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CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTION

 

THERE is, perhaps, at the present day, no subject upon which the community at large is so poorly informed as the history of the first locomotives in America—in what year they were built, where they were constructed, and upon what railroad they were first introduced and employed in actual service.

Especially less informed upon this subject are the very men who, above all others, should be thoroughly conversant with all the particulars in the history of that wonderful machine—the actual means which contribute so much toward the maintenance and employment of a large class of the industrial portion of our community; we mean the officers, engineers, fire men, machinists, mechanics, laborers, and, in short, all employees connected with railroad service. This melancholy lack of information can only be attributed to a want on an opportunity to obtain the requisite fact from some reliable source, where they are in such form as would bring them within the reach of the masses of the community. True it is, volumes have been published, giving accurate accounts of the early experiments and subsequent improvements in self-propelling machines, or locomotives, in England; but these works are too rare, voluminous, and expensive, to be in general circulation, and entirely beyond the reach of a large class who are interested in the subject; and even then, they bring the history down only to a period anterior to the date of railroad enterprise in this country; while all the information upon the subject since that time (a period of a little over two score years in duration) seems to be wrapped in impenetrable mystery To obviate, therefore, this difficulty for the future, and to give to the public all the information upon the subject from the most reliable sources, and also to place it in such a form as to bring it within the reach of every one, are the objects of the author of the present work, now offered to the public.

Another reason which influences the author in publishing his present work arises from the fact that, within the short period of ten or fifteen years, and especially within the last few years, under a variety of forms, he has seen and read in our public journals nearly as many different accounts of the early locomotives in America, as the number of years which have elapsed since their first introduction, all of them purporting to be "true histories of the first engine ever built and run in America." But not one of these accounts, claiming priority for its different engines and roads, produces the slightest evidence to sustain their claim of being the pioneers in this great mechanical achievement, which within the last half century has revolutionized the trade and commerce of the civilized world. One claim to the credit of having introduced the first American locomotive, we saw in an article published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, of the 18th January, 1869. Another claim to the same honor, we saw in an article in the columns of the Boston Advertiser, January 28, 1869. These articles we will copy in full in our work, when we come in its pages to the proper place to describe early locomotives in America, when they were built, where constructed, and upon what railroad put into practical service.

Again, some seven or eight years ago, a lithograph picture representing a locomotive, and two cars filled with passengers, was issued from the lithographic establishment of Messrs. Sage & Sons, of Buffalo, and copyrighted by Thomas Jarmy. This lithograph (a copy of which is now before the author) purports to have been copied from an original picture in the possession of the Connecticut Historical Society. It has been widely circulated throughout the country, and is said to represent " the first locomotive train in America." The engine is said to be the "John Bull," an English machine; and the engineer, who is represented at his post upon the platform of the engine," John Hampson, an Englishman, etc.

Again, in 1870, this same original picture in the rooms of the Connecticut Historical Society was lithographed by a concern in Boston, styled the " Antique Publishing company of Boston." In this lithograph the locomotive and train are represented precisely like the one executed in Buffalo, and are here for the second time said to be a sketch of the first locomotive and train in America, and the engine named the "John Bull," an English engine, and the engineer " John Hampson."

The original picture, now in the Connecticut Historical Society, was executed by the author of this work, and presented to the Society forty years ago.

The full particulars respecting this original picture will be given hereafter; and the author, for the present, will only state that the original of the picture was not the English locomotive " John Bull," nor was the engineer on the occasion, John Hampson, an Englishman; but an American built locomotive and an American engineer.

Such blunders and misstatements as we have just alluded to are calculated to mislead the public, and involve the early history of the locomotive in America in a cloud of obscurity; and the author unhesitatingly believes that, if the true history of this now indispensable machine is left unestablished for another half century, we may find the great Union and Central Pacific Railroads credited by some (without a shadow of evidence, like others) with the introduction of the first locomotive upon a railroad in America, and with as much chance of establishing that claim as they no doubt have to sustain the credit of being the first in uniting the East with the far Western boundaries of our great continent by their interminable belt of railroad-iron, annihilating distance, just as the lightning-telegraph annihilates time.

The deep and intense interest always manifested, by railroad men in particular, when on frequent occasions the author has explained his knowledge of the facts connected with the early history of the locomotive in America, and the reliable sources from which his information was derived, often induced him to determine that, when a favorable opportunity presented itself, he would write out and publish a work like the present but he has hitherto been prevented from carrying out his desire, from his isolated position, far away from the facilities requisite for such a task.

