In December 1797 Fulton was experimenting on the Seine River with a boat he described as a "plunging
boat" to be used in torpedo warfare. He perfected this invention and conducted more experiments at Brest in 1801 that were
of interest to the French Government. When Fulton failed to actually blow up a vessel in the water, the French lost interest.
He took his ideas to London in 1804. There the British reported the concept of a submarine "impracticable,"
but the admiralty liked the concept of a torpedo. So Fulton was taken out on an expedition to try to use the device against
the French fleet at Boulogne. But his torpedoes exploded harmlessly beside the French ships. He went back to the drawing boards
and emerged with a larger, more powerful explosive device and this time actually destroyed a ship with it.
Fulton returned to the United States in 1806 where he continued to work on his torpedoes. While he
approached the United States government, his system was never adopted. Congress did appropriate $5,000 in 1810 for the testing
of torpedoes and submarine explosions, but that was as far as it went.
The steamboat wasn’t just dreamed up overnight either. Fulton launched his first steamboat on
the Seine in 1803, while he was still in France. The vessel was poorly constructed and immediately sank. A second boat floated,
but the steam engine failed to generate any speed. But at least Fulton experienced a partial success.
The Clermont was Fulton’s third vessel. He had learned from his earlier blunders and knew what
kind of vessel and what kind of engine was needed to propel it. He had the steam engine especially ordered from Watt &
Boulton, which was sent to the United States and installed in the Clermont.
The Clermont made its first trip in August of 1807. By that fall it was running as a packet between
New York and Albany and actually generating a profit. It was not long before the concept of steam powered ships was to spread
around the world.