History of the Railroad: Article 1

The History of the American Railroad

“Who Invented the Steam Engine”

The First Practical Uses


     Believe it or not, railways have been around since the Roman Empire. The Romans had built the first railway 150 years before it was ever thought up by the United Kingdom or North America. They used two lines of stone instead of iron for its tracks. The Romans called them tramroads. They used these tramroads to transport coal from their mines to where they would ship it across the known world. These tramroad’s were not regularly used, so they did not garner very much attention. 1



Photo credit: Ethan Doyle White/Wikimedia

Picture is licensed under the Creative Commons

Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license


     Also, as the old saying goes, “You can’t put the cart before the horse,” so we cannot put the locomotive before the steam engine.

     Some die hard railroad enthusiast are particular about wordology. The engine is what propels or drives the locomotive. So, to call a locomotive an engine is completely wrong.

     The question stands, who invented the steam engine? Reminds me of the original Star Trek series. Pavel Chekov would always claim Russia had invented stuff that they had not or had used someone else’s ideal. Just as the Italian’s are given credit for inventing the pizza, Greece had.

     In our quest of knowledge, we will see that a lot of people had their hands in the creation, design and development of the steam driven engine. Just as it was with the Romans first developing the railroad tracks, so is the development of the steam engine.

     The evolution of the steam engine started in the first century with a Greek inventor, Hero of Alexandria. He designed the aeolipile or the primitive steam turbine.


"The cut is copied from Hero’s “Spiritalia”, edited by Woodcroft, of London.",

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


     Hero’s aeolipile consisted of a hollow sphere which was mounted on a set of tubes.

     As you can see by the illustration, there is fire underneath the bowl of water to produce the steam. The steam then travels up the pair of hollow pipes filling the sphere with steam. The tubes mounted at the equator of the sphere, the right-angled vents are pointing in the opposite directions of each other releasing the steam, propelling the sphere to turn on its axis.

     The aeolipile was designed as a novelty, something to impress his friends at parties. Although a novelty, it was the first device to transform steam into rotary motion. It wasn’t until the 17th century that someone saw a use for what seemed to be a party favor. They developed a way to harness the power shown by Hero’s aeolipile and use it for practical purposes.

     The first steam engine was designed for a specific purpose. Europeans in the 17th century stopped using wood and started using coal to heat their houses. That meant mines became deeper, trying to keep up with demand.

     One problem was in going deeper, they ran into the problem of mining into a water table. Upon hitting one, the mines would become flooded.           

      A Spanish mine administrator, Jeronimo de Ayanz came up with the idea to use the steam engine to pump out the flooded mines. In 1606 he patented his ideals.  Although he patented his engine first, an Englishman was given credit for inventing the first steam engine. Thomas Savery who was an engineer and inventor, patented an engine that could effectively draw water from the flooded mine.
     Savory got his ideal from an invention of Denis Papin. He was a French-born British physicist who had also invented the pressure cooker.
     With Savery's steam engine, you had a cylinder that is filled with water. Steam is delivered into the cylinder where it displaces the water, causing it to flow out through a one-way valve. When the water was ejected, the cylinder was then sprayed with cool water. Once sprayed it droped the cylinder’s temperature, so the steam was condensed, which created a vacuum inside the cylinder. Once this happened, additional water was pulled up to refill the cylinder. This completeed the pumps cycle. 1

     Savory used these principles, along with using two steam boilers. He developed a nearly continuous system for pumping water from the mine.
     Savory had a good idea, but after some use it became clear, it would only work in shallow water. 2

Illustration of Savery’s pump

ja:de:Bild:Savery pump.gif,

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


     By 1711 the problem with the large demand for coal put a spotlight on the problem with the flooding of the mines. They were left with Savery’s pump, that was inefficient on pumping the deep water.

      Thomas Newcomen’s ironmonger’s business specialized in designing, manufacturing, and selling tools for the mining industry.

     Newcomen attacked the problem, coming up with placing a piston inside the cylinder. Then connecting one end of the cylinder to a pivoting beam. The other end of the pivoting beam was connected to the pump mechanism. They were connected this way so that water was drawn up whenever the beam is tilted up on the pump end.

     The way the system was propelled, the steam was delivered to the piston cylinder. Simultaneously, a counterweight pulled the beam down on the pump end, thus making the piston rise to the top of the steam cylinder.

