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American History
3.6 Robert Fulton

Mr. Livingston said "Even before we bought the great Louisiana country, we had more land than we then knew what to do with; after we had purchased it, it seemed to some people as though we should not want to use what we had bought for more than a hundred years. Such people thought that we were like a man with a small family who lives in a house much too large for him; but who, not contented with that, buys his neighbor's house, which is bigger still, and adds it to his own. If a traveller in those days went across the Alleghany Mountains to the west, he found some small settlements in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, but hardly any outside of those. What are now the great states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin were then a wilderness; and this was also true of what are now the states of Alabama and Mississippi. If the same traveller, pushing forward, on foot or on horseback,—for there were no steam cars,—crossed the Mississippi River, he could hardly find a white man outside what was then the little town of St. Louis. The country stretched away west for more than a thousand miles, with nothing in it but wild beasts and Indians. In much of it there were no trees, no houses, no human beings. If you shouted as hard as you could in that solitary land, the only reply you would hear would be the echo of your own voice; it was like shouting in an empty room—it made it seem lonelier than ever".

But during the last hundred years that great empty land of the far west has been filling up with people. Thousands upon thousands of emigrants have gone there. They have built towns and cities and railroads and telegraph lines. Thousands more are going and will go. What has made such a wonderful change? Well, one man helped to do a great deal toward it. His name was Robert Fulton. He saw how difficult it was for people to get west; for if emigrants wanted to go with their families in wagons, they had to chop roads through the forest. That was slow, hard work. Fulton found a way that was quick, easy, and cheap. Let us see who he was, and how he found that way.

Robert Fulton was the son of a poor Irish farmer in Pennsylvania.[Fulton was born in Little Britain (now called Fulton) in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania] He did not care much for books, but liked to draw pictures with pencils which he hammered out of pieces of lead. Like most boys, he was fond of fishing. He used to go out in an old scow, or flat-bottomed boat, on a river near his home. He and another boy would push the scow along with poles. But Robert said, There is an easier way to make this boat go. I can put a pair of paddle-wheels on her, and then we can sit comfortably on the seat and turn the wheels by a crank. He tried it, and found that he was right. The boys now had a boat which suited them exactly. When Robert was seventeen, he went to Philadelphia. His father was dead, and he earned his living and helped his mother and sisters, by painting pictures. He staid in Philadelphia until he was twenty-one. By that time he had saved up money enough to buy a small farm for his mother, so that she might have a home of her own.

Soon after buying the farm for his mother, young Fulton went to England and then to France. He staid in those countries twenty years. In England Fulton built some famous iron bridges, but he was more interested in boats than in anything else. While he was in France he made what he called a diving-boat. It would go under water nearly as well as it would on top, so that wherever a fish could go, Fulton could follow him. His object in building such a boat was to make war in a new way. When a swordfish[Swordfish: the name given to a large fish which has a sword-like weapon, several feet in length, projecting from its upper jaw] attacks a whale, he slips round under him and stabs the monster with his sword. Fulton said, 'If an enemy's war-ship should come into the harbor to do mischief, I can get into my diving-boat, slip under the ship, fasten a torpedo[Torpedo: here a can filled with powder, and so constructed that it could be fastened to the bottom of a vessel] to it, and blow the ship "sky high." Napoleon Bonaparte liked nothing so much as war, and he let Fulton have an old vessel to see if he could blow it up. He tried it, and everything happened as he expected: nothing was left of the vessel but the pieces.

Then Fulton went back to England and tried the same thing there. He went out in his diving-boat and fastened a torpedo under a vessel, and when the torpedo exploded, the vessel, as he said, went up like a "bag of feathers," flying in all directions. The English people paid Fulton seventy-five thousand dollars for showing them what he could do in this way. Then they offered to give him a great deal more—in fact, to make him a very rich man—if he would promise never to let any other country know just how he blew vessels up. But Fulton said, 'I am an American; and if America should ever want to use my diving-boat in war, she shall have it first of all.'

But while Fulton was doing these things with his diving-boat, he was always thinking of the paddle-wheel scow he used to fish in when a boy. I turned those paddle-wheels by a crank, said he, but what is to hinder my putting a steam engine into such a boat, and making it turn the crank for me? that would be a steamboat. Such boats had already been tried, but, for one reason or another, they had not got on very well. Robert R. Livingston was still in France, and he helped Fulton build his first steamboat. It was put on a river there; it moved, and that was about all.

Directions: Answer the following multiple choice questions. Also, answer the following questions on a sheet of paper:
  1. How does the author show that America was practically empty during the time of Fulton
  2. How did Fulton device the diving boat?

Q 1: What was Torpedo?
A tar container
here a can filled with powder, and so constructed that it could be fastened to the bottom of a vesse
Gun powder

Q 2: What was the object of building a diving boat?
To make an achievement.
To make a war in a new way.
To escape from the enemies

Q 3: As a boy Robert Fulton was interested in ------------
Drawing pictures with pencils.
Reading books.
Flying kite.

Q 4: What did Fulton say when the diving boat was exploded?
It went up like a bag of feathers.
It went up like a bag of cotton.
It went up like a bag of flowers.

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Question 6: This question is available to subscribers only!

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