ingenuity' at the very dawn of the steam age."
--John Steele Gordon, author of A Thread Across the Ocean: The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable
"What a ride! It's all there: duplicity, steamy intrigue and scandal, with cameo roles played by Napoleon, Jefferson, Washington, Thomas Paine, and James Watt. My personal hero, the tormented American steamboat inventor, John Fitch, rises above this glorious fray like cream upon milk. His is a story whose incompleteness has dogged us over the years. Indeed, we are, at last, shown the full tapestry of the steamboat invention in one fast-moving book. Hard history and good fun. You'll love it."
--John H. Lienhard, author of The Engines of Our Ingenuity and Inventing Modern
Andrea J. Sutcliffe is an independent scholar and writer who has published nine books including Mighty Rough Times I Tell You, an edited compilation of narratives from former slaves, Touring the Shenandoah Valley Backroads, and The New York Public Library Writer's Guide to Style and Usage.
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