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Technology
At its simplest, a locomotive is a “boiler-on-wheels.” In practice, of course, it is a much more complex machine. Imagine what went through the mind of the Camden and Amboy Railroad’s master mechanic Isaac Dripps, when he was confronted with the task of assembling—without instructions—the imported John Bull locomotive. American builders were soon applying their ingenuity to replicating and modifying the British invention. They were motivated by pragmatism, conservatism, and economy in constructing railroads to suit both their needs and the demands of their environment.
The growing industrial city of Paterson was the headquarters of several leading locomotive manufacturers, such as Danforth and Cooke, Grant, and Rogers. Several other firms located there did not survive the Panic of 1857. During the decade of the 1850s, the Rogers Locomotive Works was “the most progressive builder in the country.” In its peak year of production in 1870, Rogers turned out 145 locomotives; that same year it had in service on all railroads 1818 locomotives. Over the entire life of the company (1837–1900), Rogers produced an aggregate of 5,654 locomotives. During that time, Paterson had evolved from a bucolic town to the major industrial city in New Jersey.
Locomotives were at the center of railroad technology, but were only part of the story. Robert L. Stevens’ invention of the T-rail, for instance, has been deemed “one of the most rational structural shapes ever devised.” Several different track gauges were in use in the United States. For example, the Camden and Amboy used 4 feet 10 inches, the Erie 6 feet. This resulted in much expense and time lost in off-loading passengers and freight. In the 1860s, Ashbel Welch (1809–1882), chief engineer of the Camden and Amboy Railroad, began advocating the standardization of track gauges. Eventually, a gauge of 4 feet 8½ inches became the norm.
Amazingly, locomotive wheels did not have brakes until the 1870s—a train was stopped either by reversing or by brakemen applying brakes on individual cars. George Westinghouse’s invention of the air-brake was thus an immeasurable contribution to safety. Other improvements to safety were the automatic coupler, automatic block signaling, and telegraphic communication.
In order to keep abreast of an increasingly technical field, aspiring engineers, mechanics, and machinists could study works such as M. N. Forney’s Catechism of the Locomotive (1875) or The Car-Builder’s Dictionary (1879). Several periodicals were devoted in whole or in part to railroad technology and related matters, such as Railroad Gazette, Railway Age, Journal of the Franklin Institute, and Scientific American. As Anthony J. Bianculli has pointed out, during the nineteenth century there was overall a “symbiotic relationship” between railroading and technology, “each dependent upon the state and progress of the other to a large degree.”
Swing drawbridge across Arthur Kill, built by the Staten Island Rapid Transit Company in 1888 to connect Staten Island and New Jersey.
Swing drawbridge across Arthur Kill, built by the Staten Island Rapid Transit Company in 1888 to connect Staten Island and New Jersey. At 500 feet, it was the longest bridge of its type in the world. The authorization to build the bridge involved a legal issue regarding state versus federal jurisdiction that was decided in favor of the latter. From: Scientific American, June 30, 1888.
Photograph of the interior of the Pennsylvania Railroad repair shops in Jersey City, circa 1904.
Photograph of the interior of the Pennsylvania Railroad repair shops in Jersey City, circa 1904. From: Walter G. Berg, American Railway Shop Systems (New York, 1904), p. 135. Shops such as this employed hundreds of people.
Swing-bridge over Raritan Bay.
Swing-bridge over Raritan Bay. From Phillip T. Sandhurst, Industrial and Fine Arts of the World, as Shown at the Philadelphia and Other International Exhibitions (Philadelphia, 1879), p. 411. The bridge was constructed in the 1870s by the Keystone Bridge Company of Philadelphia for the New York and Long Branch Railroad Company. At 472 feet long, it was, until 1888, the longest pivot-span ever built. It was made of wrought iron and weighed 600 tons.
Standard brake rigging for railway carriages, Pennsylvania Railroad.
“Standard Brake Rigging for Railway Carriages,” Pennsylvania Railroad. From: James Dredge, The Pennsylvania Railroad: Its Organization, Construction, and Management (New York, 1879), Plate LXXV.
