John Fitch, American inventor, c 1780s.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Engraving. Following his involvement in the American War of Independence, John Fitch (1743-1798) started working on developing steam powered boats. Between 1786 and 1790 he built four steam-ships propelled by sets of reciprocating paddles. He later experimented with screw propulsion but these ventures were not a commercial succes and disillusioned with his life he killed himself in 1798.