Fitch's Perseverance plied the Delaware but Fulton made the big move on the Hudson.

When John Fitch saw a picture of James Watt’s steam engine in an encyclopedia, he got a crazy idea. If he could successfully create a steam engine of his own, he could revolutionize how people traveled in the newly formed United States. We may take it for granted today, but travel around and over bodies of water in the 1780s was slow, treacherous. A steam-powered boat could save countless hours, dollars, and lives.

After securing private funding for his idea, Fitch worked vigorously to invent his steamboat. By 1787, he had created a working model that could transport passengers across the Delaware River between Trenton, N.J., and Philadelphia. The boat was ugly, slow and unrefined … but it worked. Delegates from the Constitutional Convention celebrated Perseverance’s maiden voyage, but Fitch knew that if his invention were to be taken seriously as a widely adopted transportation option, he would have to improve its design.

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