American Steam-Car Pioneers

A Book Review

| May/June 1985

  • Picture 1

  • Picture 1

Cover photo from John H. Bacon's American Steam-Car Pioneers. Roy W. Whipple (left) and Louis R. Clinton racing locomobiles in 1900.

Inventive ingenuity is given the green light in 'American Steam-Car Pioneers', a small choice paperback book that tells of men who dreamed and dared more than a century ago.

The first man described in the book is Sylvester H. Roper, believed by the author to have been 'the first man in the United States to build several successful self-propelled road vehicles'. Roper died at the age of 73 while riding another of his inventions, a steam-propelled bicycle. He suffered a heart attack during an exhibition spin.

George A. Long was inspired to put together a steam car when he saw a steam 'horseless carriage' being operated at a fair at Brattleboro, Vt. With his first steam vehicle, he ran into trouble with neighbors, and had to operate by stealth, mainly at night. Then the town of Northfield, Mass., where he lived, passed an ordinance against the car, and he had to get rid of it.

George Eli Whitney gave a number of Massachusetts residents their first view of a steam-car, with his vehicles. Among his products were small steam launches, large steam yachts, and sewing machines powered by steam, which were exported to China. The Chinese women were unable to use treadles because of their deformed feet.

These are just a few of the .highlights from this well-illustrated book. The author, John Heafield Bacon, died at the tragically early age of 35. The book is published by the Newcomen Society of the United States, and should be treasured as a record of true heroes of transportation.