The first commercially successful steamboat service in America was inaugurated by Robert Fulton, whose steam-powered paddle boat, the Clermont, sailed up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany, arriving at the state capitol on August 19, 1807, after 32 hours running time.
Steamboats did not arrive on Lake George until 1817. The settlements along the shores of the lake were small, local business was slight and there was a general antipathy towards steamboats as being somehow connected with the Devil. But the success of steam on nearby Lake Champlain was undeniable and probably contagious.
On April 15, 1817 a company was incorporated by the New York State Legislature to operate commercial shipping on Lake George. The title given this company was the Lake George Steamboat Company.
The first Lake George steamboat, christened the James Caldwell, was launched in 1817 and was a peculiar creature by modern standards. She was constructed on the canal-boat lines that characterized the boats of the time. It is recorded that she was equipped with two long boilers and a unique brick smokestack. Her engines were third-hand, being those that had powered the original Vermont, sunk in 1815, and having been salvaged and used in another Champlain steamer the following year. With propulsion equipment of such dubious quality, the James Caldwell could make the trip through the lake in about a day, or as quickly as a man could row the distance.