10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About New York State and Its Contributions to America

10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About New York State and Its Contributions to America

Larry Holzwarth - March 22, 2018

The State of New York is the fourth largest of the United States in terms of population, with nearly two thirds of the state’s more than 18 million residents living in the greater New York City metropolitan area. Most people visiting the state for the first time are surprised at the vast rural areas which cover most of the state; open farmlands and vineyards coupled with recreation areas comprise most of the state’s almost 55,000 square miles. New York’s role in the development of America as a nation and a culture has been second to none.

More immigrants passed through the port of New York City than any other American entry port. In colonial days its harbor sheltered ships of all the European nations, trading first with the natives, and later with the settlers of Dutch and British colonies. The produce of the burgeoning Midwest found its way to international markets via New York’s Erie Canal ( and later its railroads), feeding the growth of the ports on the Great Lakes. It was New York City which served as the nation’s first capital. It still serves as the financial center of the United States and in many ways for the rest of the world.

10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About New York State and Its Contributions to America
New York’s Robert Livingston abstained from voting for the Declaration of Independence, negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, and financed the nation’s first successful steamship line. Wikimedia

Here are some facts about the history of New York State which helped to build the United States of America.

10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About New York State and Its Contributions to America
Erie Canal barges at rest in Rochester New York around the turn of the twentieth century. Wikimedia

The Erie Canal

In the years which followed the War of 1812, the farmlands of Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana had limited markets for their produce. The Allegheny Mountains were an imposing barrier between them and the eastern cities and seaports. The same was true of the farmlands of Upstate New York. Roads were primitive and subject to the weather, becoming unpassable following heavy rains. Wagons were expensive, and travel by wagon was slow. Rivers, unfortunately, flowed in the wrong direction, and many posed navigation hazards which made their use for shipping unsafe and unwise.

Several proposals were made to build a canal connecting the Hudson River at Albany to Lake Erie, but the engineering challenges were discouraging. Between the Hudson River and the Erie shore there is a difference of elevation of over 600 feet. The technology of the day limited locks to a rise of about 12 feet. More than fifty locks were thus required to raise or lower canal boats on their journey across the state, a distance of more than 360 miles. The construction of aqueducts, to ensure the water level of the canal itself could be kept stable in all types of weather, added to the engineering problems. Earth and rock could only be moved by manpower, animal power, or water power.

The Erie Canal project opened construction on the Fourth of July, 1817, at Rome, New York. It took two years to complete the first fifteen miles, an intolerably slow pace. The need for more workers increased immigration to the United States, many Irish and German workers arrived to join in the project. Innovations in construction developed through the difficulties encountered as the canal progressed. A type of bulldozer called a scraper, pulled by draft animals, helped move the earth. A pulley and rope device was contrived to pull whole trees and stumps from the ground. As sections were completed they were immediately opened to traffic.

Canal boats were pulled by horses and mules along a towpath which ran beside the canal. Although the pace was plodding, no faster than a wagon, the animal teams were frequently replaced and travel was constant, day and night. When the canal was finished the travel time between Buffalo and Albany was halved. Shipping costs were reduced by up to 95%. Travel to the West, via Buffalo and Lake Erie, was faster and far more comfortable than by stage to Pittsburgh or Wheeling, then in Virginia, and then down the Ohio River. The city of Buffalo began to grow into a major shipping port, as did Cleveland and Toledo in Ohio, and Erie in Pennsylvania.

Almost from the day it was completed improvements on the canal were undertaken, and smaller feeder canals were connected to it, providing shipping advantages throughout the state. The ports of New York and New Jersey thrived with shipping. Eastern cities such as Baltimore and Philadelphia lost business to New York, and soon canal and rail projects were underway to compete with the Erie. The original canal has been mostly replaced by improvement projects, but the Erie Canal still carries traffic, including commercial traffic, in the 21st century, one of America’s earliest and most successful infrastructure projects.

10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About New York State and Its Contributions to America
Although the Declaration reads unanimous, New York abstained from voting for independence when the vote was taken on July 2, 1776. Wikimedia

The Declaration of Independence

New York was one of the original 13 colonies which became the 13 United States. New York City was at the time generally referred to as York city, and unlike Boston to the north and Williamsburg to the south it was not a hotbed of patriotic activity in the years before actual fighting broke out. New York sent delegates to the first and second Continental Congresses, but they did not support the idea of independence and were required to vote as instructed by the Provincial Congress of New York. When the Continental Congress first voted on the issue of independence, the New York delegation abstained.

Having not voted for independence on the first ballot, the New York delegation requested instructions from the Provincial Congress and none were received by July 2, the day of the final vote for independence of the United States. New York, having received no instructions, again abstained, making New York the only of the thirteen colonies not to vote for independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776. Nor did the New York delegates sign the Declaration on July 4 (many of the delegates didn’t sign on that date). But there was a reason for the lack of instruction from the Provincial Congress.

That summer the Continental Army had moved down from Boston to counter the expected invasion of New York by the British. The New York Provincial Congress had prudently withdrawn from New York City in the face of the threat (they had been using Fraunces Tavern as their meeting hall). They had actually instructed their delegates to the Continental Congress to oppose independence, so the actions of the delegates, led by Robert Livingston, were already contrary to their instructions. On July 4 the Declaration was read and set in type for dissemination to the now independent states of America, but New York had still not voted for passage. The 13 former colonies were not yet unanimous.

The arrival of Howe and the British Army and fleet in New York Harbor sparked the Provincial Congress to action. In late May 1776 the Continental Congress had recommended that each state form a government and a written constitution. On July 9 the already passed Declaration of Independence was read aloud in New York City by direction of George Washington. That same day the Provincial Congress passed a resolution declaring the Independence of New York State and the following day authorized itself to act as the state legislature, without an executive, pending the completion of a state constitution.

The New York representatives later added their signatures to the document but as the Declaration of Independence was an accomplished fact, no further votes were taken. New York delegate Robert R. Livingston had been a member of the Committee of Five, selected to draft the original document. He never signed the Declaration of Independence at all. He had his cousin, Philip Livingston, sign for him as a proxy. Philip most likely signed the document in early August, when the copy which is displayed in the National Archives was signed by most of the delegates.

10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About New York State and Its Contributions to America
New Amsterdam was a thriving port and trading center under the Dutch. Note the windmill in the distance on the far right. Wikimedia

Wall Street

The term Wall Street refers to much more than just a street in lower Manhattan. Wall Street is often used to refer to America’s investment market as a whole. It covers banks, stocks and bonds, mutual funds and all of the arcana of the national and often international financial system. Wall Street was the site of the first stock market in New York when several local traders signed the Buttonwood Agreement, which legend says was so-called because the act of signing the agreement took place beneath a buttonwood tree. The agreement led to what is now the New York Stock Exchange.

Before it was the name of the center of American finance Wall Street was a wall. The first European settlers of the area which is now lower Manhattan were the Dutch. They used the Hudson River as their highway to a trading post near present day Albany. There they traded items such as blankets and tools in return for beaver pelts. Beaver pelts were prized in Europe as a material which was used to manufacture waterproof hats. In 1624 Dutch settlers (who were scattered in small settlements on Long Island and other areas) were relocated to the southern tip of Manhattan.

There they erected a fort for protection of the colony from pirates, which were prevalent along the coasts of early colonial America. They also built a wall which traversed the tip of the island, again as a protection against attacks from pirates or foreign invasion. The Dutch enjoyed good relations with the Indians with whom they traded, but wars between Indian tribes led them to exercise caution in their dealings with them, and the strengthening of the colony’s defenses. Similar preparations were made at the Dutch settlement of Albany.

By the 1660s the Dutch settlements on Manhattan had reached as far north as today’s 74th Street, and the Dutch made use of many of the creeks and streams on the island as a source of power for mills and manufacturing. When the British seized the colony from the Dutch (during a time of peace) they did not displace many of the settlers, but they were forced to accede to British rule. In 1699 the British tore down the wall traversing the city, but the pathway which ran along the former wall had acquired the name Wall Street by then, and the name remained when the wall was removed.

The street had become by then a thriving trading area, where merchants made deals for cargoes and where beaver pelts were bought by shippers. Dutch settlers had made wampum, prized by the Indians as a form of currency, in buildings and residences along Wall Street. It became natural for the newly arrived English settlers to do business in the area and it became the center of trade for the new English colony named for the Duke of York, who would later become King James II of England. The Dutch would reclaim the city in 1673, naming it New Orange, but in the treaty which ended the Third Anglo-Dutch War it was returned to the British and again named New York.

10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About New York State and Its Contributions to America
Mulberry Street in New York’s Little Italy around 1900, when Genarro Lombardi operated a grocery which would soon lead to a pizzeria. Wikimedia


There is an ongoing debate over the ubiquitous American food called pizza, including what is and is not a pizza. But there is no dispute over the first pizzeria in the United States. That distinction belongs to the city of New York and an Italian immigrant named Gennaro Lombardi. Lombardi emigrated to the United States in 1897, settling in the Little Italy section of New York City. He opened a small grocery store on Spring Street, in an area which included several factories and other businesses. He began to develop a lunch trade from many of the workers in the area.

