This is Faith Lapidus.
this is Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we tell about an unusual man who
traveled alone around the world. He was
an inventor and a filmmaker. He wrote a
best-selling book. He was a poet, an artist and an airplane pilot. His name was Robert Edison Fulton, Junior.
He was named for two of America's most famous
inventors, Robert Fulton and Thomas Edison.
We begin his story at a dinner party in London, England, in nineteen
Robert Edison Fulton, Junior was twenty-four years
old. He had graduated from Harvard
University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He had recently completed advanced studies
in building design at the University of Vienna in Austria. He was on his way back to the United States
when he stopped to visit friends in London.
At a dinner party at his friends' house, a young woman asked him if he
would be sailing home soon.
He answered: "No, I am going around the world
on a motorcycle." Robert Fulton would
say for the rest of his life that he had no idea why he said such a thing.
man at the party said such a trip would be a great idea. And he said he owned the Douglas Motor Works
Company. He offered Robert Fulton a new
Douglas motorcycle to use on his trip.
years later, Mister Fulton said this dinner party was the beginning of an
eighteen month adventure. His trip would extend over more than forty thousand
kilometers and include twenty-two countries.
a few days of the dinner party, Robert Fulton began his preparations. He started collecting maps of the different
countries he might visit. In nineteen
thirty-two, maps of some countries were difficult to find.
The Douglas company added special equipment to a new
motorcycle. This included a second
gasoline tank. Mister Fulton would learn
that he could ride about five hundred sixty kilometers without needing more
common automobile tires were fitted to the motorcycle. This would make it easier to find new tires
or repair the two he had. And the
company made a special box to hold tools and a motion picture camera and
film. Robert Fulton decided to make a
movie about his trip.
few weeks later, Robert Fulton found himself riding his new motorcycle out of
London. He rode to the port of Dover. He
crossed the English Channel on a ship.
Robert Fulton said the first part of the trip was not
exciting. He had traveled in much of
only new thing was the motorcycle. He
quickly rode through France, Germany and Austria. He also passed through Yugoslavia, Bulgaria
and Greece. Each time, it took several
hours to get permission to cross the border.
Often, border police thought he must be insane. Some said they would permit him to cross, but
not his motorcycle. But each time,
Mister Fulton was able to talk his way across the border.
Fulton spoke English, French and German.
Soon, these languages did not help him.
But he always seemed to be able to communicate with almost everyone. He
was a nice-looking, friendly young man.
People liked him almost immediately.
Many people offered him help when they learned what he was trying to
do. Police in small towns often let him
sleep in the town jail at night.
In time, he reached Damascus, Syria. His next stop would be Baghdad, Iraq. He quickly learned he would have to cross
almost eight hundred kilometers of the great Syrian Desert. Officials told him it would be impossible
with a motorcycle. Other people said it
could be done.
Fulton decided to find out for himself.
He loaded the motorcycle with extra cans of fuel and water and began his
trip across the desert. Syrians called
this desert "the Blue." This was because
all you could see was the very blue sky and the very hot sun.
sixteen kilometers on the road out of Damascus.
Then he saw a sign showing the way toward Baghdad. It was here that the
road ended. In front of him was the
great desert. Robert Fulton was alone
for most of the trip. He worried about
his motorcycle. If the engine failed, he
could die of lack of water before anyone could find him. He could fall off and break a leg or
arm. The severe heat could kill
him. But the motorcycle did not fail
him. He survived the fierce heat. He arrived safely in Baghdad.
Fulton successfully completed his trip.
He traveled through what are now Afghanistan, India, Vietnam, China,
Malaysia and Japan. He crossed the
Pacific Ocean on a ship, and arrived in San Francisco. From there, he rode his motorcycle home to
New York City. He arrived one day before
Christmas, nineteen thirty-three.
he began his trip, Mister Fulton said he wanted to study buildings and
monuments because that is what he had studied in school. He later wrote that he became much more
interested in the people he met. He said
race or religion did not make a difference.
The people were almost always very friendly. He said many people in small villages did not
trust him because he was a stranger. But
almost everyone tried to help him when they found out that he was riding around
In nineteen thirty-seven, Robert Fulton wrote a book
about his trip. He called it "One Man
Caravan." It included many photographs
of buildings he had seen. Some were very
beautiful. They included religious
buildings in Malaysia and old military forts in India.
But Robert Fulton liked the photographs of people's
faces best. The photos showed people in their native dress, working, playing
and examining his motorcycle.
"One Man Caravan" still sells well today. People can order it from bookstores. The movie he made of the trip is called
"Twice Upon a Caravan." People can also
order it from some bookstores.
Fulton would be considered an unusual man if this long trip was all he
did. It was a dangerous thing to
do. Some experts said he was lucky to
survive. But the trip was only a small
part of his long and interesting life.
Later, he became a professional photographer for Pan American World
Airways. He taught himself to be a
World War Two, he designed a machine used to train military aircraft crews to
fire guns at enemy aircraft. Both the
United States Army Air Corps and Navy bought many of these machines.
invention earned Robert Fulton a special place in aviation history. He designed and built an airplane that was
also a car. It flew like any other
aircraft. But when it landed, the
pilot could take off the wings and propeller and drive it like any other
car. He called this invention the
nineteen fifty, Robert Fulton flew his Airphibian to National Airport in
Washington, D.C. Then he drove the car
from the airport to the headquarters of the Civil Aeronautics Administration. There he was given the legal documents needed
to produce the vehicle.
it was not a success. The costs to develop the Airphibian were too high. Now, the Smithsonian Institution owns the
only remaining example of Mister Fulton's unusual invention.
Fulton owned more than seventy legal documents that protected his
inventions. Among these was a special
wheelchair that helped people enter passenger airplanes. He also invented the
Skyhook, an air rescue system that involved an airplane and a large helium
The Skyhook was an emergency device designed to rescue
people in areas that were hard to reach, such as spies in enemy territory. This device was used in the spy movie
"Thunderball" about British secret agent James Bond.
Robert Edison Fulton, Junior died at his home in
Newtown, Connecticut at the age of ninety-five on May seventh, two
thousand-four. He did not own a copy of his flying car. He no longer had many of the inventions he
had made. However, he did own a
motorcycle. It was the same special
motorcycle made by the Douglas Motor Works so many years ago. He had had it
rebuilt to look new.
Robert Fulton could never give up his Douglas
motorcycle. It was a part of him.
once said the year and a half he spent traveling around the world was the
experience that changed his life. He
said it gave him the courage to try many things and succeed. It was an experience that began with a few
simple words: "I am going around the world on a motorcycle."
program was written by Paul Thompson. It
was produced by Mario Ritter. This is
And this is Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for another
EXPLORATIONS program in VOA Special English.