1. If we wrote down the names of all the things people have invented since the beginning of the world, we would have a very long list. We would find that most of these items are improvements on previous inventions. We would also see that many of them have limited use for a particular field purpose.
2. Occasionally, however, there are inventions which change the way we live. Controlled fire and the wheel are two such inventions which allowed our ancestors to live a better life in safety. Agricultural tools invented about 10,000 years ago helped people learn to grow enough food to feed large populations. They actually led to the development of cities.
3. We don't know about the inventors of fire and the wheel, but we can read about the people who invented other things which are important to our everyday lives. In one way or another, all of our lives are affected by their inventions.
4. For more than 3,000 years, ships were powered by sails. Then in 1793, an American named Robert Fulton became interested in an idea which would mean the end of sailing ships. Many People knew how to built steamships, but the only ones they could build were small and impractical. No one truly believed that ships run by steam power would replace the beautiful and colorful sailing ships. They were wrong.
5. Fulton worked in France and England for a number of years, perfecting his ideas. Then in 1806, he returned to the United States and began to build the Clermont. It was an experiment to see if anyone could build a ship and operate it successfully as a business. Making money was the true test, since shipbuilders would not invest their money unless they knew that they could make a profit.
6. The Clermont was 130 feet long, 16 1/2 feet wide and 4 feet deep. On August 11, 1807, the first commercial steamship traveled up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany. It made the round trip of 300 miles in 62 hours. That seems slow to us today, but 200 years ago it was a remarkable speed.
7. Thousands of people watched the event, and most realized immediately how important it was. Within a few years, there were steamships in most parts of the world. Only four years later, the first steamship crossed the Atlantic Ocean. From that time to the present, sails have been used only for pleasure and sporting boats.
8. Travel and transportation were changed when the steamship was invented, and they were changed even more when the locomotive was invented by George Stephenson in 1814.
9. Stephenson had seen something like a locomotive at a mine near his home in Killings worth, England. He like the idea and decided that he could build a better one. He changed the tracks from wood to steel and made the locomotive much larger. He had some help from a mine owner, and by July 25, 1814, he was ready.
10. The Blucher went only 4 miles per hour, but it pulled a load of 30 tons of coal up hill. It was only the beginning. Within eleven years, there were railroads all over England pulling large amounts of supplies and cargo in short spaces of time. On September 27, 1825, the first full passenger railroad went into operation. It had thirty cars and 300 passengers, and it traveled 15 miles per hour.
11. Stephenson's railroad was efficient and profitable, and a new method of transporting freight and people was here to stay.