HORATIO ALLEN'S LETTER
WE will now close our history of the first and second American-built
locomotives, by giving in this place Horatio Allen's communication
to the author on several points of interest, to which we have
alluded in the preceding pages. Mr. Allen's letter is as follows:
NEW YORK March 1, 1869. MR. WILLIAM H. BROWN
DEAR SIR: YOU ask me for some incidents in the early history
of railroads and locomotives in this country, of which I have
Being one of the first of American engineers who gave attention
to the subject, at the time when the indications were that a new
era in intercommunication was about to open, and having visited
England to obtain the information that existed at that time, and
having given special attention to what was to be, and proved to
be, the vital element of the new erathe locomotiveI,
of necessity, was a party to many events of interest at this day.
It has always been my intention to place on record some of the
earlier incidents; but the postponement to a more convenient time,
which the business engagements of life have led to, will leave
this intention unfulfilled.
At your request, and, as you say, it may be of some value to
you personally, I will briefly refer to one or two events of the
character of that contained in the quotation sent me. The quotation
is from remarks made by me at the opening of the New York and
Erie Railroad in 1852.
It is often and, perhaps, generally thought that the railroad
system was imported full grown. Such is not the fact, and it would
greatly interest many Americans to have presented the part that
was taken in this country in the development of this great instrumentality
of modern times. I have not the time to present it, but I will
refer to one or two events. One was the running of the first locomotive
on a railroad on this continent. Herewith I send the remarks made
by me at the opening of the New York and Erie Railroad, to which
I will only add, that the locomotive was built under my directions
in England, set up and run as described in 1829.
The first decision in the world to build a railroad expressly
for locomotive-power, for general freight and passenger business,
was in this country, and at a period of time which gives especial
interest to that decision. In the year 1829, it was my duty, as
chief engineer of the South Carolina Railroad, to report to the
directors as to the plan of construction of that work, in length
one hundred and thirty-five miles.
At that time, the question of motive power was in the following
position: In England, the Liverpool and Manchester company had
referred the question of motive-power to a commission of two engineers
of great eminence, James Walker, of London, and John W. Rastrick,
of Stone Bridge. These gentlemen, after a thorough examination
of the whole subject, united in an elaborate report, accompanied
by maps, etc., showing how the system recommended was to be carried
out, and that system was a series of stationary engines, placed
one to three miles apart, which, through long ropes, were to draw
the trains from one engine to the other.
On this side the water, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company
had sixteen miles in operation by horse-power. By correspondence
with the gentlemen who had the beginning of that great enterprise
in hand, I was informed that they were advised by English engineers,
consulted on the subject, to build their road for horse-power.
At this time, and with this intimation before me, I made my
report to the directors of the South Carolina Railroad Company.
In that report I made such comparison between horse-power and
locomotive-power as the information at the time enabled me to
make. I presented my conclusion that the comparison was in favor
of locomotive-power, and I based my recommendation, that the road
should be built for locomotive-power, essentially on the ground
that there was no reason to believe that the breed of horses would
be materially improved, but that the present breed of locomotives
was to furnish a power of which no one knew its limit, and which
would far exceed its present performances. At the meeting where
this report was submitted, the directors, before they left their
seats, passed the resolution unanimously that the South Carolina
Railroad should be built solely for locomotive-power.
To one other circumstance in connection with the same road
I will refer. I had early come to the conclusion that to make
the locomotive the instrument that would be required, it must
furnish more power in one instrument and one engineer; that it
was plain that the materials, and that, too, of the road which
carried the locomotive, limited the weight to rest under each
wheel, and that, as more power required more weight, there must,
of necessity, be more wheels, and that, if more wheels are required,
power must be made in reference to curves and change of grade.
In reports made in 1830-'31, I set forth the combinations by which
such provision could be made. At that time the locomotives in
England were all on four wheels, and it was maintained by a strong
English influence that it was not for us, in America, to depart
from English usage. The subject was matter of discussion for a
winter. I took the position (English usage to the contrary notwithstanding)
that no long road for general passenger and freight purposes could
maintain itself without the use of eight-wheel locomotives, and
that probably ten-wheel locomotives would also be found desirable.
Experience has amply sustained my position. My efforts were successful,
and in 1831 the first eight-wheel locomotives were built on my
plans and under my direction. The combinations by which provision
was made for curves and changes of grade are substantially those
so generally used on eight-wheel locomotives and eight-wheel passenger-cars.
It is of some interest that their introduction, without patent,
was in a great degree the means of saving the railroad companies
and the public from charges for their use.
"It is with difficulty that I have found time to put on
paper, in this brief way, this reply to your inquiries.
Table of Contents
| Antebellum Page | Site