Ship Models and Nautical Instruments
In North America in the eighteenth century the improvement of transportation meant essentially the improvement of marine transportation, as the ship was as important at this time as the railroad and aircraft were to be in later eras. The oldest specimen in the collection, in point of acquisition, is a model of a pump designed to alleviate the burden of continuously pumping ships (58-11, fig. 17). An even more serious emergency was to be alleviated by the temporary rudder (58-53) of which a model, originally submitted to the Royal Society of Arts, is now in the American Philosophical Society collection. Because of its impassable forests, eastern North America was the scene of particularly feverish experimentation in the improvement of water transportation. The paddle boat of John Fitch (58-9, fig. 18) reminds us that this experimentation was not merely feverish, but that it also represented the effective beginning of the mechanically propelled boat.
Model made and presented by John Fitch. This is a hollow white pine model, 23" X 6" X 7", apparently intended to exhibit only a paddle system. One side carries eight paddles on an endless chain. One of the two sprockets carrying this chain extends through the model to a wooden lever on the other side. Through this lever the movement of the paddle-chain can be demonstrated. Unmarked. Received in 1785.
Because of his spectacular rivalry with James Rumsey for the honor of having first put the steamboat into practice, Fitch's work has been a subject of great interest. He is supposed to have first arrived at the idea of a steamboat in April, 1785, and to have built one or more models that summer. The Minutes of the American Philosophical Society record, on September 27, 1785, that "The model with a drawing and description of a machine for working a boat against the stream by means of a steam engine was laid before the Society by Mr. John Fitch." There seems no