John Stevens IIIJohn Stevens met with defeat when he tried to thrust a steam railroad on a country that was not yet ready for it. His mechanical conceptions were still too far advanced to be popular. However, in other ways John Stevens did contribute to the industrial revolution.
John Stevens was born rich in New York City, in 1749 and remained rich all his life. He belonged to one of the best known and most powerful families in America at that time. His grandfather, John Stevens I, came from England in 1699 and made himself a lawyer and a great landowner. His father, John Stevens II, was a member from New Jersey of the Continental Congress and presided at the New Jersey Convention which ratified the Constitution.
John Stevens - Patent Act of 1790John Stevens III graduated from King's College (Columbia) in 1768. He held public offices during the American Revolution. We can credit Stevens with bringing about the Patent Act of 1790, which he heavily petitioned for to Congress. In some regards, John Stevens was the father of American patent law.
John Stevens' First Machine ShopJohn Stevens owned the old Dutch farm on the Hudson where the city of Hoboken now stands. The place had been in possession of the Bayard family, but William Bayard, who lived there at the time of the American Revolution, was a Loyalist, and his house on Castle Point was burned down and his estate confiscated. After the Revolution Stevens acquired the property. He laid it out as a town in 1804, made it his summer residence, and established there the machine shops in which he and his sons carried on their mechanical experiments.
The Stevens BrothersThese shops were easily the largest and best equipped in the American Union when John Stevens died at the age of ninety in 1838. The four Stevens sons, John, Robert, James, and Edwin, worked harmoniously together in both business and engineering projects.
The youngest of these brothers, Edwin Stevens, died in 1868, and left a large part of his fortune to found the Stevens Institute of Technology.
Robert StevensThe inventor of the family, however, was the second brother, Robert Stevens, whose many inventions improved transportation methods by land and water. For a quarter of a century, from 1815 to 1840, he was the foremost builder of steamboats in America, and under his hand the steamboat increased amazingly in speed and efficiency. He made great contributions to the railway.
The first locomotives ran upon wooden stringers plated with strap iron. A loose end "a snakehead" it was called, sometimes curled up and pierced through the floor of a car, causing a wreck. The solid metal T-rail, now in universal use, was designed by Robert Stevens and was first used on the Camden and Amboy Railroad, of which he was president and his brother Edwin Stevens treasurer and manager. The swivel truck and the cow-catcher, the modern method of attaching rails to ties, the vestibule car, and many improvements in the locomotive were also first introduced on the Stevens road.
The Stevens brothers exerted their influence also on naval construction. A double invention of Robert and Edwin, the forced draft, to augment steam power and save coal, and the air-tight fireroom, which they applied to their own vessels, was afterwards adopted by all navies. Robert designed and projected an ironclad battleship, the first one in the world. This vessel, called the Stevens Battery, was sponsored by the U.S. Government in 1842; but, owing to changes in the design and inadequate appropriations by Congress, it was never launched. It lay for many years in the basin at Hoboken an unfinished hulk. So the honors for the construction of the first ironclad man-of-war to fight and win a battle went to John Ericsson, who built the famous Monitor for the Union Government.