To accommodate them he began to sell pizzas, as they were prepared in his native Italy, in the fashion of the Neapolitan pies with which he was familiar. Gradually he adapted them to appeal to the tastes of many of his American customers. He used ovens which where heated with coal rather than the wood fired ovens of Naples. Italians prefer a type of mozzarella cheese made from the milk of the Italian Water Buffalo. Lombardi found Americans to prefer a milder form of mozzarella which is made from cow’s milk, and was far less expensive since it didn’t need to be imported.

Lombardi’s pies became so popular that to meet demand he opened a pizzeria after receiving a restauranteur license. He named the restaurant Lombardi’s, the first pizzeria in the United States when it opened in 1905. Lombardi’s pies were huge, as big as twenty inches in diameter, and were thin crusted. Despite the lesser amount of crust, the pies were too large for one person to consume at one sitting so Lombardi implemented the sale of pies by the slice, at a time when a whole pie could be had for a nickel.

It was not unusual for customers waiting in line at lunchtime to bicker over the availability of special pies, concerned that the pizza cooks would be out of their favorite when their turn to be waited on came up. The etiquette and welcome later parodied in the Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld were preceded by Lombardi’s, where cooks were known to banish customers without their pies for unseemly behavior while waiting in line, or when ordering their desired pizza. As time went on more and more competition for pizza developed in New York and nationally.

One of Lombardi’s employee’s left to found Totonno’s in Coney Island after the subway was extended, banking on the traffic which the new rail connection would generate. Today pizzerias are seemingly as common as grass, and there are many different styles of pizza, some with toppings which no doubt Gennaro Lombardi would have found bizarre. Today, Americans eat about 350 slices of pizza per second, and there are more than 60,000 pizzerias in the United States. That doesn’t count the pizzas purchased in grocery and convenience stores. It all started with Gennaro Lombardi’s pizzeria in New York.

10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About New York State and Its Contributions to America
Uncle Sam as he appeared on a famous recruiting poster beginning in 1916. United States Army

Uncle Sam

Before the War of 1812 the most commonly used reference to Americans in general by the British was Brother Jonathan, a personification which in the United States referred mainly to New Englanders. It was nearly always derisive. Uncle Sam didn’t exist at the time, but a New Englander who relocated to New York’s Hudson Valley became the inspiration for him. His name was Sam Wilson. In his early twenties Sam, in the company of his elder brother Ebenezer, walked from Mason, New Hampshire to Troy, New York, a distance of well over 120 miles. When they arrived in 1789 Troy was still a pioneer village.

In the late 18th century most of the bricks used in the New York and New England colonies were imported from Europe, with the Dutch being a favored supplier. Sam and his brother began using the clay on property they purchased near the Hudson to manufacture their own. The bricks produced were of high quality, equal to the best imports, and as Troy grew many of its buildings and factories were built with the Wilson’s bricks. Despite the success of the brick business, which also shipped down the river to New York City, the brothers looked for other opportunities.

In 1793 the brothers entered the meatpacking industry, building a slaughterhouse connected with a dock to the Hudson River. The meatpacking industry quickly prospered as well, with beef and pork being shipped down the Hudson. By the time the War of 1812 began the brothers were an established, well known and highly regarded firm. They learned of an Army contract for beef and pork to feed the US troops of New York and New Jersey being offered by Elbert Anderson, who had secured the contract from the Army. The brothers contracted for one year, to deliver 3,000 barrels of beef and an additional 2,000 barrels of pork.

Under the contract every barrel had to be labeled by the supplier, to assign responsibility in the event of bad quality. The barrels left the Wilson’s slaughterhouse marked EA-US, meaning Elbert Anderson – United States. Much of Wilson’s shipment went to troops encamped in the region, many of the troops were from Troy, and they knew of the Wilson’s beef. By this time Sam Wilson was known in Troy by the nickname Uncle Sam. The troops began the habit of saying that the beef and pork they were fed (which was all pickled in brine) came from Uncle Sam.

