The invention of the steamboat and Lexington, KY

a steamboat

The Clermont gets most of the credit as being the initial steamboat, sailing the Hudson River in 1807. | Photo by Wikimedia

Yesterday — July 6 — marked 220 years since Edward West, a Lexingtonian, blacksmith + inventor, received a patent for his steamboat invention in 1802.

However, Robert Fulton got most of the credit when his model — the Clermontsailed up the Hudson River in 1807 from New York City to Albany, NY.

Let’s go full steam ahead to get to the bottom of this debacle.


Edward West was born in Virginia in 1757 + moved to Kentucky in 1785. The first census ever taken was in Kentucky and lists Edward as a resident of Bourbon County.

As well as being an inventor + blacksmith, Edward was a Lexington businessman. He was the first documented watchmaker in the Lexington area.

Timeline of events

1787 | John Fitch demonstrates a working model of the steamboat concept on the Delaware River, but a truly successful design didn’t appear until two decades later.

1793 | Edward debuts + successfully tests his steam engine. Here’s what a Kentucky Leader article wrote about the event in 1914

“In the presence of a large crowd of enthusiastic spectators, a trial was made of West’s wonderful boat on the Town Branch of Elkhorn Creek which was dammed for the purpose. Cheer after cheer arose as the little boat moved swiftly through the water, it being the first successful attempt of application of steam to navigation.”

1802 | Edward is granted a patent for his design.

1803 | John Fitch + Robert Fulton’s larger and better-known vessel was granted a patent.

1807 | The “Clermont” successfully sails up the Hudson River.

1816 | A large-scale model of Edward West’s steamboat design launches from the mouth of Hickman Creek + sails down the Kentucky River to New Orleans, LA.

Edward West was the first person in the US to make a steam engine. It is believed that his delay in obtaining a patent + scaling his creation from model-size to full-scale were due to a lack of funding.

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