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Wednesday, 15 November 2017 21:28

Commemorating the First Passenger Steamboat

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During our inventory project, we uncovered a small, decorative tile. At first glance, this tile may not appear to have much connection to Montgomery County history. However, upon closer inspection of the detailed artwork, we realized the steamboat depicted on the tile was inspired by the first passenger steamboat used in the United States.

tile

Made in Doylestown, PA, this decorative tile was inspired by John Fitch’s steamboat. In 1785, Fitch, who suffered from rheumatism, began designing a steam engine to make it easier for people to travel.[1] Once he realized a steam engine had already been invented in England, Fitch sought to improve his engine and attach it to passenger boats.[2] Despite difficulty acquiring investors, Fitch managed to build his steamboat and test it on the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers.

Fitch Steamboat

On August 22, 1787, Fitch demonstrated his invention to members of the Constitutional Convention on the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Trenton.[3] Although many people were impressed by the steamboat, Fitch continued to struggle with finding investors. Fitch’s steamboat carried passengers between Philadelphia and Trenton until 1791. Unable to compete financially with stagecoaches, Fitch was forced to end his passenger steamboat service.[4] In 1798, Fitch died in Bardstown at the age of 55. Although Fitch failed to maintain a passenger steamboat enterprise, his work set the stage for Robert Fulton to further improve the steamboat design in 1807.[5]


[1] “The Legacy of John Fitch,” Historic Craven Hall & The John Fitch Steamboat Museum, http://www.craven-hall.org/fitch-steamboat-museum/the-legacy-of-john-fitch/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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