Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Rumsey, James

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RUMSEY, James, inventor, b. in Bohemia Manor, Cecil Co., Md., about 1743; d. in London, England, 23 Dec., 1792. He was a machinist by trade, and early turned his attention to inventing, making various improvements in the mechanism of mills. In 1784 he exhibited to George Washington the model of a boat for stemming the current of rivers by the force of the stream acting on settling poles, which he patented in several states; and he obtained in March, 1785, the exclusive right for ten years “to navigate and build boats calculated to work with greater ease and rapidity against rapid rivers” from the assembly at Philadelphia. Subsequently he succeeded in launching a boat on the Potomac, which he propelled by a steam-engine and machinery of his own construction that secured motion by the force of a stream of water thrown out by a pump at the stern. In December, 1787, a successful trial trip was witnessed by a large concourse of people, and he was granted the rights of navigating the streams of New York, Maryland, and Virginia. The Rumsey society, of which Benjamin Franklin was a member, was founded in Philadelphia in 1788 for the purpose of furthering his schemes. He then went to England, where a similar society was organized, and he obtained patents for his inventions in Great Britain, France, and Holland. A boat and machinery were built for him, and a successful trip was made on the Thames in December, 1792, but he died while preparing for another experiment. The legislature of Kentucky presented in 1839 a gold medal to his son “commemorative of his father's services and high agency in giving to the world the benefits of the steamboat.” He published a “Short Treatise on the Application of Steam” (Philadelphia, 1788), by which he became involved in a controversy with John Fitch (q. v.).