In 1787, American engineer James Rumsey demonstrated before a crowd of local notables a peculiar boat on the Potomac River at Shepherdstown in present-day West Virginia. The boat was propelled by a steam engine, but the power of the steam did not turn any propellers nor any paddlewheel. Instead, it sucked water from near the keel, or the bottom of the boat, and ejected it at the stern to move the boat forward. Rumsey’s boat was an early example of jet propulsion, but it would be nearly two centuries before the first practical jetboat would be invented.
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A replica of James Rumsey’s steamboat at the Rumsey Steamboat Museum at Shepherdstown. Photo: Historic Shepherdstown & Museum