Robert Fulton, born in Little Britain, Pa., in 1765, had a distinguished career as a painter before patenting his first invention, a double inclined plane to replace locks in canals, in England in 1794. His numerous ingenious and influential inventions included a prototype submarine, Nautilus, amphibious boats, and the first commercially successful steamboat, Clermont. In 1814 and 1815, he built the first war steamer, known both as Fulton and Demologos. He died in New York City 24 February 1815.
(SwStr: t. 720; l. 180'; b. 34'8"; dr. 13'; s. 10 k.; cpl. 130; a. 4 32-pdr.)
The second Fulton, a side wheel steamer, was launched 18 May 1837 by New York Navy Yard; and commissioned 13 December 1837, Captain M. C. Perry in command.
Fulton cruised the Atlantic coast, aiding ships in distress, conducting ordnance experiments, and training officers in gunnery. A major event of her early service came on 23 November 1838, when she bested the British steamer Great Western in a speed contest off New York. Decommissioned at New York 23 November 1842, Fulton lay in ordinary until 1851, when she was rebuilt and her machinery completely replaced.
Fulton was recommissioned 25 January 1852 for duty in the Home Squadron, and sailed from New York 22 February for the West Indies. During the next 6 years, aside from necessary repair periods in the yards at Washington, Norfolk, and Boston, Fulton ranged from the Caribbean to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, transporting Government officials, protecting merchantmen against search on the high seas, and joining in the search for Albany (January through May 1855) and the expedition to Nicaragua in 1857 to break up William Walker's filibustering activities. The next year Fulton's commanding officer obtained the release of five American merchant ships held at Tampico, Mexico, by revolutionary forces.
From October 1858 to May 1859 Fulton joined in operations commanded by Commodore W. B. Shubrick during his negotiations to improve relations with Paraguay, sailing La Plata and the Parana and Paraguay rivers.
After lying out of commission at Norfolk from 7 May 1859 to 30 July 1859, Fulton cruised off Cuba to suppress the slave trade until laid up at Pensacola in mid-October 1859. Captured by the Confederates when they took the Pensacola yard on 12 January 1861, Fulton was considered for use in the Confederate States Navy, but was never fitted out. She was destroyed in the evacuation of the yard by the Confederates upon Federal reoccupation 10 May 1862.