Nicholas Roosevelt (inventor)

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Nicholas Isaac Roosevelt (December 27, 1767, New York City – July 30, 1854, Skaneateles, New York) was an American inventor, a major investor in Upstate New York land, and a member of the Roosevelt family. His primary invention was to introduce vertical paddle wheels for steamboats.


Nicholas Roosevelt was carefully educated. Soon after the evacuation of New York City by the British during the American Revolutionary War, Roosevelt returned to New York City from Esopus, where he then resided. In Esopus, he had made a small wooden boat, across which was an axle projecting over the sides with paddles at the ends, made to revolve by a tight cord wound around its middle by the reaction of hickory and whalebone springs.[1]

In New York City, he engaged in manufacturing and inventing. He became interested in the Schuyler Copper Mine in North Arlington, New Jersey on the Passaic River, and from a model of Josiah Hornblower's atmospheric machine completed a similar one, built engines for various purposes, and constructed those for the water works of Philadelphia.[1]

He was also at the same time under contract to erect rolling works and supply the government with copper drawn and rolled for six 74-gun ships. In 1797, with Robert R. Livingston and John Stevens, he agreed to build a boat on joint account, for which the engines were to be constructed by Roosevelt, and the propelling agency was to be that planned by Livingston. The experiment failed, the speed attained being only equivalent to about 3 miles per hour (4.8 km/h) in still water.[1]

On 6 September 1798, Roosevelt had fully described to Livingston a vertical wheel, which he earnestly recommended. This is the first practical suggestion of the combination that made steam navigation a commercial success, although four years later Robert Fulton believed that chains and floats were alone to be relied on. Livingston, however, had replied to Roosevelt's proposition on 28 October 1798 saying that “vertical wheels are out of the question.” But in the spring of 1802, Livingston having communicated Roosevelt's plan to Fulton, they adopted the former's view, and in January of the next year launched a boat that was propelled by Roosevelt's vertical wheels.[1]

Roosevelt in the mean time became greatly embarrassed financially, the government failed to fulfil its contract with him, and he was unable to put his plans in operation. In 1809, he associated himself with Fulton in the introduction of steamboats on the western waters, and in 1811 he built and navigated the “New Orleans,” the pioneer boat that descended the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans in 14 days. He had previously descended both rivers in a flatboat to obtain information.[1]

In January 1815, Roosevelt applied to the legislature of New Jersey for protection as the inventor of vertical wheels, for which he had obtained a patent from the United States in December 1814. The legislature, after discussion, decided that “it was inexpedient to make any special provision in connection with the matter in controversy before the body,” and there the matter rested. Roosevelt's papers came into the possession of Richard S. Cox, his executor, from whom they were obtained in 1828, and from these, with others from the papers of Chancellor Livingston, a case was prepared and submitted to Roger B. Taney, which had been already submitted to William Wirt, and, both opinions being favorable, a suit was about to be begun when the consideration of the great expense involved in its prosecution caused the whole matter to be abandoned.[1]

Roosevelt had by this time retired from active life, residing with his family at Skaneateles. In the case submitted for Wirt's opinion, it is said that Fulton never made oath to the application for a patent for vertical wheels over the sides; and that the application itself was signed by another person — a statement that would seem to be corroborated to a great extent by Fulton's own account of his invention in an interview with B. H. Latrobe on 7 February 1809, when the latter was endeavoring to bring about what subsequently took place — a connection between Fulton and Roosevelt in regard to the introduction of steamboats on the western waters. “I have no pretensions,” said Fulton, “to be the first inventor of the steamboat. Hundreds of others have tried it and failed. Neither do I pretend to the right to navigate steamboats, except in New York. . . . That to which I claim an exclusive right is the so proportioning the boat to the power of the engine and the velocity with which the wheels of the boat, or both, move with the maximum velocity attainable by the power, and the construction of the whole machine.” In the same conversation Mr. Fulton said: “As to Mr. Roosevelt, I regard him as a noble-minded, intelligent man, and would do anything to serve him that I could.”[1]

Land speculator[edit]

He and his brother John sold a large tract of land in Oswego County, New York, to George Scriba in 1793 which is now the town of Scriba.


Nicholas Roosevelt's ancestors were early citizens of New York. His father, Isaac, was a member of the New York provincial congress, the legislature, and the city council, and for many years was president of the Bank of New York.[1]

Nicholas Roosevelt married Lydia Latrobe, daughter of his best friend and business partner, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the distinguished American architect. Lydia was thirteen years old when Nicholas began courting her. They married when she was seventeen and he was forty-one years old. Nicholas Roosevelt died at Skaneateles, New York, where he had a home, built in 1831 and extant at 101 East Genesee Street. He was survived by Lydia Latrobe Roosevelt, who died in 1878. Nicholas Roosevelt was a great-grand uncle of President Theodore Roosevelt. Other members of the Roosevelt family resided in the village of Skaneateles, including Frederick Roosevelt, cousin of the president.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Wikisource-logo.svg Cabell, Isa Carrington (1900). "Roosevelt, Nicholas I.". In Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John. Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 


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