Image from tripatini.com
What is most striking about the arrival of the 1st steam engine in the US on this day in 1753 is that it was not imported from the United Kingdom to be used as a mode of transport in the United States.
In 1760 a young John Adams wrote in his diary that he was “struggling to understand the English fire engines,” as trains were then called.
These “fire engines” were not used for transport but to evacuate water from coal and metal mines in England. In America mining was in it’s infancy at this time. Surface deposits of coal and iron meant that mining wasn’t deep or prone to flooding like the metal and coal mines of England.
Colonel John Schuyler’s copper mine in Passaic New Jersey was the reason the first steam engine was brought to the colonies. The copper mine due to it’s depth was prone to flooding. Schuyler ordered the first engine from England at a cost of 1,ooo pounds in 1748.
Col. John Schuyler
Jonathan Hornblower, Engineer
British engine-maker Jonathan Hornblower completed the job and both the train and Josiah, Hornblower’s son, along with some mechanics arrived in America on September 9th 1753.
Josiah Hornblower, son of Jonathan.
It was not until 1755 that Josiah and his crew of mechanics managed to get the steam train into operation. Schuyler hired Josiah to manage the mine for him. The engine remained working for five years and then due to damage by fire was unusable.
When returned to working order the steam engine operated again until 1768. It broke down again and remained dormant until after the Revolutionary War. Further repairs were needed again in 1793.
By the time America was enduring the Revolutionary War, the art of building steam engines had surpassed Schuyler’s copper mine engine both in England and the Colonies.
In 1825 John Stevens built the first US locomotive and tested it on a circular railroad at his home in Hoboken, New Jersey. According to the American Stories Archives Center,
“He established the world’s first steam ferry, between New York City and Hoboken, New Jersey and later built the first operating steam locomotive in the United States. Stevens secured a charter from the Legislature of Pennsylvania for the Pennsylvania Railroad, from Philadelphia to Lancaster County.”