Standard first class passenger car, Pennsylvania Railroad.
“Standard First Class Passenger Car,” Pennsylvania Railroad. From: James Dredge, The Pennsylvania Railroad: Its Organization, Construction, and Management (New York, 1879), Plate LX.
Trenton Bridge.
“Trenton Bridge.” From James Dredge, The Pennsylvania Railroad: Its Organization, Construction, and Management (New York, 1879), p. 64. The bridge was built for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in 1875.
Bridge over the Delaware at Trenton.
“Bridge over the Delaware at Trenton.” From: James Dredge, The Pennsylvania Railroad: Its Organization, Construction, and Management (New York, 1879), p. 60.
Rogers' eight wheel standard locomotives for passengers or freight.
Rogers “Eight Wheel Standard Locomotives for Passengers or Freight.” Weight: 83,000 lbs. From: Locomotives and Locomotive Building (New York, 1886), Plate V, p. 112.
Passenger locomotive New Jersey, a type first built by the Rogers Works in 1852.
Passenger locomotive New Jersey, a type first built by the Rogers Works in 1852. From: Locomotives and Locomotive Building (New York, 1886), p. 19.
Engraving of the factory of Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor, Paterson, N.J., 1832.
Engraving of the factory of Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor, Paterson, N.J., 1832. The land the works were built on was forested, and Paterson was a small village. From: Locomotives and Locomotive Building (New York, 1886).
Engraving of Thomas Rogers.
Engraving of Thomas Rogers. Frontispiece in Locomotives and Locomotive Building (New York, 1886). Thomas Rogers (1792–1856), was born in Connecticut and came to New Jersey in 1812. He used capital he had accumulated in the manufacture of textile machinery to establish a machine shop in Paterson in 1832 under the name of Rogers, Ketchum and Grosvenor. Soon he began making car wheels, axles, and other railroad fittings. He was more a practical mechanic than an inventor, but by the 1850s the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works (later renamed the Rogers Locomotive Works) was one of the largest locomotive builders in the country. His progressive designs were copied by other locomotive builders. He has been credited more than anyone else with advancing American locomotive design.
Canfield’s improved screw car-brake.
Canfield’s Improved Screw Car-Brake (Morristown, N.J., circa 1872). Broadside. American inventors and mechanics applied their ingenuity to numerous inventions and improvements to locomotives, rolling stock, equipment, and signaling.
Cover of Industries of New Jersey, part 2 : Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester, Camden, and Cape May counties.
The Industries of New Jersey, in 7 parts (New York, 1882). The cover announces “Industry, Improvement and Enterprise” and fittingly, a locomotive is a prominent feature of the illustration.
Engraving of the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works, Paterson, N.J., 1882.
Engraving of the Rogers Locomotive and Machine Works, Paterson, N.J., 1886. By 1886, the Rogers Works had evolved into a major manufacturing complex in a major industrial center. From: Locomotives and Locomotive Building (New York, 1886).
Aerial photograph of the New York Central rail yard and piers on the Hudson River at Weehawken, opposite Manhattan.
Aerial photograph (undated) of the New York Central rail yard and piers on the Hudson River at Weehawken, opposite Manhattan. Visible are two huge grain elevators and numerous freight cars loaded with export grain. Perched above the facility is the town of Weehawken.
Interior of a Pullman drawing room coach and interior of a Pullman sleeping coach, from an Erie Railway timetable, 1873.
Interior of a Pullman drawing room coach, from an Erie Railway timetable, 1873.
Specification no. 1991 of an anthracite passenger locomotive engine ... for the Tuckerton Railroad Co. / by the Baldwin Locomotive Works.
Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia. Specification of Locomotive Engine, No. 1991, Anthracite Passenger, for the Tuckerton Railroad Company, 1884. One of several contracts that the Tuckerton Railroad made with the Baldwin Company, which was one of the largest builders in the United States. The founder of the company, Matthias W. Baldwin (1795–1866), was born in Elizabethtown, N.J.