Hard on the heels of Bastille day, there’s a great article in Wired’s Day in Tech about the demonstration of the first successful steamboat, the Pyroscaphe, in Lyon, France by deJouffroy, Marquis d’Abbans on July 15, 1783:
The waning years of the ancien régime were a time of considerable innovation in France. Brothers Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier had demonstrated the first hot-air balloon capable of carrying passengers just six weeks earlier, and thousands of people lined the banks of the Saône when de Jouffroy showed his pride and joy in Lyon.
The Pyroscaphe steamed upstream at 6 mph without a sail, and the crowds cheered this technological marvel. But after 15 minutes, the boat began to break up under the pounding of the engine. De Jouffroy quickly and cannily steered the boat ashore, and then bowed to the cheering multitudes.
The marquis continued experimenting on the Saône for 16 months. Still, the French Academy of Sciences refused to recognize his achievement, ostensibly because the demonstration was not done in Paris, but perhaps because of the jealousy of rival inventors.
The French Revolution soon ensued, and though the nobleman kept his head, he never got his patent: not from the republic, not from Napoleon (a “usurper” to whom the legitimist de Jouffroy would not even apply for a patent), not from the restored Bourbon monarchy and not from citizen-king Louis Philippe.
Image from University of Houston.