Photo: Peter Cooper's steam engine, Tom Thumb
b. Feb. 12, 1791, New York City d. April 4, 1883
Peter Cooper was an inventor, manufacturer, and philanthropist from New York City who built the Tom Thumb locomotive and founded The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City. The Tom Thumb was designed and built by Peter Cooper in 1830. The Tom Thumb was the first American-built steam locomotive to be operated on a common-carrier railroad.
First U.S. Railway Chartered to Transport
Freight and Passengers - February 28, 1827
On February 28, 1827, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad became the first U.S. railway chartered for commercial transport of passengers and freight. There were skeptics who doubted that a steam engine could work along steep, winding grades, but the Tom Thumb, designed by Peter Cooper, put an end to their doubts. Investors hoped a railroad would allow Baltimore, the second largest U.S. city at the time, to successfully compete with New York for western trade.
The first railroad track in the United States was only 13 miles long, but it caused a lot of excitement when it opened in 1830. Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, laid the first stone when construction on the track began at Baltimore harbor on July 4, 1828
Baltimore and the Ohio River were connected by rail in 1852, when the B&O was completed at Wheeling, West Virginia. Later extensions brought the line to Chicago, St. Louis, and Cleveland. In 1869, the Central Pacific line and the Union Pacific line joined to create the first transcontinental railroad. Pioneers continued to travel west by covered wagon, but as trains became faster and more frequent, settlements across the continent grew larger and more quickly.
Train travel continues to hold a romantic appeal for many people. Songs, stories, poems and plays have been written about the railways i.e. Casey Jones and his fateful last ride on the rails.
Peter Cooper also obtained the very first American patent for the manufacture of gelatin (1845). In 1895, Pearl B. Wait, a cough syrup manufacturer, bought the patent from Peter Cooper and turned Cooper's gelatin dessert into a prepackaged commercial product, which his wife, May David Wait, renamed "Jell-O."
of Jell-O (Invented by Peter Cooper)
In 1845, industrialist, inventor, and philanthropist Peter Cooper, of Tom Thumb engine and Cooper Union fame, obtained the first patent for a gelatin dessert. Peter Cooper never promoted the product.
Peter Cooper and his Legacy
A number of short biographies about Peter Cooper.
Photo Credit: "Peter Cooper's Tom Thumb." Bureau of Public Roads, Department of Commerce, between 1900 and 1950. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.