Early steam engine tells a story
April 25, 2014
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.