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The First Steam Locomotive in America

Author Photo
By W. J. Eshleman

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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
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Imported from England by the D. & H., ''The Stourbridge Lion,'' was the first locomotive to be operated in the Western Hemisphere when it made a trial three-mile run at Honesdale, Pa., on August 8,1829. Courtesy of W. J. Eshleman, 722 East End Avenue, Lan

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.

Published on Nov 1, 1972

Farm Collector Magazine

Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment