The United States Navy has named four ships “USS Fulton”, after Robert Fulton (1765-1815).

Robert Fulton

Fulton was a painter of miniatures, before becoming what we would now call a naval “engineer”. Among Fulton’s inventions were a prototype submarine, Nautilus, and the first commercially successful steamboat, Clermont. He died in New York City in 1815, shortly after designing and constructing the United States’ first steam-powered warship, USS Fulton.

Fulton the First

On October 29, 1814, the first steam-powered warship, Demologos, was launched in New York. Designed by Robert Fulton, the ship was later known variously as the Fulton Steam Frigate, the Steam Battery, and Fulton the First. The first steamers were paddle-wheel driven. The exposed paddle-wheel was relatively fragile and a liability in a warship. Fulton protected the paddle-wheel from cannon balls by putting it in the middle of the ship. Fulton was, in effect, a catamaran: a double-hulled ship. It was a hundred and fifty feet long, sixty feet wide, and it had a slot, fourteen feet wide, down its center. The hulls were double-ended, permitting Fulton to reverse course at will. The gun deck was protected by a belt of solid timber nearly five feet thick: quite enough armor against the naval guns of the day. While it was not suitable for deep water patrols, the First Fulton made an exceptionally stable yet mobile gun platform, hence the name "Steam Battery". The first USS Fulton patrolled New York Harbor from the end of the War of 1812 until it was destroyed by a gunpowder explosion in 1829.

The Second USS Fulton

The second USS Fulton (1837) was a rigged side-wheel steamer. It was the U.S. Navy’s second war steamer, and the first deep-water steam warship. It was constructed under the supervision of Captain Matthew Perry, later to be Commodore Perry (1794-1858), commander of naval forces in the amphibious landing at Vera Cruz in the U.S. Mexican War, and still later the diplomat who secured the Treaty of Kanagawa and accomplished the Opening of Japan in 1854.

Fulton II served the Navy for 25 years. She beat the British steamer Great Western in a race off the New York coast. Perry developed the first autonomous Engineering division of a ship’s crew in the U.S. Navy, and his success in running the Fulton convinced the Navy to construct more steam frigates, including the “Black Ships” that Commodore Perry used to impress Japan with the United States’ military and technological might.

The Third USS Fulton

In a nod to Fulton’s seminal role in the development of the submarine and torpedoes, the U.S. Navy’s first Submarine Tender was christened USS Fulton (AS-1). Launched 1914, Fulton (AS-1) was sent to the Phillipines, reclassified PG-49 (Gunboat-49) in 1930, and was decommissioned after fire damage in 1934.

The Fourth USS Fulton

The fourth USS Fulton, (AS-11) was commissioned September 12, 1941. Assigned to the Pacific Fleet Fulton picked up survivors from Yorktown (CV-5) during the Battle of Midway, June 6, 1942. After the war, Fulton tended submarines and acted as a repair ship for “Operation Crossroads”, an atomic test program in the Marshall Islands in 1946.

Decommissioned in late 1946 and put in reserve, Fulton was recommissioned in 1951 to support nuclear fast attack subs, including the storied Nautilus (SSN-571)(named after Robert Fulton’s prototype) the nuclear sub which made the first submerged passge under the North Pole. The fourth Fulton was decommissioned and sold in 1991.

USS Fulton I:

USS Fulton II: Photo:

USS Fulton III:

USS Fulton IV:

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