The First Steam Locomotive in America


The original Atlantic was built at B & O's Mt. Clare Shops, Baltimore, in 1832. This locomotive, originally the Andrew Jackson, built in February 1836, was altered in 1893 to resemble the Atlantic for exhibition at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chic

W. J. Eshleman

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722 East End Ave., Lancaster, Pa. 17602.

We wish to thank Mr. William M. Bernard, Director, Public Relations, of the Baltimore Sun for his permission to reprint the following article.

Prior to the War of 1812 little was known about the large coal deposits of Pennsylvania, and the United States had imported some bituminous coal from England. Tradition states that some Indians learned that the black stones (anthracite would burn, and some old records tell of coal being sent down the Susquehanna in 1776 to the Colonial Government Arsenal at Carlisle (now the U.S. War College) to be used in the manufacture of arms. Then too, some local blacksmiths found the stone coal useful in the forge.

In 1814 William and Maurice Wurtz discovered the great anthracite deposits at Carbondale, Pa. The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company quickly bought the claims of the Wurtz brothers, but the problem arose'How do we get the coal over the mountain to the Hudson River ready for sale in New York'? Sleds and wagons proved too slow and laborious. A gravity-cable car to run on tracks was adopted but still was not satisfactory.

The canal from Honesdale to the Lackawaxen River to the Hudson River was decided upon and in 1925 John Roebling (who was later to build the Brooklyn Bridge) started the project to be 108 miles long. The canal was to cross four rivers, with the aid of 109 locks, and span 137 bridges ending at Kingston, New York on the Hudson River. The first coal was shipped from Honesdale in November, 1828 in canal boats which carried 25 tons each.

All was well from Honesdale, but the terrible 16 mile trip over the mountain to Carbondale was not possible by canal. Some thoughts were then turned to the steam engine. True, they produced unlimited power, but they were stationary, large, and cumbersome. But perhaps the steam engine could be made to run on rails as the gravity-cable car, and perhaps it could even pull the car.

Mr. Horatio Allen, the resident engineer of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company, had been studying the railroad activity of England, and decided to go there and have a look, in 1828. He arrived in the city of Stourbridge where the large iron works were located as well as the shops of Foster-Rastrick and Company. Mr. Allen decided that the construction of a steam locomotive was feasible; and under his supervision the FIRST STEAM LOCOMOTIVE TO BE USED IN AMERICA was built. It weighed 8 tons and was named the STOURBRIDGE LION by Mr. Allen. A lion's head was fittingly cast on the frond end of the boiler.

In the summer of 1829 Mr. Allen returned to Honesdale with his locomotive and prepared for his historic trip which was made AUGUST 8, 1829 on wooden rails with metal straps on top. Here we will let Mr. Allen give his own account, as recorded by E. B. Callaway, of the first trip which was a distance of three miles from Honesdale to Seelyville and return.

'The road, having been built of timber in long lengths, and not well seasoned, some of the strap rails were not exactly in their true position. Under these circumstances the feeling of the lookers-on became general that either the road would break down under the weight of the eight ton locomotive, or, if the curve in the road was reached, that the locomotive would not keep the track, and would dash into the Lacka-waxen creek, with a fall of some thirty feet.

When the steam was of the right pressure and all was ready, I took my position on the platform of the locomotive alone, and with my hand on the throttle valve handle, said: 'If there is any danger in this ride, it is not necessary that the life and limbs of more than one should be subjected to it,' and felt that the great time would come when I should look back with great interest to the ride then before me.

The locomotive, having no train behind it, answered at once to the movement of the valve; soon the straight line was run over, the curve was reached and passed before there was time to think as to its being passed safely, and soon I was out of sight in the three miles' ride alone in the woods of Pennsylvania.

I had never run a locomotive nor any other engine before. I have never run one since but on August 8, 1829, I ran the locomotive three miles back to the place of starting, and being without experience and without a brakeman, I stopped the locomotive on its return to the place of starting.

When the cheers of the lookers-on died out, as I left them on the memorable trip, the only sound to greet my ears until my safe return, in addition to that of the exhaust steam, was the creaking of the timber structure.'

Although the trip was successful and the performance of the locomotive was perfect, it was discovered that the engine was too heavy for the rails (iron rails were unknown at this point).

The Stourbridge Lion was put into a shed where it remained for 20 years, when it was moved to the Honesdale foundry, where over the years it was partially dismantled.

Later, the Smithsonian Institute of Washington, D. C, purchased it and restored it to running condition, and there the Stourbridge Lion may be seen today. An operating replica may be viewed also at Honesdale, Pa.

One year later, in 1830, Peter Cooper of Baltimore, Maryland, made the run which was to prove that a steam locomotive could be of practical use for motive power in transportation. On February 26, 1971, the 'Baltimore Sun' carried an editorial by Shirley Brown describing this trip so well that I thought it was worth repeating. By courtesy of the 'Baltimore Sun' we hereby re-tell the story:

' 'All aboard! All A-boa-rrd!' called the trainman. Eighteen passengers, enthusiastic but strangely curious, stepped into the small open train car for the 13-mile journey from Baltimore to Ellicott Mills. Would they really get there? They wondered.

