History Timeline 1810s

Image above: The U.S.S. Constitution captures the British war ship Guerrier, War of 1812. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Right: Battle of New Orleans, E. Percy Moran, 1910. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

War of 1812

U.S. Timeline - The 1810s

The War of 1812

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  • Timeline

  • 1815 - Detail

    February 6, 1815 - The first American railroad charter is granted by the state of New Jersey to John Stevens.

    John Bull engine from Camden and Amboy Railroad

    It's funny how John Stevens, in constant battle with Robert Livingston and Robert Fulton about their monopoly for steam-powered boats in New York, was willing to play a similar game in the state of New Jersey with gaining the first railroad charter in that state. However, not unlike today, the better you got along with those that greased the political and administrative wheel, the better you got along in business. John Stevens applied to the state legislature in 1811; he was turned down, too visionary. Four years later, however, on February 6, 1815, he received it with a route from Trenton to New Brunswick. Wonder what changed their minds? Pure conjecture, maybe it was the fact that the War of 1812 was raging and the United States needed every technological edge it could contemplate.

    Stevens was a proponent of railroads over canals and disagreed with the Erie Canal idea. He wrote an article in the first publication, actually a pamphlet, about railroads, which he thought should be built on stilts and made of wood. Yes, the thought of iron was too scarce a commodity, but even beyond that, the idea gained little traction and would take years to get to fruition. He had trouble financing the venture even after gaining the charter. Part of that trouble is there were no steam railroads at the time to base any cost benefit analysis or whether one would work. A railroad was considered to be wood planks covered with iron and pulled by horses.

    He thought it might unite the young nation, ... "embrace and unite every section of this extensive empire. It might then, indeed, be truly said, that these States would constitute one family, intimately connected, and held together in indissoluble bonds of union," John Stevens Railroad Pamphlet 1812.

    John Stevens was determined and clever. After ten years of trying to rangle money from investers, in 1825, he finally built a test track, two hundred feet in diameter, on his estate in Hoboken. It was in miniature, if 2.5 tons is small, steam-powered, and the steam wagon ran on the track with one cylinder, a five inch bore, and twelve inch stroke. This was the first locomotive to run on rails in the United States.

    John Stevens Tests His Steam Railroad

    In May 1826, John Stevens invited observers to his estate to witness the running of his steam-powered locomotive. The first runs were at six miles per hour; the later runs gained twelve miles per hour carrying six passengers. The test brought enthusiasm to the observers that train travel was feasible.

    In 1830, son Robert Stevens had become the president of the Camden and Amboy Railroad, and designed the iron rail and spike system that still dominates rail systems today. It meant that track could be laid in rural areas where expert ironworkers were limited. Robert Stevens became friends with the Stephenson family in England that built fine steam locomotives and ordered one for the Camden and Amboy. It was called the John Bull. It first ran in New Jersey on September 15, 1831, then on November 12, 1831, the John Bull sped down one thousand feet of track in Bordentown, New Jersey with state legislators aboard. They were impressed, and after lobbying for a change in the family's railroad charter, the brothers Stevens, Robert and Edward, would take the Camden and Amboy to successful heights.

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    The Stevens Railroad Monopoly

    Despite the difficulty of their father, John Stevens III, in the monopoly war with Livingston and Fulton in the steamboat trade, brothers Robert and Edward Stevens kept close ties with state government, securing a monopoly for rail travel between Philadelphia and New York for certain benefits to the state. Their friend, politician Robert Stockton greased the rails. For $30,000 per year, a portion of passenger fees, and shares of stock, the Camden and Amboy Railroad enjoyed monopoly status from 1830 to 1869, the state voting in 1854 that the Stevens family had only fifteen more years to profit from it.

    The John Bull locomotive ran from 1833 to 1866, and was exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876. It was last run when moving to the Smithsonian Institute in 1981, where iy is now exhibited. A replica was built in 1939 by employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad; that engine is on exhibit at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, Pennsylvania.

    Image above: First locomotive run on the Camden and Amboy Railroad, called the John Bull, 1893, unknown author. Courtesy Library of Congress via Wikipedia Commons. Image below: Montage of (left) painting of John Stevens III, 1830, unknown author. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery via Wikipedia Commons; (right) Stevens Estate, 1808, William Russell Birch. Courtesy Library of Congress and Wikipedia Commons. Source Info: Hoboken Historical Museum; National Railroad Hall of Fame; Library of Congress; Wikipedia Commons.

    John Stevens III and Stevens Estate

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