     As the cylinder filled with steam, cool water was sprayed inside the cylinder. Immediately the steam was condensed, causing the piston to drop. This moved the beam down on the piston end and up on the pump end. This process would keep happening as long as the steam was supplied to the cylinder.

     What was unique with this design? That the water being pumped out was kept separated from the cylinder that created the pumping power. He redesigned the steam engine. He did away with the need for accumulated steam pressure.2

     The efficiency of Savery’s pump was that is was greatly improved upon. Due to Savery. holding an individual patent on all the parts of his steam pump, Newcomen had to collaborate with Savery to get a patent on his piston pump.

Newcomen’s Atmospheric Engine

Emoscopes, CC BY-SA 3.0


via Wikimedia Commons



    This was the first commercially successful machine that used steam to operate a water pump. Although it was a successful, the invention, as with most things, had some problems.


          1. Highly inefficient, it required a constant flow of water to cool the steam cylinder.

          2. It needed a constant energy source to reheat the cylinder.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Despite these flaws. Newcomen’s engine design held up to be the standard for the next 50 years.

     In 1765, James Watts, a Scottish instrument maker, employed by Glasgow University was repairing a small model of Newcomb's engine.

     He was baffled by the amount of steam consumed by the engine. He came up with an ideal to correct its inefficiency.

     The steam cylinder had to be constantly cooled, thereby they had to be reheated.

     He developed a separate condenser that would allow the steam cylinder to be maintained at a constant temperature. This dramatically improved it functionality of the steam engine.

     Due to financial reasons, he could not proceed with his new atmosphere engine. Being presistent, he was able to find financial backing in a partnership with Matthew Bolton in 1776. Bolton was an English manufacturer and engineer who saw Watt's steam engine being used for much more than pumping water from mines.
     With this financial backing, Watt proceeded to develop a single rotative engine along with a separate condenser he had invented.

James Watts’ Atmospheric Steam Engine

Panther, CC BY-SA 3.0


via Wikimedia Commons

     With this improvement, along with his parallel motion mechanism, he doubled the power of the existing steam cylinder.
     With this Bolton-Watt engine also had incorporated another device called the centrifugal governor (or gas pedal) to control the engine speed.
     Also, a new and improved gear system was developed by an employee named William Murdoch. It came to be known as the "sun and planet gearing" which converted reciprocating linear motion into rotative motion. Linear motion means up-and-down are back-and-forth while rotative motion means like a shaft spinning.
     Due to James Watts and William Bolton's vision of a nation powered by steam and their improvements, the United Kingdom quickly followed by America, adapted these ideas.


The Steamboat


     Long before there were other means to transportation besides the horse and wagon, waterways were earth's natural roadways.
     Traveling these waterways had one drawback, they were slow. It all depended on the currents and how much cargo they were carrying. Naturally, man looked at ways to conquer these beasts.

     Years after the Revolutionary War, exploration towards the southeast part of the country boomed. With the westward growth not so far behind.

     During this time, flat bottom keelboats would carry goods on these southern rivers. As they traversed down the river, the currents carried them along. On the way back upriver, it took a lot of sweat and manpower fighting these same currents.

     During the late 1700s and early 1800's, the steamboats were designed and introduced.

     In 1787, John Fitch built and introduced a 45-foot steamboat. At this introduction, the nation was amazed when the steamboat reached the staggering speeds of up to 5 miles per hour.

     To demonstrate his invention, he first sailed the Delaware River. He succeeded and built four more, but they failed due to being too expensive to operate.

     Robert Livingston met Robert Fuller and decided to move to New York and build their version of the steamboat. They were met with success.

     Their first steamboat was the Clermont, which for its maiden voyage, steamed  40 miles on the Hudson River. After their successful demonstration they began regular trips from Albany to New York. They sometimes would carry up to 100 passengers every four days.

Painting by James Bard (1815-1897) and John Bard (1815-1856),

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


     After being put into use, the steamboat transformed river travel and trade.
     Along with the success, there were dangers with this new form of transportation. Explosions topped the list. Then the sinking of the steamboats followed a close second. This may have happened because they used fire onboard a natural fuel source.
     Indian attacks wrapped up the top three. Even though 5 miles per hour seemed fast back then, it was slow. As the steamboat passed by, the Indians could not help themselves but attack these large targets.
     Even with all the afore mentioned issues, the steamboat captured the imagination of the country. It also played an important part in the expansion of the United States.

