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CHAPTER XXXIII

CLAIMS TO FIRST LOCOMOTIVES

 

In previous pages the author has stated that he was mainly induced to compile this history in consequence of the numerous statements in the public journals, giving what they supposed to be correct accounts or histories of the first locomotive built and run upon a railroad in the United States, and his desire to settle that much-disputed question of the first locomotive that was in the actual service of a company. The following from the Philadelphia Public Ledger, of January 18, 1869, is a sample of those statements which have, from time to time, been spread before the public, as the true history of the first locomotive. Since this statement was published in the Ledger, the author has been frequently told that the first American locomotive was built in Philadelphia, and run upon the Germantown and Morristown Railroad, in 1832. The communication in the Ledger reads thus:

"The first really effective locomotive in America," says Mr. Haskell, in the Coachmaker's Journal, " was built in Philadelphia, from a draught by Rufus Tyler, a brother-in-law of the late Matthias Baldwin, of Philadelphia. Messrs. Tyler and Baldwin had formed a co-partnership and entered into business at the corner of Sixth and Miner Streets, Philadelphia, where the plans and patterns were made and the building of the iron horse commenced. In consequence of a misunderstanding, the partnership was dissolved, and Mr. Baldwin continued the business, removing to a shop in Lodge Alley, where the engine was completed. Mr. Tyler was at that time considered the best mechanic in America. The wheels of the engine were made of wood, with broad rims and thick tires, the flange being bolted on the side. It was called 'Old Ironsides,' and was built in 1832. At eight o'clock in the morning, she was first put in motion on the Germantown and Morristown Railroad at their depot, Ninth and Greene Streets. She ran a mile an hour, and was considered the wonder of the day. On trial, it was ascertained that the wheels were too light to draw the tender, and to obviate this difficulty we had the tender placed in front of the engine, which kept the wheels on the track. Mr. Baldwin, the machinist, and myself, pushed the engine ahead, until we obtained some speed, when we all jumped on the engine, our weight keeping the wheels from slipping on the track. The boiler being too small for the engine, steam was only generated fast enough to keep the engine in motion a short time, so that we were compelled to alternately push and ride until we arrived at Germantown depot, where we rested and took some refreshments at the expense of the hotel-keeper at that place.

"At four o'clock we started on our return to Philadelphia, alternately riding and pushing in the same manner that we had come. Upon arriving at a turn on the road, at the up-grade, the engine suddenly stopped, when, upon examination, it was found that the connecting pipe between the water-tank and the boiler had been frozen, and the steam was all out of the boiler. It was then about eight o'clock, and was growing each moment colder. 'Necessity knows no law,' and so, after a short consultation, we made a summary appropriation of sundry panels of a post-and-rail fence close to the track, and started a fire underneath the pipe to thaw it. In a short time thereafter we had steam up and resumed our journey toward Philadelphia, arriving at the depot about eleven o'clock. Several successive trials were made during the following year; after each, Mr. Baldwin added improvements and made alterations in the machinery. In about a year it was found that the grease had saturated the hubs and loosened the spokes, and they finally went to pieces, and were replaced by new ones. This same engine is still in existence in Vermont."

When the author read this description in the Ledger with the astounding caption that preceded it, viz., "The first really effective engine in America," he could not restrain his wonder. His surprise was only increased when he tried to imagine what the editor could be thinking about when he suffered such a communication to enter the columns of his valuable journal. When the author tried to imagine the appearance of this excursion-party to and from Germantown—first pushing awhile, then jumping on for a ride, then off again for another push, and on again for another ride—he was forcibly reminded of a scene he has often witnessed after the boss and his hands, on a railroad division, had knocked off for dinner, when a parcel of schoolboys amused themselves with a ride upon the unoccupied hand-car.

If Philadelphia will claim this specimen of a locomotive as her share in the enterprise of introducing this indispensable machine into the United States, and as late as 1832, she is welcome to enjoy it; and her mechanics maybe justly proud of their handiwork; for they had certainly made no improvement upon the English locomotives, several of which were at that time (December, 1832) in this country; besides the fact that there had been built in this country, between the years 1829 and '31, one most successful experimental locomotive by Mr. Peter Cooper, of New York, which we describe in full, and also there had been built in 1830 and '31 several American locomotives for actual railroad service, which were in successful operation, as we have already shown, viz., the "Best Friend" and the "West Point," for the Charleston Railroad. Another article upon the subject of early locomotives, or rather, as it is headed, " The first train of cars by steam in America," ever, read in the Boston Advertiser of January, 1869, as follows:

"THE FIRST STEAM-TRAIN IN AMERICA."—In the superintendent's office at the Providence Railroad Station, in this city, is a picture of the first steam railroad train in America, run from Albany to Schenectady, over the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, in 1831. The train consisted of a locomotive, tender, and two cars. The locomotive, named the 'John Bull,' and imported from England, was of very simple and uncouth construction, and might be mistaken in these days for a pile-driver. Its cylinders were five and a half inches in diameter, and sixteen inches' stroke, and the connecting-rods worked on double cranks on the front axle. It weighed four tons. John Hampson, an Englishman, was the engineer. The tender was a simple frame, with a platform, upon which were placed a heap of wood used for fuel, and two crates filled with similar combustibles. This vehicle had also a passenger-box in the rear. The cars were patterned after the old stagecoaches, resembling somewhat the railroad-coaches still used in England, and were coupled with three links instead of one, as at present. Twelve passengers occupied the inside seats, and three were seated outside. Among them were Mr. Thurlow Weed and ex:-Governor Yates. Their portraits, and those of their fellow passengers, which the picture gives in sombre and sharply-defined silhouette, would readily be recognized by any one acquainted with them when they made the excursion. The picture is photographed by Messrs. J. L. Howard & Co., of Springfield, from the original, in the possession of the Connecticut Historical Society."

The original picture of the engine and train of cars from which the photograph just described was taken, was executed by the author of this history, and presented by him to the Connecticut Historical Society at Hartford. This photograph copy has since been lithographed for Thomas Jarmy, at the lithographic establishment of Sage & Son, Buffalo, in 1865.

The original picture, presented by the author to the Connecticut Historical Society, was done on the very day the engine made its first trip with a train of cars. Attached to this lithograph Mr. Jarmy has given a kind of history of the machine, as follows: "View of the first American railroad train, as it appeared ready for starting, on the Mohawk and Hudson Railway, the first part of the New York Central Railroad from Albany to Schenectady, about the 31st of July, 1832, executed at the time on black paper with a pair of scissors, by a Mr. Brown, of Pennsylvania, and lithographed from a photograph of the original picture in the possession of the Connecticut Historical Society." Mr. Jarmy also goes on to describe and name the passengers in the cars, and gives the cost and charges of the importation of the engine at the custom-house, New York, and the date, November 12, 183l, as the freight of said locomotive, the "John Bull," per schooner Eclipse, from New York to Albany. With regard to this lithograph, which, no doubt, many railroad men look upon as authentic, the author will say that, so far as the representation of the engine and train of cars, together with the passengers, is concerned, the copy really is correct, nor can the author complain at his name being given as the artist who took the original sketch in the Connecticut Historical Society rooms; but the public should be informed of the utter inaccuracy in the historical portion of the lithographic copy. The locomotive drawn by the author on that occasion was not the English engine, "John Bull," as Mr. Jarmy represents, but the American built locomotive "De Witt Clinton." It was sketched on the 9th day of August, 1831, the day of the first excursion trip with a train of cars attached. Several experiments during the previous month of July had been made with different kinds of fuel, to discover that which would be best suited for its use.


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