Can you power a boat just using horses on a treadmill?

Clayton J. Hester
3 min readSep 26, 2022

You’re probably aware of the importance of the Clermont.

This, of course, was the first steam-powered vessel — it marked a turning point in nautical travel.

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And it was a moment in the history of innovation: the start of the Industrial Revolution.

You probably also know about about ironclad boats.

These vessels signaled a new era of warship.

This was the sort of craft that was so nearly indestructible, two of their make duked it out for hours on end.

The battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (originally the Merrimack) lasted four hours without significant damage.

There were also other inventions in naval warfare, namely the Hunley (1863–64), which was a submarine.

Technically, it wasn’t the first though, seeing as how the Turtle existed way back in 1775.

But one innovation you probably don’t know about is the USS Experiment.

And the reason you don’t know about it is because it was a flop of an experiment.

It was powered by horses on a treadmill.


A set of eight horses moved the boat along.

We don’t have a ton of information about how the horses reacted or how they were kept going.

Or whether or not moving a 12-ton, hundred-foot boat was hard on a horse.

The Experiment doesn’t set sail alone though — there’s a category of “horseboats” that can be found in the annals of Texas A&M University’s website.

A horse-powered ferryboat may seem a bit odd now, but in a world looking for breakthroughs, you’re bound to find a lot of peculiar ways of doing things.

Some darts are going to miss the board.

Clayton J. Hester

Country boy. Explorer of the creative process & life, the arts, storytelling, innovation and history of ideas. Omnia in gloriam Dei facite —