These difficulties are now removed, and, the opportunity being presented, his long-cherished determination will no further be delayed. In compiling this history, all the authorities upon which his information is based will be set forth in such a manner that it must put at rest forever the oft-disputed question, "When and where was the first locomotive built and run in America, in the actual service of a company?"

These are questions oftentimes heard, when groups of engineers and other railroad-men are congregated together and discoursing upon their universal topic, the merits and achievements of their favorite machines; and how often is there one in the group who will pretend to answer the questions, and, if answered at all, how often are they answered correctly? There is scarcely a State in the Union (especially where railroads existed at an early day) which has not enjoyed the credit on these occasions of being the pioneer in the introduction of this most wonderful auxiliary to successful railroad transportation. Sometimes we have heard the credit awarded to the State of New York, sometimes to Pennsylvania, and as a matter of course oftentimes to the States of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Some, who profess to be well posted upon this point, claim the honor for the old Portage Railroad of Pennsylvania; while others, equally certain and conversant upon the subject, in their opinion, give the credit to the Germantown and Norristown Railroad; and so on, through the catalogue of railroads (not very voluminous at that early day): but none of these are correct. True it is, that several companies, even at an early day, had locomotives constructed for their use, and put them in practical service upon their several roads, those very roads just alluded to, but not, however, until the experiment had been tried and successfully inaugurated and reduced to a fixed fact in another quarter. Therefore, the honor of being the pioneer in having the first American locomotive constructed and put in actual service in the United States belongs elsewhere, as we are prepared to substantiate as we progress in our present work. If, however, in doing this, we should be compelled to descend too much into minutiae, so as to bring upon us the charge of egotism from our readers, we will claim their forbearance in our anxiety to leave no stone unturned, to withhold no facts, and to bring to our aid every item, however trifling it may appear, to establish the truth. In recording the facts contained in this history, therefore, the author will accompany each position he may assume with all the evidence upon which his information is based. These authorities are from the statements of living witnesses, who are at this day (though far advanced in years) endowed with all the vigor of mind which characterized them in the early period of their lives, and are now enjoying an enviable share of the confidence and esteem of their fellow-citizens.

The names of John B. Jervis, Esq., Horatio Allen, Esq., Benjamin H. Latrobe, Esq., Ross Winans, Esq., and Peter Cooper, Esq., are well known and familiar to our railroad communities, as identified in the early days with railroad enterprise in America. To those of our readers, however, who may not be acquainted with the character and reputation of these accomplished engineers and gentlemen, we will briefly state that John B. Jervis, Esq., for many years a resident of Rome, in the State of New York, is one of the oldest (being now nearly seventy-five years of age) and most skillful engineers of the period of which we write. He was the chief engineer of the railroad that imported from England the first locomotive which turned a driving-wheel upon the American Continent. He has been engaged upon some of the most important works of improvement in our country, and his reputation as an accomplished engineer is widely known, not only in this country, but in Europe. Among the most important public works upon which Mr. Jervis was employed as chief engineer, we enumerate the Delaware and Hudson Canal and Railroad; the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad; the Saratoga and Schenectady Railroad; the Chenango Canal of New York; the Eastern Division of the Erie-Canal enlargement; the Croton Aqueduct; the Hudson River Railroad; the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana Railroad; and the Pittsburgh and Chicago Railroad. He was president of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad, and consulting engineer of the Boston Water-works, and other important improvements. Mr. Jervis was also the inventor of the plan of having the truck under the front part of the locomotive, to assist in sustaining the weight of the boiler, and in giving direction to the machine in running upon curves, a plan now universally adopted, and found to be indispensably necessary in engines of eight or more wheels, and especially upon the short-curved railroads of America. Mr. Jervis is still living at Rome, New York, in the full possession of his vigor of mind, and we trust he may live for many years, to enjoy the reputation he has so richly earned by his valuable services to the railroad enterprise of America.

Horatio Allen, Esq., is another eminent engineer of America, and his evidence contributes much valuable information to our history, which our readers will see from his various communications to the author.

Mr. Allen graduated at Columbia College, in the State of New York, in 1823, commenced his professional life in 1824, as civil engineer with Benjamin Wright on the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. In 1825 he was engaged on the Delaware and Hudson Canal as resident engineer under John B. Jervis, Esq., chief engineer, in 1827 resigned his connection with the Delaware and Hudson Canal, in order to visit England in search of professional information on railroad matters, that new era in intercommunication and transportation being then in process of development. During his visit to England, he leas requested to take charge of the contract for the iron for the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company's coal-road, and also for three locomotives, being the first ever ordered and brought to this country. On his return, in 1829, Mr. Allen had charge of the fitting up and putting in operation the first locomotive,—the "Stourbridge Lion,"—ever put on a railroad in this country, and alone he stood upon its platform on the first experimental trip, and his hand opened the throttle-valve upon the engine that turned the first driving-wheel in America.

