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Early steam engine tells a story

April 25, 2014

Steam Engine - 1931.340

Every once in while, a researcher asks a question that uncovers an interesting object in Historic New England’s collection that has not gotten much notice. Two recent inquiries led our collection services staff to investigate an early model of a steam locomotive that has been in our collection since 1931. Historic New England has always focused on objects made, used, or owned in New England homes, so we didn’t know very much about this little steam wagon.

Research led us to this description of the engine: According to the donors, the Misses Allen, in 1829, their grandfather, Andrew J. Allen, conceived the idea that there must be some way for transportation other than by horse power. He had William T. James of New York build the model of the first locomotive to show the public what could be done. The model was one of several steam engines exhibited in Faneuil Hall in Boston for the Exhibition of Manufacturers and Works of Art beginning on September 18, 1837. It ran on a circular track pulling one car on which visitors could ride for twenty-five cents per person.

Although the object is stamped “Patent, 1829,” research with the U.S. Patent office has not yielded an actual patent application or award. We will continue to study this rare object and share what we learn.

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steam engine

Posted by Michael F. Lynch on April 29, 2014
There is a reference to Mr. James' 1829 steam engine in "American Locomotives-An Engineering History 1830-1880", by John H. White; Johns Hopkins University Press, 1968 on page 188 with a footnote as to the source of that information. Mr. James held several patents for cook stoves (1815, 1823, etc) and he also had one for "rail-road, self-adjusting" issued Oct. 27, 1835.

Andrew J. Allen was a stationer in Boston (No. 66 State Street) who apparently had more than a passing interest in locomotion-he was one of three signers (with Joseph H. Dorr and Henry J. Oliver) of a broadside dated December 3, 1829 titled "The Undersigned, Being a Committee to Receive Subscriptions to Aid the Construction of a Rail-Road from Boston to Brattleborough.." [in the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA] and, in 1829 he was one of the original incorporators of the Franklin Rail-road Company.

Information about the Steam Engine

Posted by Nicole Chalfant - Collection Manager on May 5, 2014
Thank you for the information you supplied, Mr. Lynch.
We are always looking to learn more about some of the objects in our collection that we have not been able to fully research. I will add this information to the object's file.

Sincerely,
Nicole Chalfant
Collection Manager

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Early steam engine tells a story