     In the 1830’s there was only 23 miles of track. This did not offer very much competition. Then by the 1880’s there were 93,000 miles of track signaling the end of its dominance. 4




     In 1852, Henri Giffard, a French engineer designed a 3-horsepower steam powered dirigible (Zeppelin) over Paris. It was the first successful application of using mechanical power for flight. 5

Tournachon, Gaspard-Felix,

Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons


     In 1861, Gustave Poton d`Amecourt, a French scholar and writer, invented a small steam boiler engine made of aluminum. It failed to lift off, but there was a reason his attempt was so important. It was the first time aluminum was used in the manufacturing of a boiler. Also, Amecourt coined the phrase helicopter to describe his invention. 6



The First and the Last Steam Powered Airplane





     The attempt to design an effective and feasible steam propelled aircraft reached into the 1960’s where it was finally abandoned.

     Today, the only areas steam is effectively and still used is on an aircraft carrier is the steam catapult system used in principal to launch jets from the carrier’s.     

    With these advancements in the manufacturing process, it made for vast and rapid improvement. Then in 1853 came the first flight of the only steam powered air ship.

     In my last command while I was in the US Navy as a Machinery Branch Officer at the repair facility SIMA San Diego. One of my shops I was in charge of repaired and overhauled the steam catapults for the carriers.

     With these improvements of the steam engine, it greatly helped define the travel and transportation industries. 8




1)     Kelly, Martin. "Invention of the Steam Engine." ThoughtCo, Jan. 26, 2021, thoughtco.com/invention-of-the-steam-engine-104723.

2)      Who Invented the Steam Engine? By Elizabeth Peterson  published March 19, 2014 for

          Live Science https://www.livescience.com/who-invented-the-steam-engine    

 3)      The American Railway, The Trains, Railroads and People Who Ran The Rails; The Building of the Railway by Thomas Curtis Clarke

 4)      A History Of Steamboats,  www.sam.usacc.army.mil

 5)    Science Museum –Home-The Giffard-Airship, 1852; Archived brom the original on 6 April 2012

 6)      DMG-Lib.org, https://www.dmg-lib.org/dmglib/main/


 7)     Steamed Up Over Chopper Power, Air Progress July 1969

 8)     National Geographic Society   https://wwwnationalgeographic.org

Article 2 

Invention of the Steam Locomotive



     In the first article, we saw how the steam engine was developed and two other applications of use.

     In this article, we will look at its first application in expanding into a steam locomotive.

     Prior to the invention of the steam locomotive, there were different types of motive forces behind pulling a load on a tramway. They were of a lower technological design. The pay load was pulled along by horsepower, manpower, or by using a stationary engine prior to having the locomotive.

     The word locomotive is an etymologies (not a definition, but explanations of what the word means and how they sounded 600 to 2,000 years ago). The two words are of the Latin word loco which means “from a place” and a Medieval Latin word motive “causing motion”.

      The word locomotive was first used in 1814 that distinguishs between a self-propelled and a stationary engine.

Trevithick's Coalbrookdale locomotive                                                 

                                                                                                                                              circa. 1829 author unknown,

                                                                                                                                   Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


     The first steam propelled locomotive was invented by Richard Trevithick in 1804. Richard was a British mechanical engineer and inventor who had successfully harnessed high-pressure steam. The rest of the prominent engineers of the day thought it to be to dangerous to accomplish. Wonder why they were so skeptical?

     A sealed metal container with steam being condensed is a recipe for an explosion. If even a pin hole develops, a smallest stream of high pressure steam acts as a light saber. The stream would be invisible, so if you were to walk through it, it would actually cut off your legs. In the Navy, when we had a suspected steam leak, the person who had to check for it would walk around the Main Space (Boiler Room), swinging a 2 by 4 in front of them. If a piece of 2x4 fell off, you would know you had found the leak. 


Painting of Richard Trevithick,

       the engineer, by John Linnell  

         John Linnell (1792-1882),

            Public domain, via

          Wi kimedia Commons


Through this, in 1802, Richard and his cousin Andrew Vivian took out a patent for a high-pressure steam engine, for stationary and locomotive use.

    Then in 1803 he constructed the world's first steam railway locomotive. Building it at Samuel Hemfray’s Perdarren Ironworks in South Wales. To win a wager on February 21,1804 at Hemfray's Tydfil, he hauled a load of 10 tons of ore and seventy men for ten  miles on a tramway. He had made it for the Coalbrookdale Ironworks in Shropshire in the United Kingdom.      

