In 1816, the Forth and Clyde Canal Company, which had earlier successfully adapted new technology to shipbuilding with the Charlotte Dundas, authorised the development of an all-iron ship, and they quickly settled upon building a canal barge. In 1818, Thomas Wilson (1781–1873), was hired as the shipwright. The barge was to be 20 metres (66.5 ft.) long and narrow enough for the canal. The design called for iron sectionals to be riveted together with covering plates. Two blacksmiths were hired to construct the parts.
The Vulcan was launched in May 1819 and carried passengers between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Later it was converted to a cargo handler and was sold for scrap in 1873. In 1988, a replica of the Vulcan was constructed in Glasgow, and now resides at the Summerlee Heritage Park.
The first iron boat was built in 1787, by Mr. John Wilkinson, of Broseley, in Shropshire. This boat or vessel was 70' long, 6' 8½" wide, drew between 8" and 9" water, and carried 32 tons of goods; was built at Willey, in Shropshire, and used on the Severn. It is most probable that she was a canal barge; but whatever she may have been, there can be but little doubt that she was the first iron vessel.