In 1961 Congress passed a resolution in both Houses which officially recognized Sam Wilson as the “…Progenitor of America’s National symbol of Uncle Sam.” Uncle Sam began to share the clothing of Brother Jonathan in depictions of him during the Civil War. Uncle Sam is often mistaken as representing the entire nation, a role occupied by the female Columbia up until about World War II. Uncle Sam was then a personification of the United States Government, in particular its actions, both foreign and domestic. While some debate the authenticity of the Uncle Sam story, citing earlier references to the term Uncle Sam, they were not in relation to governmental or national roles.

10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About New York State and Its Contributions to America
Joseph Gayetty of New York gave the world the first toilet paper made for the purpose of personal hygiene. Wikimedia

Toilet Paper

Paper has been used for centuries as a hygiene product in the bathroom, but the development of paper specialized for the purpose is relatively recent. In the late eighteenth century as the printing industry grew, some individuals recommended the acquisition of relatively cheap books for use while engaged in what was called the water closet, both to pass the time and to clean up afterwards. Others used newspapers. Other methods included the use of corn cobs, sand, rags, furs, and hands, which were afterwards washed with water, or at least the hands of the more fastidious were washed with water.

New Yorker Joseph Gayetty introduced the first commercially available toilet paper in 1857, in New York City. He announced his product by calling it, “the greatest necessity of the age.” Gayetty’s paper was not in a roll but boxed in individual sheets, each box containing two reams of paper (1,000 sheets) and sold for the price of $1.00 at his place of business on Ann Street in New York City. This made it rather pricey as the dollar’s value in 1857 is more than 27 dollars today. Gayetty focused his advertising on the risks involved using printed paper, or even blank paper intended for printing or writing upon.

Gayetty claimed that his paper was made of 100% pure Manila hemp, and that each sheet was medicated to make it an anti-hemorrhoid treatment. Each sheet contained his name as a watermark and each sheet was treated with aloe for lubrication. Gayetty proved to be a rather inept businessman, losing control of his company over debt issues and contract infringement problems. Despite these issues, Gayetty’s paper remained one of the very few toilet papers available in the United States until the 1890s, and remained available until 1935, when the Northern Tissue Company shook up the market.

Besides the hazards of inks, and other toxins on and in paper there was also the possibility of splinters, since most cheap paper was made from wood pulp. Another New Yorker, Seth Wheeler, obtained a patent for the perforated roll of paper and paper dispenser in 1883, but the paper itself was coarse, rough, and contained considerable wood splinters. When the Northern Tissue Company introduced splinter free toilet paper it generated quite a stir, and the sales of toilet paper began to rise as more manufacturers found ways to make the paper less hard and splinter free.

The convenience of the roll system and the introduction of the splinter free paper proved to be the end of Joseph Gayetty’s business selling his medicated toilet paper. Many of his ideas, dismissed as quackery at the time, are generally agreed with today, including the toxicity of certain inks and other oils included in paper. It was Gayetty who first manufactured and sold toilet paper that was designed specifically for the purpose of hygiene, from his business in New York City.

10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About New York State and Its Contributions to America
The huge dining hall at the immigration station on Ellis Island could seat over 1,000 diners at once. New York Public Library

Ellis Island and immigration

In 1890 the federal government took over the responsibility for immigration to the United States, which had previously been considered the role of the individual states. Congress authorized and funded the construction of an immigration control station on Ellis Island, which was expanded through land reclamation which almost made the island twice its original size. Much of the landfill used came from the tunnels dug for the New York subway system. The first station on the island, built mostly of wood, became the repository of immigration records dating back to 1855.

The first station opened in 1892 and between that date and 1897, when it was destroyed by a fire of unknown origin, about 1.5 million immigrants were processed through the facility. There were no fatalities in the fire, but the records were lost. In 1900 a second building, constructed of fire proof materials, was opened. Despite its size (the dining hall could seat over 1,000 people at a time) it was barely adequate. The influx of immigrants to the United States nearly overwhelmed the facilities and staff before the outbreak of the First World War.

As the immigrants continued to pour through the island itself was again expanded, using landfill to enlarge the island and then erect additional support buildings. The year 1907 was the peak for immigration with over one million immigrants arriving that year, mostly from Europe. The Immigration Act of 1924 placed restrictions on immigration and arrivals at Ellis slowed to a comparative trickle. Most of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island were approved for entry into the United States within a matter of a few hours, after which they left the island by ferry to New Jersey or New York.

Ninety-eight percent of the arrivals at Ellis Island were approved to enter the United States. The immigration authorities asked questions regarding the new arrivals level of support in the United States and ensured that they had sufficient funds to reach their destinations. Most of the arrivals who were denied entry were turned away because of disease, and a hospital on Ellis Island provided care for those who needed it. Over the years of its operation roughly 3,000 people who were denied entry due to health reasons died on Ellis Island. During the Second World War Ellis Island was used to detain German and other enemy nationals who had been in the United States when it entered the war.

Of today’s American population, about 40% can trace their lineage through immigration via Ellis Island alone. This means over 100 million Americans are descended from immigrants who passed through the facility, which closed as an immigration facility in 1954. While some immigrants’ had their family names forever changed due to a spelling error in the records, none were ever forced to change their name, a myth which is commonly repeated, but unsupported by the written records. The passenger lists of the arriving ships were used to process the immigrants through, and they were not altered by immigration officials.

10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About New York State and Its Contributions to America
Jell-O was created in LeRoy New York and marketed aggressively through advertising and recipe books. This ad was from the Washington Evening Star. Wikimedia

Mustard, marshmallows and Jell-O

The most frequently used mustard in the United States is yellow mustard, which is usually just called mustard and is so common that consumers who desire something with more zest usually have to specify that they want Dijon mustard or whichever style is preferred. In the United States a request for mustard will usually be filled with yellow mustard. Yellow mustard was invented by a Rochester, New York businessman named George French, along with his brother Francis. They called it French’s Cream Salad Mustard when they introduced it at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.

LeRoy New York is in Genesee County, south of Rochester. In 1897 a carpenter in LeRoy named Pearle Wait created a fruit flavored gelatin concoction while trying to come up with a cough medicine. His wife named the gelatin mix Jell-O. Neither Pearle nor his wife had any experience marketing a product and Wait sold the idea to a local businessman, O.F. Woodward. Woodward was an experienced producer of patent medicines but he was unable to generate much interest in Jell-O. Fed up with poor sales, Woodward sold the Jell-O business to Sam Nico, allegedly for the sum of thirty-five dollars, in 1900.

Under Nico Jell-O began to sell. By 1904 Jell-O recipes and advertising was appearing regularly in lady’s magazines. As sales increased the company reorganized and became the Jell-O Company, later merging with the Postum Cereal Company as part of the creation of General Foods (Postum was a coffee substitute beverage made from ground wheat). By 1944 Jell-O was marketed through the use of advertising which took advantage of war time rationing, and what became known as Jell-O molds created an entirely new industry.

Marshmallows weren’t invented in New York. But the first confectioner in the United States to mass produce marshmallows did so in Rochester. In 1895 Joseph Demerath began producing marshmallows at the Rochester Marshmallow Company, which he distributed to other candy makers where they could be turned into other candies. He also sold them directly to the public. The commercial process developed by Demerath for the mass production of marshmallows was not patented, and it wasn’t long before other confectioners were mass producing marshmallows. Until the Demerath process, marshmallows were expensive to make. His process made them one of the cheapest candies to manufacture.

New York is also the birthplace of the Delmonico steak, widely imitated and called by many names. It came from the restaurant of the same name, which was the first restaurant in the United States to allow patrons to order from the menu a la carte. Delmonico’s gave the gastronomic world many dishes besides the eponymous steak, including Lobster Newberg, Delmonico Potatoes, and the Wedge Salad. It was the site of the first appearance of Manhattan Clam Chowder, beginning the unending debate of which style – New England or Manhattan – is the best clam chowder.

10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About New York State and Its Contributions to America
The New York City Draft Riots quickly degenerated into a race riot between roving Irish gangs and black merchants, businessmen, and residents. New York Public Library

The New York City Draft Riots

In the middle of July 1863, beginning ten days after the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, lower Manhattan exploded in urban unrest which began as protests against the draft. The overwhelming majority of the rioters were Irish immigrants or of Irish descent. Within hours of the riot’s beginning it became a race riot, directed at the free blacks which had been flocking to the city in search of work. The Irish were outraged over the competition for jobs keeping pay scales low. Over one hundred people were killed in the riots, and Union troops were diverted to the area to help bring the city under control.

The protest of July 13 was initially a demonstration against the draft, which allowed anyone to pay a fee of $300 to acquire a substitute rather than be drafted (almost $10,000 in today’s money). The first drawing of draft numbers under the new law occurred on July 11, 1863 and the second on Monday, July 13. On that day the site where the draft was taking place was attacked by a mob of more than 500, who set the building on fire, and destroyed the vehicles of the arriving firefighters. A hotel which refused to allow members of the crowds any alcohol was likewise set on fire. Later that day the Black Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue was looted of its food.