      Richard Trevithick’s cousin, Andrew Vivian a mechanical engineer, who financed his first locomotive helped design this one. There was a problem with this locomotive though, it was too heavy. The brittle rails of the day could not withstand their weight.  

     He went on working on other inventions, but died in poverty and was buried in an unmarked grave.

       Richard Trevithick’s cousin, Andrew Vivian a mechanical engineer, who financed his first locomotive helped design this one. There was a problem with this locomotive though, it was too heavy. The brittle rails of the day could not withstand their weight.  

       He went on working on other inventions, but died in poverty and was buried in an unmarked grave.

 Model Salamanca, scale 1:8,

National Railways Museum in York (UK)

Hapesoft, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


     Matthew Murray was an English engineer who did not have a formal education. He worked for a small flax mill as a mechanic. He then moved to Leeds to work in a small mill for the purpose of manufacturing, but also to develop a pre-existing flax-spinning machine.

     He later branched out and established a factory of his own.

     In 1812, Matthew Murray presented his twin cylinder locomotive named, the Salamanca.

It was the first locomotive to run on the edged rail, the rack and pinion, Middleton Railway. It was considered a success and the first commercially successful locomotive.

    Hauling passengers was the next step in the locomotive's progression.

It was the first locomotive to run on the edged rail, the rack and pinion, Middleton Railway. It was considered a success and the first commercially successful locomotive.


      George Stephenson

           Project Gutenberg  etext 13103


   George Stevenson was one of the biggest contributors that influenced railway infrastructure. He saw the future of the railway system and played a huge part in its advancements.

     An avid inventor, he started his own company and worked on new improvements and innovations for the steam engine. It was in 1812 he built the first steam locomotive that was used successfully for commercial purposes. 5
    As he worked repairing the colliers machinery, he traveled extensively seeking work. Having trouble finding steady work, he fell onto hard times. Then in 1806, tragedy struck his family when his wife died.
It wasn’t until 1811 that things started to take and upswing. He was working for a mining group when a Newcomen engine was experiencing problems. He successfully fixed it. His knowledge of machinery impressed the rich businessman owner so much so that he put George in charge of all the machinery throughout his pits. For his responsibilities, he was paid an annual salary of one hundred dollars.
     Then in 1813 he was visiting a neighboring colliery to see John Blenkinsop’s new invention called “a steam boiler on wheels.” It had been invented to haul coal from the mines.
     Blenkinsop had used a cogged third heel. He had done this due to the steam engine was extremely heavy. He was afraid it would slip on the smooth rails of the time.  

    Inspired he conferred with the senior principal owner of Killingsworth. Given the green light he built “The Butcher.” His invention was so successful that drew eight loaded wagons filled with 30 tons of coal at a speed 4 miles per hour. 6

 He did not rest on his laurels; he invented the steam blast to improve his locomotives power. The steam blasts used exhaust steam, sending it the up the chimney and drawing fresh air in to create a draft.

     How the steam blast works and why it is beneficial is when it happens it shoots the gasses through the flu and into the smoke box. This causes fresh air to come in through the open spaces at the base of the firebox. Allowing a higher rate of combustion. This causes the expelled gasses to have a stronger flow across the heating surface. Thereby, increasing the boiler effiency. In layman's terms, it makes the steam boiler more efficient.7
     After his inventions were put to use and he built several highly successful locomotives, his fame spread
     In 1820, the elder Stephenson became aware of a railroad that was being built at Darlington. He contacted the promoter, Edward Pease and discussed the project. George left Pease with a good impression. He was so impressed that Pease had Stephenson build a locomotive for the railroad.

     With this single act, it was the birth of railroad transportation.

     George Stephenson built the steam locomotive, Number 1 for the Stockton and Darlington Railway. It was a first steam railway in the world.

     On April 20, 1829, the board of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway had passed a resolution to set up a competition. The competition was to prove their railway could be successfully operated by a steam locomotive.


Invention of the Steam Locomotive


     In the first article, we saw how the steam engine was developed and two other applications of use.

     In this article, we will look at its first application in expanding into a steam locomotive.

     Prior to the invention of the steam locomotive, there were different types of motive forces behind pulling a load on a tramway. They were of a lower technological design. The pay load was pulled along by horsepower, manpower, or by using a stationary engine prior to having the locomotive.

