Maine's First Powered Land Vehicle at Transportation Museum

| March/April 1999

  • Cyrus Hamlin engine

  • Cyrus Hamlin engine

Owls Head Transportation Museum
P.O. Box 277 Owls Head, Maine 04854

The Owls Head Transportation Museum is presently exhibiting what is believed to be Maine's first powered-land vehicle, the 1834 Cyrus Hamlin Engine. The vehicle is on loan from Bowdoin College, and has been incorporated into the Museum's Wright Brothers, exhibit Harnessing Power.

The Hamlin engine was built by 23-year-old Cyrus Hamlin. Hamlin was born in Waterford, Maine, in 1811. He was the nephew of Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln's first Vice-President. Cyrus was inspired by the great steam engine on the Chancellor Livingston when it docked in Portland Harbor, in 1834, while he was a student at Bowdoin College. Hamlin was so impressed by the Livingston's technology that he proposed constructing a steam engine that the college would purchase for demonstrations. The engine was built in 10 weeks in Mr. Edward Grueby's clock factory in Portland.

The 1834 Cyrus Hamlin engine, Maine's earliest powered land vehicle, is on display at the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Owls Head, Maine. The engine is on loan from Bowdoin College.

According to Charles Chiarchiaro, Museum Director, the Cyrus Hamlin engine is an important and significant piece. 'The steam engine was first improved upon by James Watt with his patents of 1781-1785. The four cycle gasoline engine was developed by Nicholas Otto in 1876. The first successful gasoline powered automobile was built by Karl Benz in 1885, the first Stanley Steam Car in 1897, and the first successful powered flight was by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Here we have a 23-year-old student, inspired by his first experience with a steam engine who, in 1834, with few tools, a bit of research and a mountain of enthusiasm, created a working steam engine and boiler combination, in a ten week period. Most importantly, he harnessed the energy of his engine by connecting the crankshaft to the rear wheels, successfully developing a working, powered motor road vehicle. This is a wonderful story of ingenuity and determination, illustrating the great chemistry which fueled the industrial revolution and the development of powered transportation,' Chiarchiaro said. 'The Hamlin was built 69 years prior to the Wrights' powered flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, and is an important addition to our Harnessing Power exhibit.' The Hamlin Engine will be displayed with a full-size replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer, an 1885 Benz Gasoline Automobile, and a 1902 Riker Electric car, in addition to other landmark examples.

The Transportation Museum is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with many special weekend events. In addition to the Wright Brothers Exhibit ,the Museum is presently featuring Neil Armstrong's Appolo mission space training suit, the prototype 1963 Ford Mustang, and the ca. 1905 turkey-feather covered ornithopter. The Museum has a permanent collection of more than 30 aircraft, 70 automobiles, bicycles, carriages and motorcycles. For information, including a schedule of summer events, contact the Museum at (207) 594-4418. The Museum can be reached by e-mail at Its Web address is


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