The first locomotives aroused a great deal of interest. People traveled many miles just to see them. What made them go was a mystery to many persons. People called them “Iron Horses,” “Puffing Billies,” and “Steam Wagons.”
Among the famous locomotives of pioneer days, in addition to the “Tom Thumb,” were the “Stourbridge Lion,” the “Best Friend of Charleston,” the “DeWitt Clinton,” the “John Bull,” and “Old Ironsides.”
The “Stourbridge Lion” was the first full-sized locomotive to be operated on a railroad in America. It was built in England and shipped across the Atlantic in a sailing vessel. Its first trip under its own power was made on the line between Honesdale and Carbondale, in Pennsylvania, in August, 1829. Young Horatio Allen, who purchased the engine in England, was the engineer. Because of the dangers involved, no one was allowed to ride with Allen. Although the “Lion” weighed only seven tons, it was found to be too heavy for the bridges and tracks, so the railroad operators returned to the use of horses or mules for motive power.
The “Best Friend of Charleston” was the first locomotive to be placed in regular daily service in America. This historic locomotive was built at the West Point Foundry, in New York City, and shipped by sailing vessel to Charleston, South Carolina, in October, 1830. It made its trial trip with a trainload of passengers over a few miles of complete railroad out of Charleston on November 2, 1830, and was placed in regular scheduled service on Christmas Day of that year. The engine continued in service for several months. Then one day the fireman fastened down the safety value in an effort to stop the hissing noise caused by escaping steam. The boiler blew up, seriously injuring the fireman and ending the career of the “Best Friend.”
The “DeWitt Clinton” was the first locomotive to haul passengers in New York State. This engine also was built at the West Point Foundry. It made its first trip from Albany to Schenectady in August, 1831. On that historic occasion the locomotive drew a train of carriages with a distinguished passenger list. The “DeWitt Clinton” was named for Governor DeWitt Clinton, of New York, who signed the railroad charter and was a great friend of canals and railroads.
The “John Bull” was the first locomotive to pull a train of cars in New Jersey and the first locomotive in the world to be equipped with a “cow catcher.” It was named “John Bull” because it was built in England. The engine made its first run over a railroad at Bordentown, N.J., on November 12, 1831, and it ran on that road for many years. In 1893, after years of idleness, the engine, pulling two pioneer coaches, made a 920-mile trip under its own power to Chicago, where it was a World’s Fair attraction. The historic locomotive is now one of the permanent exhibits of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
“Old Ironsides,” the pioneer locomotive of Philadelphia, began running regularly on a railroad between Philadelphia and Norristown on November 23, 1832. Matthias W. Baldwin was a jeweler and watchmaker. When business fell off, he turned to the manufacture of tools and textile machines. A steam engine was needed to run his factory. Instead of buying one, Mr. Baldwin decided to build it himself. The engine was so successful that he decided to try his hand at locomotives. “Old Ironsides” was the result, and thus began Mr. Baldwin’s notable career as a locomotive builder.
When these locomotives were built and placed in service, transportation in America was slow and difficult indeed.
Travel and transportation by land was largely by horseback, stagecoach, ox carts and Conestoga wagons. There were few
roads of any kind, and most of them were crude and ill-kept. Railway transportation represented a great improvement
over the modes of transportation then in common use.