Letters From Officials
Desirous of receiving some authentic statistics of this first
locomotive, the author addressed a letter to Erastus Corning,
Esq., who was president of the road at that time, and the following
answer was received:
NEW YORK CENTRAL RAILROADS PRESIDENT OFFICE, ALBANY, December
MR. WILLIAM H. BROWN
DEAR SIR: Yours, respecting the introduction of the first locomotive
on the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, and asking information in relation
thereto, was duly received.
I referred your communication to John T. Clark, Esq., of Utica,
who was at the time resident engineer and superintendent of transportation,
requesting of him such information as he might be able to furnish.
I send you herewith his reply, and by American and Adams's Express
a photograph copy of the sketch in the Hartford Athenaeum. I remember
well your original cutting in black paper of the first locomotive,
the 'De Witt Clinton,' and her train of cars. I was forcibly struck
on viewing it by its accurate resemblance to the engine and train
of cars attached.
Yours very respectfully,
The following is Mr. Clark's reply to Mr. Corning's letter.
It was forwarded to the author:
UTICA N. Y., December 21, 1859, HON. ERASTUS CORNING, Albany,
MY DEAR SIR: I received, on the 18th last, your note, with
Mr. Brown's letter to you, seeking for information as to the time
when the first experiment was made, with a locomotive-engine,
on the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, and other particulars in relation
to the early history of the road.
"Before answering your letter, I wished to consult Mr.
John B. Jervis, of Rome, to procure from him some facts in relation
to details in the construction of the first locomotive. I went
to Rome on Saturday for that purpose alone, but, not finding him
at home, I send you to day such facts as I can gather from memory,
and some papers in my possession.
"The first experiment with steam upon the road was made
with the locomotive 'De Witt Clinton?' in the latter part of July,
1831. This engine was built at the West Point Foundry Works, New
York. A Mr. Matthew had charge of the hands fitting up the machine,
and came with it in charge to Albany. This engine was contracted
for by John B. Jervis, Esq., the chief engineer of the road. The
estimated weight of the 'De Witt Clinton' was about six tons.
It was mounted on four wheels, of about five feet diameter each,
and had single drivers. The hubs and rims of the wheels were of
cast-iron, with wrought-iron spokes and tires. I feel certain
that the 'De Witt Clinton' had an iron tank or tender on four
wheels. The first locomotive-engine which came from England, and
was afterward put on the road, was made by Stephenson, and was
called the 'Robert Fulton.' This engine was double the size and
weight of the 'De Witt Clinton.' It arrived about the latter part
of August, 1831, and was put on the road about the 10th to the
20th of September following. On the occasion of an excursion which
was to take place the latter part of September, great preparations
were made for a large crowd of passengers, as the Governor, judges
of the courts, and members of the Legislature, were expected to
participate in the ride, and consequently the most powerful engine,
the 'Robert Fulton,' pull the train. But it did not so happen:
something (I do not remember now) got wrong with 'Robert Fulton,'
and 'De Witt Clinton' took his place at the head of the train,
which being too heavy for so small a machine, a part only was
attached to the 'De Witt Clinton,' and the remainder were drawn
each car by a horse, making a very amusing-looking cavalcade.
I think 'Fulton' would have done better and have been more at
home upon the Hudson River than on the stand upon the Mohawk and
Hudson Railroad. However, on that occasion the little 'De Witt
' acquitted herself well, and got to the end of the road long
before her companions by horse-power arrived, and did the same
in returning. Mr. Brown's sketch was taken on the first excursion
with the 'De Witt Clinton,' before the time of this second excursion,
and the arrival in this country of the first locomotive from England,
the 'Fulton,' for our road. The second locomotive which came from
England arrived nearly a year afterperhaps not so long,
but I remember it was late in the fall of the year. This second
engine came without a tank or a tender. A temporary arrangement
was made for supplying this English engine with water by means
of a cask with the capacity of about three hundred gallons, made
in the usual form and manner of a cask, and resting on saddles
of wood fastened to a frame of the same material; and the whole,
being mounted on four light cast-iron wheels, presented a very
"This English locomotive was called the 'John Bull,' and
had four driving wheels of four feet diameter. The hubs and naves
of the wheels were made of cast-iron, the spokes and rim or felloes
were made of wood and secured by wrought-iron flanged tires. It
is, perhaps, needless to say that after this engine was put in
use, those parts of the wheels made of wood gave audible complaint
of hard service. The 'shrieking' of the machine caused no little
merriment among the knights of the whip, who were yet reluctant
in believing that the beautiful tandem teams which they had the
honor of driving formerly over the road, at the rate of twelve
miles an hour, 'could ever be superseded by such a cursed-looking
iron concern as that, as it was broken-winded already!'
The first regular trip for the public with a locomotive was
on the 9th day of August, 1831, with the 'De Witt Clinton.' A
few experiments had been made with her previous to that date.
Mr. John B. Jervis was chief engineer of the road, and the undersigned
was resident engineer and superintendent of transportation; and
he had the honor and satisfaction of receiving, with his own hands,
the first fifty cents for regular established passenger-fare ever
received on any railroad in the United States, as he believes.
The names of the first three engine-drivers employed by the company
were David Matthew, who first run the 'De Witt Clinton,' John
Hampson, and Adam Robinson.
It has been said by some that the first locomotive-engine actually
run in this country in the transportation of passengers on a railroad,
was upon the Charleston Railroad, in South Carolina, drawn by
an engine called the 'Best Friend,' but this I believe is a mistake.
The fact can easily be obtained by Mr. Brown addressing a letter
to Horatio Allen, Esq., now of the Novelty Works, New York. Mr.
Allen was the chief engineer of the Charleston road in its commencement,
and would know of this incident.
"I recollect seeing Mr. Brown's sketch of the 'De Witt
Clinton' and her train of cars executed in black paper, in his
peculiar style, when he was in Albany; and I could not but admire
the wonderful correctness of his likenesses to the engine, engineer,
and the old citizens of Albany, who are represented in the cars
I am very respectfully and truly yours,
John T. Clark, Utica.
We will now add the following letter from John B. Jervis, Esq.,
the chief engineer of the road, showing that the sketch of the
engine and train of cars which appears in our work is the "
De Witt Clinton," an American locomotive, the first ever
run in the State of New-York, and not, as has been represented
in Sage & Son's lithograph, the "John Bull," an
English engine and the first attached to a passenger-train in
the United States, or as published since that time, by the Antique
Publishing company, of Boston, in 1870, as the "John Bull."
ROME, N. Y., April 20, 1869.
WILLIAM H. BROWN, ESQ.
Yours of the 15th last was duly received. I have no memoranda
to refer to; but my memory serves me that you are correct in saying
that the first engine or locomotive run upon the Mohawk and Hudson
Railroad was named the De Witt Clinton, and the date of the first
trip correct, viz., the 8th day of August, 1831. The engine was
built under a contract I made as chief engineer of the road with
the West Point Association in New York City. Late in the same
year, the English engine the 'John Bull,' was imported from England,
for the same road. Mr. David Matthew was the machinist who put
up the 'De Witt Clinton,' and run it, and no doubt his statements
upon the subject are reliable. I do know, positively, that an
American-built locomotive was put in successful use upon a railroad
in this country prior to the 'De Witt Clinton;' my own impression
is that there were two on the South Carolina Railroad.
"Respectfully, your obedient servant,
JOHN B. JERVIS."
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