Unraveling the Myth

The AmericaWhich locomotive made the first run on a commercial railroad constructed longer than 10 miles in the Western Hemisphere?  Since 1829, a myth perpetuated by the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company, has persisted about the run of the first steam locomotive on a commercial railroad in the Western Hemisphere.

Since 1829, a myth perpetuated by the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company, has persisted about the run of the first steam locomotive on a commercial railroad in the Western Hemisphere. The railroad was the Carbondale Railroad of the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company. Since 1829, the public has been informed that Stourbridge Lion made that first historic run. On August 8, 1829, Horatio Allen operated Stourbridge Lion from Honesdale to Seeleyville in a highly visible public spectacle. The length of this run was approximately two miles each way, forward and backward. The track structures were crushed beneath the weight of Stourbridge Lion.

The first engine procured by the Canal Company was America, manufactured by Robert Stephenson & Company, the firm of George Stephenson. George Stephenson was the founding father of British Railways. The engine was also known as Pride of New Castle. The second engine procured was Stourbridge Lion, manufactured by Foster, Rastrick & Company. Two more locomotives were ordered from Foster, Rastrick & Company. These were Hudson and Delaware. These four locomotives were the first four foreign steam locomotives on United States soil. They were the first four foreign locomotives in the Western Hemisphere. The three engines purchased from Foster, Rastrick & Company each cost substantially less than the solitary engine procured from Robert Stephenson & Co., America. Perhaps, in exchange for more favorable pricing, Foster, Rastrick & Company secured a concession from the Canal Company that their engine, Stourbridge Lion, would be tested first in the New World. In the autumn of 1829, a Stephenson-built locomotive, Rocket was the decisive winner of the Rainhill Trials in England by completing a rigorous trial on a Level Section of a British colliery railway. Rocket attained a top speed of 29 miles per hour. The length of the run was approximately seventy miles, back and forth over a two-mile long level section. Foster, Rastrick & Company did not compete in the Rainhill Trials.

Horatio Allen was the requisitioning engineer for all four locomotives. By the 1880’s, Horatio Allen would not acknowledge that there were ever four locomotives. He insisted there were only the three engines procured from Foster, Rastrick & Company. When pressed by an interviewer in the 1880’s, who knew there were four locomotives, Allen replied as if to a hypothetical question, saying that had a Stephenson-built engine been tested in July of 1829 on the Carbondale Railroad, it would have foreshadowed the successful run of Rocket in the Autumn of 1829 at the Rainhill Trials. What was Horatio Allen attempting to conceal?

The engine known as Pride of New Castle and also America arrived in the United States approximately six months before Stourbridge Lion. Both engines arrived in Honesdale after transport on the D&H Canal on July 23, 1829. Apparently, Pride of New Castle was transported to a remote location, on the summit level of the Carbondale Railroad at Rix’s Gap. Here, the engine was likely operated on Carbondale Railroad tracks. It made sense to test America first as it is believed to have weighed approximately one ton less than Stourbridge Lion. This was known by the time of the deliveries to New York Harbor (shipping weights).

We have no records indicating the exact date or time of the run (s). Nor do we have documented evidence of the engine’s performance during these runs or the impact to the track structures. One reason for the confidential test(s) was a concession likely made to Foster, Rastrick & Company in exchange for favorable pricing. Another reason would have been to prevent the public from witnessing the test. Only essential personnel would have been present for this trial. All four engines were too heavy for the low-budget track structures of the Carbondale Railroad and were, therefore, not used as locomotives by the D&H Canal Company. Pride of New Castle was apparently sold to the Scranton Brothers for use as a boiler in their Slocum Hollow rolling mill in 1847. That mill produced the rails used during the original construction of the New York & Erie Railroad. These were the first “T” rails manufactured in America. With that mill came unprecedented industrialization of the Lackawanna Valley, situated in the Northern Anthracite Field.

Since 1829, the world has been informed that the historic first run of a locomotive on a commercial railroad in the Western Hemisphere was made by Stourbridge Lion. The time has come to unravel the myth proliferated by the Canal Company and its agents. Horatio Allen was likely the phantom engineer at the controls of America during this confidential test. Stourbridge Lion remains an extraordinarily historic locomotive, having passed public trials in parallel with its sister engine”s confidential trials. Almost certainly, the distinction of being the first locomotive operated on a commercial railroad in the United States belongs to Pride of New Castle, built by Robert Stephenson & Company.

Further research into these matters is ongoing. Mr. Marder spoke at the National Canal Museum on March 23, 2002. His paper, entitled “Vindication for America”, is included in Volume XXI, Canal History and Technology Proceedings. This publication is available through the National Canal Museum in Easton, PA.