In 1829 Mr. Allen was engaged as chief engineer on the South Carolina Railroad, running from Charleston to Augusta, Georgia, 136 miles. On this road was put the first one hundred miles of iron in one continuous line in the world. Another fact in connection with this road, and to the credit of Mr. Allen, is of interest: the road was built within the estimate of its cost.

In 1834 Mr. Allen went abroad, and was in Egypt nearly three years. On returning, in 1837, he was engaged as principal assistant engineer on the Croton Aqueduct, under John B. Jervis, the chief engineer. On completion of the aqueduct, Mr. Allen was one of the Croton Aqueduct commissioners, and its engineer for the introduction and distribution of the water. In 1842 Mr. Allen became one of the proprietors of the Novelty Iron Works in New York. In this establishment he continued as one of its managers and president until 1870, when the works were closed. Prior to Mr. Allen's connection with the Novelty Works, he was president of the New York and Erie Railroad, and was consulting engineer of the road at the period of its opening in 1845. In 1870 Mr. Allen became consulting engineer of the East River Bridge, now in course of construction, and which when completed will be looked upon as a wonder of the age. Of this great work Washington A. Roebling, Esq., is chief engineer.

To Benjamin H. Latrobe, Esq., we are also largely indebted for the early history of the locomotive enterprise upon the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; for the drawing and full description of the sailing car, invented by Mr. Thomas; and for the drawing of the little experimental machine, built to demonstrate the principle of the practicability of locomotives upon short curves, and the subsequent results from them.

Mr. Latrobe has constantly been in active employment upon some important public work in its engineer department. Among which ve name the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. In the service of this company he entered in l830 as a member of the corps of engineers. In 1842 he was appointed chief engineer, and continued in that position until 1857. Since that time he has rendered the road much valuable assistance as consulting engineer. As chief engineer, Mr. Latrobe located and built the railroad from Baltimore to Havre de Grace, as a part of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, in 1835-'37, and the NorthwesternVirginia Railroad from Grafton to Parkersburg (103 miles), from 1853-'57. He has been consulting engineer on several or on special occasions to a number of railway works; the most important were: the Hoosac Tunnel, Massachusetts; the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad (which office he now holds); the North Missouri Railroad; the Blue Ridge Railroad, in South Carolina; the East River Bridge; the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad; the Hillsborough and Parkersburg Railroad; and the Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad.

Mr. Latrobe is the chief engineer of the Jones Falls Improvement in the city of Baltimore; and is now completing the Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad, from Pittsburgh to Cumberland.

We will also quote freely from the letters of Mr. David Matthew to the author in 1859, and we will give in our work several certificates in reference to Mr. Matthew's character and ability as an engineer, and a reliable man. Mr. Matthew superintended the men fitting up the first English locomotive imported into this country, and he also had charge of the workmen fitting up the first, second, and third locomotives built in America—the last of which, after placing it upon the road, he continued to run as the regular engineer for a long time; and his testimony is entitled to all credit.

To Julius D. Petsch, Esq., now and for many years the chief of the mechanical department upon the railroad upon which the first American-built locomotive for actual service was run, we are indebted for many valuable particulars concerning that event.

To several other prominent and well-known gentlemen, whose letters and testimony will be found in the course of our narrative, we are indebted, and under great and lasting obligations.

Prominent among those private citizens is Mr. Peter Cooper, of New York City, a gentleman well known throughout our country as one of the warmest friends and advocates for the intellectual improvement of the mechanical and laboring classes of our community. Mr. Cooper, as we will show in the progress of our work, was the pioneer, the very first to experiment upon the practicability of the locomotive system in this country. We will show that he stepped out from the desk of his mercantile office to become the first locomotive-builder in this country, and his success and efforts will be fully recorded as we progress in our work.

The original letters from these sources (in reply to the author's numerous inquiries for information) will prove deeply interesting to the reader, and richly repay the labor of their perusal, while, at the same time, they will fill up the chain of evidence, as it were, and point out the sources from which the author has gained the desired information for his work, and will be given in their proper places, word for word, as they were received.


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