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Robert Fulton was the man who set steamboats to running on the rivers. Other men had made such boats before. But Fulton made the first good one.

When he was a boy, he lived in the town of Lancaster in Pennsylvania. Many guns were made in Lancaster. The men who made these guns put little pictures on them. That was to make them sell to the hunters who liked a gun with pictures. Little Robert Fulton could draw very well for a boy. He made some pretty little drawings. These the gun makers put on their guns.

Fulton went to the gun shops a great deal. He liked to see how things were made. He tried to make a small air gun for himself.

He was always trying to make things. He got some quicksilver. He was trying to do something with it. But he would not tell what he wanted to do. So the gunsmiths called him Quicksilver Bob.

He was so much interested in such things, that he sometimes neglected his lessons. He said that his head was so full of new notions, that he had not much room left for school learning.

One morning he came to school late.

"What makes you so late?" asked the teacher.

"I went to one of the shops to make myself a lead pencil," said little Bob. "Here it is. It is the best one I ever had."

The teacher tried it, and found it very good. Lead pencils in that day were made of a long piece of lead sharpened at the end.

Quicksilver Bob was a very odd little boy. He said many curious things. Once the teacher punished him for not getting his lessons. He rapped Robert on the knuckles with a ferule. Robert did not like this any more than any other boy would.

"Sir," said the boy, "I came here to have something beaten into my head, not into my knuckles."

In that day people used to light candles and stand them in the window on the Fourth of July. These candles in every window lighted up the whole town. But one year candles were scarce and high. The city asked the people not to light up their windows on the Fourth.

Bob did not like to miss the fun of his Fourth of July. He went to work to make something like rockets or Roman candles. It was a very dangerous business for a boy.

"What are you doing, Bob?" someone asked him.

"The city does not want us to burn our candles on the Fourth," he said. "I am going to shoot mine into the air."

He used to go fishing with a boy named Chris Gumpf. The father of Chris went with them. They fished from a flat boat. The two boys had to push the boat to the fishing place with poles.

"I am tired of poling that boat," said Robert to Chris one day when they came home.

So he set to work to think out a plan to move the boat in an easier way than by poles. He whittled out the model of a tiny paddle wheel. Then he went to work with Chris Gumpf, and they made a larger paddle wheel. This they set up in the fishing boat. The wheel was turned by the boys with a crank. They did not use the poles anymore.


Study the lesson for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read the story multiple times.
  • Review the synopsis.
  • Study the vocabulary words.
  • Learn the concepts.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.
  • Study the review questions.


When Robert Fulton was a boy, he enjoyed learning how things worked. Guns and quicksilver fascinated him. He invented a new type of lead pencil and brought it to school. He made Roman candles that shot fire into the air for the Fourth of July. He made a paddle for a fishing boat, eliminating the need for a pole to push the boat. As an adult, Robert Fulton made the first good steamboat.


Steamboat: A boat propelled by a steam engine, especially a paddle-wheel craft of a type used widely on rivers in the 19th century.
Quicksilver: The liquid metal mercury.
Lead: A heavy, bluish-gray, soft, metal.
Rocket: A cylindrical projectile that can be propelled to a great height by the burning of its contents, used typically as a firework or signal.
Roman Candle: A firework giving off a series of flaming colored balls and sparks.
Paddle: A short pole with a broad blade at one or both ends.


Even as a boy, Robert Fulton was an inventor.

Inventors are people who create inventions. Inventions are new ways of doing things or devices that work in new ways.

Like Robert Fulton, many children have created new inventions. For example:

  1. Frank Epperson invented the popsicle at age 11.
  2. George Nissen invented the trampoline at age 16.
  3. Abbey Fleck invented the 'Makin' Bacon' at age 8. (Helps cook bacon in a microwave.)


Activity 1: Narrate the Story

  • After reading or listening to the story, narrate the story events aloud using your own words.

Activity 2: Color the Story   

  • Click the crayon above, and complete page 34 of 'History Coloring Pages for First Grade.'

Activity 3: Explore the Story

Brainstorm ideas for your own invention.

  • If you could make anything that doesn't exist today, what would it be?
  • Start by thinking about something you can't do today, but would like to be able to do.
  • Sketch your invention on a piece of paper.


Question 1

What did Robert Fulton enjoy creating throughout his life?
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Answer 1

Robert Fulton enjoyed creating new inventions.
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Question 2

What were some things that Robert Fulton invented?
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Answer 2

Robert Fulton invented a better pencil, fireworks, a paddle for a boat, and a better steamboat.
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  1. What did Robert Fulton enjoy creating throughout his life? Robert Fulton enjoyed creating new inventions.
  2. What were some things that Robert Fulton invented? Robert Fulton invented a better pencil, fireworks, a paddle for a boat, and a better steamboat.