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Steam in Captivity

Building of the railroads expands


Tom Thumb

August 28, 1830, race between Peter Cooper's Tom Thumb locomotive and the horse-drawn railway car.

Carl Rakeman
The directors of the Baltimore and Ohio line were the first to want to try the new locomotive. Readers should note that railroads (the tracks) came before locomotives (the trains). Before trains ran on tracks, animal-powered or man-powered wagons did.

Peter Cooper and the Tom Thumb

Peter Cooper was the proprietor of the Canton Iron Works in Baltimore. Cooper had designed a small locomotive, the Tom Thumb. This was placed on a trial run in August, 1830, and was the first American-built locomotive to do work on rails. A close second was the Best Friend of Charleston, built by the West Point Foundry, New York, for the Charleston and Hamburg Railroad.

The Tom Thumb was the first engine built in America, which actually pulled weight on a regular railway, while the much larger Best Friend was the first to haul cars in regular daily service.

The West Point Foundry then built the West Point locomotive, which also went into service on the Charleston and Hamburg Railroad, and then built for the newly finished Mohawk and Hudson (the first link in the New York Central Lines) the historic De Witt Clinton.

The Stevens Brothers - American Railroad Industry

Meanwhile, the Stevens brothers, sons of John Stevens, built the Camden and Amboy Railroad.

The first locomotive to operate on this railroad was built in England by George Stephenson. This was the John Bull locomotive, which arrived in the summer of 1831. The John Bull was a complete success and had a distinguished career. Sixty-two years old, in 1893, it went to Chicago, to the Columbian Exposition, under its own steam.

With the locomotive now definitely accepted in America, the Stevens Brothers established locomotive building as a leading industry. At first the British types and patterns of locomotives were followed, but it was not long before American designers began to depart from the British models and evolved a distinctively American design.

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