Fitch, John, 1743–98, American inventor, b. Windsor, Conn. Fitch began (1785) work on the invention of the steam engine and steamboat and secured soon afterward the exclusive right to build and operate steamboats on the waters of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, and Virginia. A trial run of his first steamer (1786) was only a partial success. His next vessel, launched and operated on the Delaware River in 1787, was followed by two others. Although Fitch was not alone in developing the steam engine and steamboat, there is good evidence that he invented the first American steamboat. Nevertheless, he failed to receive either the opportunity to commercialize his invention or the recognition he justly deserved. Frustrated by endless disappointments, Fitch committed suicide in Bardstown, Ky.
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