The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

First Successful Steamboat

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James Rumsey invented, built and publically demostrated the first successful steamboat on the Potomac River at Shepherdstown, WV, on December 3, 1787. Rumsy's steamboat was driven by the jet propulsion principle which explelled stream of water from the stern, by the force of steam generated by the first water tube boiler. The experimental 500-foot boat steamed up-river about half a mile, then turned and made a series of trips up and down the river, at a speed for about four miles an hour for two hours.

Prior to his public test run, Rumsey had experimented with steam powered boats, using various designs, conducting secret test runs for several years. For a while, Rumsey made his home in Berkeley Springs.

Rumsey was apparently employed in September, 1781, by the Potomac Company, of which George Washington was a member, to improve the navigation of the Potomac. In the summer of 1784 he directed his attention to the experiments with steamboats; and in the autumn of 1784 suceeded in a private, but very impertect experiment of the Potomac at Shepherdstown in order to test some of the principles of his invention.

In October, 1784, Rumsey obtained from the Virginia Assembly an act guaranteeing to him the exclusive use of his invention in navigating the waters of that state for ten years. In January, 1785, he obtained a similar patent from the general assembly at Maryland. Finally, in 1787, at Shepherdtown, Rumsey gave a public trail of his boat, succeeding in propelling it by staem against the current at a rate of about four miles per hour.

Rumsey was the author of a pamphlet, A Short Treatise on the Application of Steam, which was first published "someplace in Virginia" in 1787, and reprinted the following year in Philadelphia.

A monument to Rumsey was erected by the State of West Virginia overlooking a bend in the Potomac River where the first successful test of Rumsey's steamboat took place.

Map showing monument location.