     The word locomotive is an etymologies (not a definition, but explanations of what the word means and how they sounded 600 to 2,000 years ago). The two words are of the Latin word loco which means “from a place” and a Medieval Latin word motive “causing motion”.

      The word locomotive was first used in 1814 that distinguishs between a self-propelled and a stationary engine.

The Rocket

National Library of Ireland on The Commons,

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


     On another front, Stephenson saw where a problem lay. Railway tracks were needed to be set at a standard gauge. At the time, railway systems set their own gauge or width of tracks. This caused various problems, when a train would pull into the station where tracks did not match up, the passengers would have to switch trains. Also, freight would have to be unloaded and switched to the other cars to fit the outgoing trains track width causing intensive labor and waisting valuable time.
     He also fought for the tracks to be built with a minimal graduate (grade.) Today, the gradients are that a track rise no more than of 1 foot per 100 feet, or a one percent rise. On main lines, grades are generally 1% or less. The greater the rise, the more the train had to work, and the more wear and tear was placed upon the locomotives and tracks, causing expensive repairs. The English way of laying track was to have it lain as straight and flat as possible. This was the ideal way of laying tracks, but it is a very expensive way. Also, curves were important, because engines were extremely rigid, so the larger the radiant curve, the more likely the train would derail. The American invention of the froward truck would help the locomotive be less rigid. This would allow the train to take tighter curves without the fear of derailing. Due to George's civil engineering skills, the routes he surveyed and the infrastructure he designed would stand the test of time. One of his designs is still standing and in use today.

Stephenson’s Bridge

Koncorde, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


     The railroad industry was rapidly expanding. Track mileage in Britain and Europe grew exponentially and then crossing the pond, into the North America.

      As time passed, locomotive designs improved. By 1935, the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the London and Northeastern Railway, Nigel Gresley designed a LNER Class A4 4468 Mallard Steam Locomotive, the Flying Scotsman. The Flying Scotsman reached a speed of 126 miles per hour, a record that still stands today for steam locomotives. It was designed using a wind tunnel so it was able to cut through the wind to have minimal resistance.

The Flying Scotsman

Ingy The Wingy from Lancashire, England, CC BY-SA 2.0


 via Wikimedia Commons


     Retiring in 1963 from the British rail system, it went on display in the museum of British Transport in Clapham. Then into the British Railway Museum, being placed on display for opening day in 1975.


Article 3

History of the Railroad 

19th Century Locomotive History


     It’s hard today, to believe back in the early days of the birth of then steam locomotive, that they believed the locomotive was irrelevant. The fear of explosion was always present. An explosion usually was an operator error. In my readings for my railroad books, later in the article you’ll read about one of these operator error accidents. Let’s just say that bad decisions can blow up in your face.

     Although met with resistance and skepticism, with refinements, improvements, and new safety equipment, his locomotive helped shape the world.

     Peter was the son on a Revolutionary War Officer. With only one year of formal education, he became one of the most important inventors, businessmen and philanthropist of his era.

   Peter Cooper

Unknown photographer   '

Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons


 At the age of seventeen, he apprenticed at a coachmakers shop. Through hard work and determination, the coachmaker extended a salary. After his apprenticeship was complete, he was offered a loan to start his own coach making business. He declined and sought his future in manufacturing and sales. 2

     After various adventures, he turned over a fledging company to his son and son-in-law to start Canton Iron Works. Built on 3,000 acres of property in Baltimore.

     The company was built to supply the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company which was to be built. Due to the English standards of laying track, it was an appalling route. The English were used to laying track straight and flat. The land that the railroad was built on was hilly and had a lot of twists.                         

     Good thing this was to be built in the United States.

     The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had put out a notice in the paper for a steam locomotive to be built by an American manufacturer. The locomotive would be required to meet their track specifications. It would also be required to be available for trials by June 1831.

     The best locomotive to meet all their specifications would be paid $4,000 with second place being $3,500. 3

    So, Peter started building a coal burning locomotive, which could pull a load of 40 people at a speed of 10 mph. The locomotive received its name from the locomotive’s own physical characterizes. Christened Tom Thumb due to an upright boiler, short wheelbase, and geared drive.


