John Swatsley (American, B. 1937) "Steamboat Experiment (1788-1790)" Signed lower right. Original Oil painting on Illustration Board.
Provenance: Collection of James A. Helzer (1946-2008), Founder of Unicover Corporation.
This painting appeared on the Fleetwood First Day Cover for the U.S. 25c Steamboat Experiment stamp issued March 3, 1989.
The first time a paddle wheel was used to propel a boat dates back to ancient Rome. The idea of using revolving wheels to propel a vessel through water appeared again and again through the centuries and eventually the idea of powering the wheels with steam materialized. In the early 1780's in America, an inventor named John Fitch, and an engineer, named Henry Voight, began the design and construction of a steamboat propelled by six twelve-foot vertical oars placed on either side of the craft. They tested it in the Delaware River in 1787. Although she proved extremely slow, she was still the first vessel in American waters to actually move under her own steam. By 1788, the two men had redesigned their vessel by trial and error, giving the new boat three rectangular paddles operating off of the stem rather than many oars positioned along the sides. They christened their craft the Experiment, and put her into commercial service on the Delaware making the trip from Philadelphia to Burlington and Trenton, New Jersey. But she was just too slow for commercial operations. Various modifications to the vessel during the next two years did not bring the Experiment enough speed to compete with ground transportation -- the steamboat trip still took longer than did the journey by stagecoach. Consistently, the little steamer lost money on her voyages, until finally she was withdrawn from service altogether in the summer of 1790.
Image Size: 14 x 12 in.
Overall Size: 20.5 x 18 in.
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