The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum
Birth Of Steam
In the late 18th century, the Industrial Revolution began to transform America and Europe. New technology and innovations led to the rise of mass production and a new economy. The workforce, which had previously been based upon agriculture in the country, now concentrated in the cities and factories. One of the most prominent inventions that helped initiate this transition was the steam engine. This allowed the growth of industrialized machinery to work on a constant and consistent basis, enabling factories to run 24 hours per day. The steam engine also revolutionized ships. Water vessels could now be propelled by the engine, vastly decreasing the amount of time and energy needed for their transport. Although inventors from both sides of the Atlantic worked to invent the steamship, the first ship driven by stream power, an invention of James Rumsey, was sucessfully propelled by machinery in 1787 on the Potomac River, near Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Rumsey’s success inspired other inventors, including Robert Fulton who pioneered the Clermont, the first ship powered by steam to make a significant journey.