Chapter V

The First Steam Carriage


THE first actual model of a steam-carriage, of which we have a written account, was constructed by a Frenchman, named Cugnot, who exhibited it before the Marquis de Saxe, in 1763. He afterward, in 1769, built an engine to run on common roads, at the expense of the French monarch. As it is the first steam-carriage of which we have any written account, and believing that it should prove interesting to our readers, we copy this description of it from Appleton's JOURNAL OF POPULAR LITERATURE, SCIENCE, AND ART, August 17, l861 as follows: "One of the earliest efforts in the way of' steam locomotion was the engine of Cugnot, of France, designed to run on common roads. His first carriage was put in motion by the impulsion of two single-acting cylinders, the piston of which acted alternately on the single front wheels. It traveled about three or four miles an hour, and carried four persons; but, from the smallness of the boiler, it would not continue to work more than twelve or fifteen minutes without stopping to get up steam. Cugnot's locomotive presented a simple and ingenious form of a high-pressure engine, and, though of rude construction, was a creditable piece of work, considering the time. He made a second engine, with while several successful trials were made in the streets of Paris, which excited much interest. An accident, however, put an end to his experiments. Turning the corner of the street one day, near the Madeleine, when the machine was running at a speed of about three miles an hour, it upset with a crash, and, being considered dangerous, was locked up in the Arsenal. Cugnot's locomotive is still to be seen in the Museum of the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, at Paris, and is a most interesting relic of early locomotion."

In 1784 William Symington conceived the idea of steam being applied to propelling carriages, and in 1786 made a working model, but soon gave it up, and nothing was ever after heard of the project.

The first English model of a steam-carriage was made in 1784, by William Murdoch; this model was based upon the principle of the high pressure, and ran on three wheels (for common roads, of course). It worked to admiration, but nothing further was ever done to bring the idea into a more practical form.

A few years after, Thomas Allen, of London, published the plan of a newly invented machine for carrying goods, without the use of horses, and by the use of steam alone for the motive pouter. His plan was to have cogged wheels to run upon cogged rails. The plan was all that was ever brought out.

In 1801 Oliver

, of Philadelphia, a millwright, who had entertained the idea, as early as 1772, of propelling wagons by the action of high steam, was employed by the corporation of that city to construct a dredging-machine. The experiment was of a most remarkable character. The machine was, as you may term it, an amphibious affair. He built both the vessel and the machine at his works, a mile and a half from the water. The whole weighing 42,000 lbs., it was mounted upon wheels, to which motion was given by the engine and moved without any further aid from the shop to the river. After the machine was in its proper element, a wheel was then fused to the stern of the vessel, and the engine being again set in motion, she was conveyed to her designed position. Here is the first propeller. As late as the year 1800, wooden or tram roads were general in all the coal and mining districts in England, using horse-power for the means of transportation of their coal or ore from the mines to the point of shipment.

The first idea and proposition to introduce the railroad, imperfect as it then was, for the transportation of goods and for commercial purposes generally, and to be used as a highway between one city and another, as at the present day, was made before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle, England, by Mr. Thomas, of Denton, on the 11th February, 1800. The same idea was taken hold of in 1805, by a Mr. Edgeworth, who urged the same plan for the transit of passengers. He urged that stage-coaches might be made to go at six miles an hour, and post-coaches and gentlemen's travelling-carriages at eight miles an hour, with one horse alone. He also suggested that small stationary engines placed from distance to distance might be made, and by the use of endless chains draw the carriages, at a great diminution of horse-power.

These ideas of Mr. Thomas were followed by a recommendation from a Dr. Anderson, of Edinburgh, a friend and co-laborer with Watt in his experiments upon the improvements in steam-engines. The doctor dilated upon the subject with great warmth and enthusiasm. So apparently extravagant were his views upon this his favorite topic considered, that many of his friends thought his mind had become affected. "If," said he, "we can diminish only one single farthing in the cost of transportation and personal intercommunication, and you at once widen the circle of intercourse, you form, as it were, a new creation—not only of stone and earth, of trees and plants, but of men also; and, what is of far greater consequence, you promote industry, happiness, and joy. The cost of all human consumption would be reduced, the facilities of agriculture promoted, time and distance would be almost annihilated; the country would be brought nearer to the town; the number of horses to carry on traffic would be diminished; mines and manufactories would appear in neighborhoods hitherto considered almost isolated by distance; villages, towns, and even cities, would spring up all through the country; and spots now as the grave would be enlivened with the busy hum of human voices, the sound of the hammer, and the clatter of machinery; the whole country would be, as it were, revolutionized with life and activity, and a general prosperity would be the result of this mighty auxiliary to trade and commerce throughout the land." How perfectly true were these arguments of Anderson, and how his predictions have been verified even in our own State! What else could have developed the boundless wealth of our mountain-regions but the introduction of the railroad system and its powerful auxiliary the locomotive, by which means their hitherto inaccessible fastness have been penetrated, and access thereto made comparatively easy; while their vast resources of wealth in lumber, coal, minerals, and oil, have been brought nearer to a market, and, but for this system of transportation, they would to this day have been locked up in impenetrable mystery in the deep recesses of the mountains.

Table of Contents | Antebellum Page | Site Contents

Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery