British Responses to the US Steam Frigate Fulton the First

By Andrew J. B. Fagal, published May 2021


The launch of the world’s first steam-powered warship in 1814, Fulton the First, heralded the gradual transition from the age of sail to the age of steam. The United States Navy hoped that this ship would break the Royal Navy’s crippling blockade of New York City, but the conflict ended before it ever saw action. Previous scholars have argued that the Royal Navy was generally unconcerned, and rightfully so, about this American ‘steam frigate’. The vessel was supposedly vulnerable to Congreve rockets and red-hot shot, and thus posed no real threat. After briefly detailing the construction of the Fulton and its technical specifications, this article uses intelligence memoranda, newspaper reports, and traveller accounts to show that British military and diplomatic authorities, as well as the public, took seriously the idea (even if occasionally fictive) that this American invention could upset the balance of power in North America and Europe.

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Filed under: Other (Nineteenth C)
Subjects include: Navies | Shipbuilding & Design | Strategy & Diplomacy

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