Always before, horses had pulled the train cars for the B & 0. However, today, August 25, 1830, the trip was going to be different. For the first time, a small locomotive was going to pull the little passenger car. Many people were certain that it could never take the place of old dobbin, but Peter Cooper thought otherwise.

He had built the small locomotive and he was standing on the engine platform next to the boiler. His locomotive was so small that Mr. Cooper called it the Tom Thumb.

All was ready, the boiler was getting up steam. With a sudden jerk, the little engine slowly started chug-chugchugging out of Mount Clare Station. In no time, Tom Thumb was running at 15 miles an hour. Much to everyone's surprise, it went around the curves so smoothly that no one fell out of his seat.

At last the little engine was going as fast as 18 miles an hour. Some of the passengers began to write their names on paper to prove that it was possible. However, when the small locomotive pulled the open coach car up steep hills, no one was more pleased than Mr. Cooper, its inventor. Finally, after an hour and 15 minutes, Tom Thumb puffed into Ellicott Mills. 'Hip! Hip! Hooray!' shouted the happy people.

'Mr. Cooper you have given us the honor of being the first passengers to be driven by steam locomotive in the United States!' said one of his friends. Mr. Cooper nodded and smiled. He had proven that his steam locomotive could work as well as a real horse.

Just then, a train car driven by a beautiful strong gray mare pulled to a stop alongside the toy-like Tom Thumb. 'Mr. Cooper! What you need is a horse! You might never get back to Baltimore without it!' called a man from the horse train window.

Mr. Cooper was too busy to answer. He was getting the Tom Thumb ready for the 13-mile trip back to Baltimore. He was dipping water from a barrel and putting it into the round boiler that stood on the end of the firebox. He checked the workings of the little locomotive that he had made himself. Next he put a shovelful of coal into the firebox.

'Hey, Mr. Cooper! How about a race?' called the driver of the horse train.

Mr. Cooper took off his high hat. 'Gentlemen, I have an iron horse. Well match your speed and, perhaps well even do better!'

'We're ready whenever you are, Mr. Cooper. We'll see which horse is faster-mine or yours!' called back the driver.

'Well see what Tom Thumb can do.' Mr. Cooper waited for the water in the boiler to get hot enough to make plenty of steam. He added another shovelful of coal to the firebox. 'Are you ready?' he called. 'One-two-three-go!'

Off started the two horses, one snorting and one puffing. Of course, the gray horse leaped ahead, for it could start at once. 'See you later! We'll be back to get you!' cried one of the passengers on the horse train.

The little engine was slow in starting. The wheels had to set the blower to work to get up steam. The horse was already a quarter of a mile ahead. All at once the locomotive picked up speed. Cinders and sparks began to fly. The blower whistled. The steam blew off in big clouds.

'Hurrah! Hurrah! We'll beat them yet!' cried the passengers. 'Come on, Tom Thumb!' Faster and faster went the wheels. The iron horse was gaining. Now it was alongside the old gray. Side by side, the two horses came running down the tracks. They were neck and neck and then nose and nose. Then the little engine crept ahead first, by inches, then by yards, and at last, a whole train length. 'Bravo! We've won!' came loud shouts.

The gallant gray horse was tiring. It had never galloped at such speed for the entire 13 miles. No matter how sharply the driver cracked the whip, the horse could not keep up the speed. But just at that moment, there was a slapping sound on the Tom Thumb. Putt-putt-putt panted the engine. The blower belt had slipped off the wheel. With one big hissing sigh, the little engine came to a stop. 'I'll have it fixed soon,' cried Mr. Cooper. By the time he had the belt in place, it was too late. The horse was far ahead. The old gray mare won the race from Tom Thumb.

'Although the race is lost, steam has won.' said Mr. Cooper. 'The iron horse will work better than the real horse. 'Today, in the B & 0 Transportation Museum, you can see an exact copy of the Tom Thumb. Many interesting locomotives and exhibits are on display in this museum. It is indeed well worth a visit to see the trains from the very beginning of railroading history up to the present diesel engine.'

The people of Germantown, Pa., organized a railroad company and were granted a charter, since they wished faster transportation to Philadelphia than the stage coach could provide. On the 23rd day of November 1832, Matthias Baldwin placed his locomotive 'Old Ironsides' on the tracks in Philadelphia and made the first run to Germantown, a distance of about ten miles. This was the beginning of the giant Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, and in general the railroad industrial revolution throughout the country.

The first iron rails made in the United States were manufactured in 1844 at Mount Savage which is a suburb of Cumberland, Md. Before this time any iron rails used in the U. S. were imported from England.

Those were exciting days in our nation when we were on the way up. May we all pause and ponder well our direction of today.