By 1806 when Colonel John started to build a 100' steamboat, the "Phoenix," designed for passenger and freight service, he had fallen out with Livingston who had teamed up with Robert Fulton to build a rival boat, the "Clermont." As history has recorded, Fulton's "Clermont" sailed the length of the Hudson in 1807 as the world's first full-sized serviceable steamboat. Meanwhile, Fulton's backer, Livingston, obtained a new New York state law giving the new Fulton-Livingston partnership exclusive rights to service on New York waters including New York harbor.
Thus, when John Stevens' "Phoenix" was completed successfully one year after the "Clermont," the Stevenses had to sail it by sea to set up their own passenger and freight service between Philadelphia and Trenton on the Delaware River. In this way, the Stevens' "Phoenix" has gone down in history as the first steamboat in the world to sail upon the ocean seas.
During these years the Colonel dreamed of developing his wooded estates in Hoboken into a profitable weekend resort for increasingly crowded city dwellers in Manhattan. But in order to attain his goal he needed an efficient and regular steam ferry service to link the city with his estates.
Thus, in 1811 the Colonel purchased a commercial ferry license in New York state and operated a horse powered ferry while building a steam ferry, the "Juliana." When the "Juliana" was put into service from Hoboken to New York, the Stevenses inaugurated what is reputed to be the first regular commercially operated steam ferry in the world. However, service was interrupted by Colonel John's old nemesis, Livingston, who forced the Colonel to run the "Juliana" outside New York waters on the Connecticut River.
Nonetheless, after much dissention and litigation with Livingston, and, finally, after Livingston's death, the Stevenses owned and operated the ferry "Hoboken" between Manhattan and Hoboken by 1821. In subsequent years, the Stevens-owned Hoboken Ferry Company became a primary conduit for New Jersey commuters traveling daily to work in New York City; a fleet of ferries, including the Stevens designed first screw ferry "Bergen" and the fabulous "Netherlands crossed the Hudson scores of times a day.
Again, the Stevenses were recognized internationally, by such premier marine engineers as England's John Scott Russell, as having ushered in original improvements in ferry designs. This ferry company was kept in the Stevens family until 1904 when it was sold to the Erie Lackawanna Railway.
Actually, it was not the colonel who made the most of the innovative breakthroughs in ferries and their accessories. Colonel John was neither a mechanic nor a machinist, and many of his patented diagrams were sketchy. If he had failures and delays in his projects, it was because he had to rely on practical mechanics to implement concepts rarely detailed enough for direct execution. Thus, it was his son, Robert Livingston Stevens (1787-1856), who was the practical designer, innovator, and transportation entrepreneur in ferryboats and railroads.