John Fitch in 1785, a watchmaker, in Philadelphia, conceived the design of propelling a boat by steam. He was both poor and illiterate, and many difficulties occurred to frustrate every attempt which he made, to try the practicability of his invention. He applied to Congress for assistance, but was refused, and the offered his invention to the Spanish Government, to be used in the navigation of the Mississippi, but without any better success. At length, a company was formed, and funds subscribed, for the building of a steamboat, and in the year 1788, his vessel was launched on the Delaware. Many crowded to see and ridicule the novel, and, as they supposed, the chimerical experiment. It seemed that the idea of wheels had not occured to Mr. Fitch, but instead of of them oars were used, which worked in frames. He was confident of success, and when the boat was ready for trial, she started off in good style for Burlington. Those who had sneered began to stare and they who had smiled in derision looked grave. Away went the boat, and the happy inventor triumphed over the scepticism of an unbelieving public. The boat performed her trip to Burlington, a distance of twenty miles, but unfortunately burst her boiler in rounding to the wharf at that place, and the next tide floated her back to the city. Fitch perservered and with great difficulty procured another boiler. After some time, the boat performed another trip to Burlington and Trenton, and returned the same day. She is said to have moved at the rate of eight miles an hour, but something was continually breaking and the unhappy projector only conquered one difficulty to encounter another. Perhaps this was not owing to any defect in his plans but to the low state of the arts at that time and the difficulty of getting such complex machinery made with proper exactness. Fitch became embarrassed with debt, and was obliged to abandon the invention, after having satisfied himself of its practicability. This ingenious man, who was probably the first inventor of the steamboat, wrote three volumes, which he deposited in manuscript, sealed up, in the Philadelphia library, to be opened 30 years after his death. When or why he came to the west we have not learned, but it is recorded of him, that he died and was buried near the Ohio. His three volumes were opened about 5 years ago and were found to contain his speculations on mechanics. He details has embarrassments and disappointments with a feeling which shows how ardently he desired success and which wins for him the sympathy of those who have heart enough to mourn over the blighted prospects of genius. He confidently predicts the future success of the plan, which, in his hands failed only for want of percuiary means. He prophesies that in less than a century, we shall see our western rivers swarming with steam boats, and expresses a wish to be buried on the shore of theOhio, where the song of the boatman may enliven the stillness of his resting place and the music of the steam engine soothe his spirit. What an idea! Yet how natural to the mind of an ardent projector whose whole life had been devoted to one darling object, which it was not his destiny to accomplish! And how touching is the sentiment found in one of his journals :- " the day will come when a more powerful man, will get fame and riches from my invention, but nobody will believe that poor John Fitch can do anything worthy of attention." March 1839.
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