ROBERT FULTON was the man who set steamboats to running on the rivers. Other men had made such boats before. But Fulton made the first good one.
When he was a boy, he lived in the town of Lancaster in Pennsylvania. Many guns were made in Lancaster. The men who made these guns put little pictures on them. That was to make them sell to the hunters who liked a gun with pictures. Little Robert Fulton could draw very well for a boy. He made some pretty little drawings. These the gun makers put on their guns.
Fulton went to the gun shops a great deal. He liked to see how things were made. He tried to make a small air gun for himself. He was always trying to make things. He got some quicksilver (mercury). He was trying to do something with it. But he would not tell what he wanted to do. So the gunsmiths called him Quicksilver Bob.
He was so much interested in such things, that he sometimes neglected his lessons. He said that his head was so full of new notions, that he had not much room left for school learning.
One morning he came to school late.
“What makes you so late?” asked the teacher.
“I went to one of the shops to make myself a lead pencil,” said little Bob. “Here it is. It is the best one I ever had.”
The teacher tried it, and found it very good. Lead pencils in that day were made of a long piece of lead sharpened at the end.
Quicksilver Bob was a very odd little boy. He said many curious things. Once the teacher punished him for not getting his lessons. He rapped Robert on the knuckles with a ruler. Robert did not like this any more than any other boy would.
“Sir,” said the boy, ” I came here to have something beaten into my head, not into my knuckles.”
In that day people used to light candles and stand them in the window on the Fourth of July. These candles in every window lighted up the whole town. But one year candles were scarce and high. The city asked the people not to light up their windows on the Fourth.
Bob did not like to miss the fun of his Fourth of July. He went to work to make something like rockets or Roman candles. It was a very dangerous business for a boy.
“What are you doing, Bob? ” someone asked him.
“The city does not want us to burn our candles on the Fourth,” he said. “I am going to shoot mine into the air.”
He used to go fishing with a boy named Chris Gumpf. The father of Chris went with them. They fished from a flat boat. The two boys had to push the boat to the fishing place with poles. “I am tired of poling that boat,” said Robert to Chris one day when they came home.
So he set to work to think out a plan to move the boat in an easier way than by poles. He whittled out the model of a tiny paddle wheel. Then he went to work with Chris Gumpf, and they made a larger paddle wheel. This they set up in the fishing boat. The wheel was turned by the boys with a crank. They did not use the poles any more.
SOURCE: Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans By Samuel Eggleston American Book Co 1893 Digitized by Google Available for free download from Google Books
Tomorrow, Fulton & His Steamboat Rita Bay