Tom Thumb

Baltimore County Public Library

Public Domain, Wiki Commons


     There was a few who were not impressed with the Iron Horse. Peter Cooper and Tom Thumb was challenged to a race by a horse-drawn car operator. The race was on. Thumb was in the lead, but a belt slipped, causing it to lose power, allowing the horse-drawn carriage to win the race.


The Iron Horse Wins

Public Domain, Wiki Commons


     But all was not a total loss, the demonstration was successful. The railroad ordered trails for a full working engine the following year. 4

     Even though Tom Thumb fulfilled its purpose, it never went into full service. It was scrapped in 1824. Tom Thumb's legacy was that is wasn't long before the locomotive replaced the horse and carriage.


Replica of the Tom Thumb

Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons


     Later on Peter founded the Cooper Union.  An institution offering free courses in science, engineering and art.   

     At a reception for him, reflecting back on his life. He summed up his philosophy: “I have endeavored to remember that the object of life is to do good.”

     After Tom Thumb made its mark on the world, another locomotive came upon the scene. It was given the title of the first American built locomotive to haul a revenue passenger train.

     The locomotive was “Best Friend of Charleston” for the Carolina Canal and Railroad Company. The 0-4-0 was built by the New York West Point Foundry.

   On December 15, 1830, the locomotive pulled a passenger train full of paying customers. It did not last long; in June of 1831 it suffered a catastrophic explosion. The engineer did not like the racket of a steam relief valve that kept venting off the boiler's access steam. So, he tied off the shutoff valve so he wouldn’t have to listen to it. A relief valve is just that. When the boiler started reaching its high-pressure limit, the relief valve would open to allow the excess pressure to be released. When he tied off the valve, it was like a balloon, if you kept blowing air into it, and if you didn’t stop blowing, it would pop.

     Well, this is what happened to the boiler, but it’s pop was a lot louder and deadlier. The engineer didn’t have to listen to that noisy relief valve or anything else ever again. 

     That same year, Robert Stevens was the founder of the Camden and Amboy Railroad in New Jersey. He commissioned George Stephenson of England to build a locomotive for the railroad.

     So, in 1831 Stephenson sent the locomotive, “John Bull” as it was later christened, to America. Only thing was, it had to be sent disassembled.

     Upon arrival in America, an engineer for the company, Isaac Dripps and his crew were tasked with it's assembly. This was a monumental task, due to Dripps had never assembled one before and it was sent without any drawings.

     This is a picture drawn by Dripps in 1882 as to what the locomotive looked like upon reassembly.

Isaac Dripps, Public domain,  via Wikimedia Commons



     After reassembly the locomotive was tested, and it had a deafening roar to it and reached a top speed of 15 mph.

     John Bull did not originally have a cab for the crew to escape the elements. This was built along with adding a front carriage with wheels (later called a truck).

     The front carriage was added due to the tracks of the Camden and Amboy Railroad were rough and uneven. Due to John Bull was very rigid it did not respond well to the inferior tracks. The condition of the tracks caused the locomotive to derail a lot. The forward carriage allowed the locomotive to be less rigid, causing it to derail less. 


Andy Dingley (scanner), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


   The locomotive served the railroad, and later the Pennsylvania Railroad for approximately thirty tears until 1866. Later in the 1860’s it was sent to the Smithsonian Institute for display.

     Leading up to 1981 when the Smithsonian was making preparations to celebrate John Bull’s 150th anniversary. Seeing how good of shape it was in, they had it inspected. Along with some minor repairs it was fully operational.

     So, for the anniversary celebration it was placed upon the old Georgetown Branch Line and made its run to Washington D.C.                                          





  1. The History of the Tom Thumb Steam Engine and Peter Cooper, First American-Built Steam Locomotive.com

  2. The Liberator, Boston, Massachusetts 22 June 1831

  3. 19th Century Locomotive History, Thought.com

  4. John Bull Steam Locomotive (2-4-0), American-Rails.com

  5. Encyclopedia  Britannica.com      



History of the Railroad Article Four

The Rail


     Solid iron t-rail was developed by Robert Stevens in 1831, who was the President and Engineer of the Camden and Amboy railroad. This design has stood the test of time. A variation of the T-rail is still used today.

     Robert received his experience, working with his father in the steamboat industry.

   In 1831. Robert de

Popular Science Monthly Volume 12,

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


     In 1831. Robert decided to go to England to have the solid rails manufactured, where he believed was the best rail. He could not find an American mills that could produce the quality product he wanted. It was not until 1846 that the firm of Cooper and Hewitt of Trenton produced them in America.      