Businesses which were owned by blacks and those which were known to cater to blacks were looted and burned. The mob grew as it roamed the area of the city near the mid-town docks. The rioters attacked and destroyed businesses including brothels, boarding houses, tenements, groceries, pharmacies, and any other business where blacks were served. If the business was owned by whites, they were beaten and stripped of their clothes by the mob. That night heavy rains helped to clear the streets and quench the many fires left behind.

The mob began to form again the following day, and attacks on interracial couples occurred in several locations around the city. The Governor of New York, Horatio Seymour, arrived from Albany and informed the crowd that the draft laws were unconstitutional and that he intended to appeal to the Supreme Court to have them overturned. He was supported by contingents of armed Marines and troops from both West Point and the forts defending New York Harbor. The presence of the troops prevented the situation from deteriorating further.

At least eleven blacks were lynched during the riots, and the final death toll is unknown. Many blacks fled the city never to return, settling instead in nearby Brooklyn, which was then a separate city, or in Jersey City. Fifty New York buildings were totally destroyed by arson, including the Black Orphan Asylum. About 4,000 Union troops were moved from the Army of the Potomac to the New York area to keep the area under control. The draft resumed in August. New York continued to support the Union, and the factories of the Empire State alone produced more war material during the war than did the entire Confederacy.

10 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About New York State and Its Contributions to America
Known to history as the Clermont, the first commercially successful steamship was called the North River Steamer by its owners. Wikimedia

The Clermont

After failing to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776 Robert Livingston remained active in New York politics and became the Chancellor of the state, making him the highest ranking member of the state’s judiciary. In that role he was the first American to administer the oath of office to the President of the United States. He later went to Europe during the Jefferson administration, as Minister to France. It was Livingston who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase. While there he met Robert Fulton, who had built a model steamboat and tested it on the Seine. Livingston already owned the rights to the use of steam power on the Hudson River, then known as the North River.

Livingston contracted with Robert Fulton to build a larger version of his working model and begin operating it on the Hudson. Fulton returned to New York with his plans for the larger vessel, which became known as the Clermont but was never christened with that name. It became the Clermont in the public’s mind because of its association with Livingston’s family estate on the river, Clermont Manor. Fulton’s vessel was built in New York City by the Charles Browne Shipyard and when the hull was complete it was fitted with the engine built to Fulton’s design by Boulton and Watt in England.

The completed vessel was first tested in the Hudson River on August 17, 1807. The vessel reached Albany in 32 hours, which included a stop of more than 20 hours at the Livingston estate. The actual travel time between New York and Albany was 12 hours. Less than a month later, on September 4, paid passenger service began between New York and Albany. The vessel, identified in the schedules and advertisements as just the Steamboat, departed New York on Saturdays and returned on Wednesdays. Several stops were made on both passages, including at West Point and Poughkeepsie.

During the winter of 1807-08 the vessel was entirely rebuilt, altering its dimensions by widening its beam (the width of the vessel at its widest point) in an attempt to gain stability and additional space for passengers and cargo. The ship was so successful that the Livingston/Fulton team were soon commissioning additional vessels and with more vessels the number of scheduled runs increased. They had three vessels in service by 1812, referring to the first vessel as the North Steamer in their advertising and on their schedules.

Livingston died in 1813 and Fulton in 1815. With Fulton’s death the partnership, which had continued with Livingston’s heirs, was dissolved and the first profitable transportation line powered by steam in North America became a target for others. In 1824 the monopoly on steam transport in New York waters which had been held by Livingston and his heirs was overturned by the Supreme Court. By 1840 there were over one hundred steamboats plowing up and down the Hudson River, and connecting New York by ferry to Brooklyn, Staten Island, and New Jersey.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“200 Years Ago, Erie Canal Got Its Start as Just a Ditch”, by Sam Roberts, The New York Times, June 26, 2017

“The Declaration of Independence: A History” entry of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) online

“The $24 Dollar Swindle”, by Nathaniel Benchley, American Heritage Magazine, December, 1959

“Slice of the City: New York”, Pizza Magazine online

“Uncle Sam”, by Terry Allan Hicks, 2006

“Joseph Gayetty – Inventor of the Toilet Paper”, entry, toiletpaperhistory.net

“The Other Ellis Island”, by Clyde Haberman, New York Times Magazine, December 27, 2012

“Jell-O: A Biography”, by Carolyn Wyman, 2001

“Delmonico’s”, by Thomas Lately, 1967

“The Hudson through the years”, by Arthur G. Adams, 1983