Motive Power Infancy, 1830–1850
With the swiftness of the swallow, and the color of the crow,
… rapidly I sail along, with full and flowing sheet
Of iron, like a fire-ship, though single I'm the fleet;
… Then swear to follow in my train, and for that promise votive,
What stronger motive can you have, than one good loco-motive.
—from the Lay of the Locomotive by Henry J. Finn
In the early 1830s, locomotive design was in its infancy in America; machines were simple and dissimilar; many had vertical boilers and few had appurtenances such as cabs or cowcatchers. Their frames were made of wood until middecade when the first American-built locomotive with an iron frame, the Comet, was built at the West Point Foundry for the Tuscumbia, Cortland and Decatur Railroad. (George Sellers also made claim to the first iron-frame locomotive but his offering was completed eight months after the Comet. Matthias Baldwin, who substituted iron frames in 1837, also claimed a first but the honor obviously went to the Comet. On the other hand, Baldwin asserted that he was the last builder to construct wooden-frame locomotives, in the year 1839, but some New England builders continued to use outside wooden frames in the 1850s, while supporting the drive wheels on iron frames.) The period 1830 to 1850 was notable for several inventions that were extremely important to railroad development in America. First, the pilot truck made railroad travel safer and faster on the far-from-perfect American tracks. Next, the introduction of the four-coupled locomotive allowed the weight of heavier locomotives to be distributed on the weak roadway superstucture. The equalizer guaranteed that engine weight would be distributed evenly. The difficult hook motion, necessary for manipulating the steam valves, was supplanted by link motion. There were also a number of lesser but important inventions made in this twenty year period that contributed to safer, more reliable, and more powerful locomotives.1
There were no locomotives that were characteristic of the early part of the period (1830–40), because development and construction was generally undertaken by widely separated local industries (or, more accurately, by individualistic inventors) that exhibited differing opinions concerning locomotive design. That this was a formative and experimental period was manifested by the diversity of machines. American-built locomotives of the 1830s included such drastically different conceptions as the West Point Foundry Association's Best Friend of Charleston and DeWitt Clinton, Jervis's Experiment, Norris's Lafayette, Ross Winans's “grasshopper” and “crab” locomotives, and Hinkley's Lion. Some of these machines are described below and depicted in accompanying illustrations and a table giving a few pertinent facts about the earliest Americanmade locomotives is provided in table 1. Toward the end of the period (1840–50) a more distinctive locomotive form, with horizontal boiler and four-coupled driving wheels, emerged and represented a standard of sorts for the remainder of the century.
Preceding the Camden and Amboy Railroad, construction began on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1828 and it was planned that its first trains would be horse drawn. In that same year, William Howard, a member of the Engineer