     While on the voyage, Robert took a block of wood and whittled the model of the T-rail. A simple job of whittling a great ideal, never knowing it would revolutionize the railroad industry.

     After Robert arrived in London, he placed the order for his solid rails and purchased the locomotive for his new fledging railroad. The figure below is a reproduced copy of the order Robert gave to the English mill. 1


A reproduced copy of Stevens order

Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons


     In May 1832, his company received the first load of 500 rails. The rails were 15 feet long and weighed 15 pounds per yard. They were received in Philadelphia and upon reaching his company, were laid. Soon, the other railroads in the area and then elsewhere in America used the t-tail.

     Stevens’ other inventions helped the T-rail to advance the railroad into the powerhouse of the transportation industry. The other inventions credited to him were, the “hook headed spike” and the “fishplate.”  1


Two unused and one heavily corroded w:rail spikes.

Photo by Sean Lamb (User:Slambo), September 3, 2005

File is licensed under the Creative Commons

Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.


     The stone blocks to run the rails on were very expensive. So, Stevens laid down logs or wooden ties as they were called in America, on ballast or crushed rock to help facilitate drainage and ward off destabilization of the roadbed. 3

      When ties were laid down on the ballast, they were aligned and leveled. Then they laid the rails on the wooden ties and fastened down with the hook headed spike. The wooden ties turned out to be a better choice and are also still used today with only a few slight modifications. 3

Shorter Pennsylvania Railroad fish plate

Velocicaptor, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


     The rails were only 15 feet long. The rails were attached together with fish plates he had also invented.   

With the rails being only 15 feet long, the connection would become uneven. When the train passes over the joints it would make a clickety sound. As goes the old saying “Clickety clack, clickety clack… the train goes around the track.”

     An engineer mocked, that in America, “poverty is the mother of all invention.” He said this because Stevens had “Used wooden ties as a temporary substitute for the more expensive stone blocks. He finished off by saying, “They made better roads because they were too poor to make a bad one.” 1

     Another Stevens invention was the” pilot” or what became known as the forward truck. It is attached to the front of the locomotive. Known also as a cattle catcher, whose job was to push the cattle off the tracks so the train would not derail. Instead, the cattle would become impaled on it, making it extremely hard to detach them. 3

     Robert L. Stevens’ inventions left an indelible mark on the railroad’s history. His inventions can still be seen even today with a few variations. There are no life size monuments of his likeness erected. All one must do is look at the miles of track that peppers our countryside to see the most appropriate monument to one’s life and accomplishments.

     Robert died never having been married. He also never patented any of his inventions.

uploader was Schorschi2 at German Wikipedia

- Own work (Original text: Eigene Fotografie), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21209462



     In 1836 a plaque of grasshoppers hit Pennsylvania. It was classified as a plaque of biblical proportions. When the locomotives would run over them the locomotive would lose traction. They had a crew to sweep in front of the train. Their efforts were in vain.

     Someone had an epiphany. They used sand under the drive wheels to get enough traction to get the train moving. So a sandbox was placed right over the drive wheels an spread over the rails. The picture above is a modern-day sandbox. 1

     A lot of the ideals that were incorporated in 1830’s, although they have been improved on, are still in use today.







  1. The Great Railroad Revolution; The History of Trains in America by Christian Wolmar

  2. The American Railway: It’s Construction, Development, Management, and Trains by Thomas Curtis Clarke

  3. Encyclopedia Britannica at road - Open Saloon, Double-Deck Cars, On-Train Dining Car, and Sleeping Cars | Britannica

History of the Railroad - Article 5

The Rail

Part 1

 The track and roadbed are the earlier facets of the railroad’s infrastructure. The principal part of the roadbed is the rails. If you had a perfect level roadbed, with the proper amount of ballast, along with flawlessly squared and laid wooden ties, it would amount to nothing without the rails.

     Railroading was not invented in England, but you might say perfected. The coal mine engineers, upon studying the horse and mules, pulled the heavy-laden carts filled with coal from the mines. They saw where if they used flanged wheels with timbered tracks as guides, this would place less strain on the horses.  This would also allow them to pull heavier loads.

     Prior to 1760 wagonways or tramways used just wooden rails to guide the horse drawn wagons. Timber was plentiful and inexpensive at the time. There was a problem though. The wooden rails wore down fast.

      The first solution was to put a wooden rail on top of the other one. This would make it easy to replace the worn section. Then in 1760 an iron strap was used to combat the problem. 1  

Little Eaton Tramway Replica Wagon

Original text: Author:Tina Cordon, Source:Own Picture, Tina Cordon 16:02,

 3 November 2006 (UTC)Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Tina Cordon, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons


A section of strap rail used in the early Cog Railway at Mt. Washington between 1866 and 1874.

Spikes are used to fasten the strap rails to the timbers.

Z22, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.



 The strap-on rail was a length of timber with an iron strap laid and fastened on upon it. The iron strap was to stop the wear and tear of the timber. However, at times functional when the train passed over the rail, it would cause the strap to break away and curl up. It came to be known as a “snakehead.” The strap-on rail could not suffer the abuse of the heavy locomotives.

     When the strap would curl up it had the possibility of penetrating the car coming up from behind and injuring or killing passengers. The strap-on rails were used to around 1840. 2

     L-shaped tracks were used so the wagons would keep from slipping off the tracks. The lip or L-shape helped keep the wheels aligned. Wheels were later fitted with a flange which protected the wooden rails. Two ways of keeping wheels to stay on the track were:


  1. Edge of rails could be turned up, making an L shape to guide the wheels along the track.
  2. Or, have a wheel fitted with a flange. 4


Reconstruction of Kilmarnock and Troon plateway

Roger Griffith / Rosser, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Reconstruction of Kilmarnock and Troon plateway

Roger Griffith / Rosser, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons



 I   n 1776 was the first time the L-rail was tried out. It was at the Duke of Norfolk’s colliery (coal mine) in Yorkshire, England. The introduction of the latest in rail technology turned out to be very unpopular.

     At the start upon laying the track, when the collier workers started figuring out that the usage of the tracks would cost jobs, it began to become unpopular fast. Due to the track guiding the wagons along, the horses could pull heavier loads, also needing less horses and men.

     The workers were so mad that they started tearing up the track. They then proceeded to chase the plate layer into the woods where he stayed for three days.

     The L-shaped turned out to be inefficient and unmanageable. Various inventors tried to put the flange on the wheel instead of the track. William Jesop’s, in 1789, used this flanged wheel on his wagonways with success. They were soon the norm for all railroads. Of his other inventions, Jesop’s was also credited for laying the rail on top of the cross tie (sleepers.)  

      Fishbelly edge rails laid on stone blocks on the Cromford and High Peak Railway

Chevin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


      The “Fish Belly” rail, so named because of its design, was made of cast iron. Used with flanged wheels, were brittle and could only be made in short lengths. Due to the short lengths, it became uneven and made for a rough ride. 4

     A breakthrough in rolling techniques and the introduction of track being made of wrought iron. The rails could be made in longer lengths which greatly enhanced the ride as well as increasing safety. 

     Various tracks to the rails design happened over the next few years helped elevate a lot of problems. These inventions were one of the huge contributions to the railroad explosive growths during the period of 1825 – 1840. 3



Rail profiles used by United States railroads in the 19th century.  1897

By Edward Ernest Russell Tratman - Railway Track and Track Work. (New York: Engineering News Publishing Co.) p. 54.,

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11830420


     The above picture shows the various designs over the years.                                                                                                      

     In 1830, Robert L. Stevens, the President and Engineer of the newly formed Camden and Amboy Railroad, was on a trip to England. He was on his way to buy rails (tracks) and a locomotive.

     The reason he was going to purchase the track in England was due to being unable to find an rolling mill that could produce the rails to his standards. 

     While on the trip, Stevens was whittling on a piece of wood and came up with the t-rail design. 3 The t-rail was one of the most important inventions of the industrial revolution. They will be discussed further in the next article.




  1. Railroad Track: It’s Evolution Nearly 200 Years; Railroad Track: Dimensions, Width, Weight-Per-Feet/Yard www,americian-rails.com By Adam Burns.

  2. The Great Railroad Revolution; The History of Trains in America by Christian Wolmar

  3. The American Railway: It’s Construction, Development, Management, and Trains by Thomas Curtis Clarke

  4. Encyclopedia Britannica at Railroad - Open Saloon, Double-Deck Cars, On-Train Dining Car, and Sleeping Cars | Britannica